First Nations Designer Helen Oro Talks To Real Style At Startup Fashion Week

As a proudly First Nations accessories designer who hails from Saskatoon, Helen Oro is the creative force behind Helen Oro Designs. Earlier this autumn, Oro was in Toronto for Startup Fashion Week, where she had a chance to showcase her stunning pieces. From intricate beadwork on statement jewellery to embellished studs and sunglasses, her accessory designs are vibrant and artfully decorated. Perhaps more importantly, Oro also remains humble and focused despite her growing success, and credits her background as a source of creative inspiration. From drawing energy from unique sources to her challenges thus far as a rising designer, Real Style had a chance to catch up with Oro about fashion and much more.

Real Style: Where do you gather your creative energy?

Helen: Ever since I was little, I had a crazy imagination, I’m constantly inspired by things I see in my daily routine. Movies, things my kids draw, walking outside, everything. This gives me the drive to constantly want to create and if I don’t, it drives me crazy because I won’t stop thinking of what I can be doing. I absolutely love creating new pieces.

Real Style: What inspired you to become an accessory designer?

Helen: I started beading to teach myself patience and to get back in touch with my culture. Beading is a form of prayer and healing, it’s something that taught me so much about myself and what I’m capable of. I began experimenting with beadwork using different styles of accessories I had lying around and revamping old heels or sunglasses with beadwork. This led to me pushing myself into creating pieces from scratch and before I knew it, the accessory designer that I didn’t realize was in me was sparked. My once upon a time hobby turned into a full blown passion.

Real Style: Describe a favourite design that you are especially proud of, and why.

Helen: I showcased a look recently at SFW. I dedicated it to my niece who passed away. She was my inspiration for this statement look that I call The Dark Star. Just like she was for everyone in her life, she was a shining light during dark times. I have The Dark Star in a Wearable Art Exhibit until December here in Saskatoon. Each bead is stitched down with a prayer; it tells a story of a beautiful chaos and has so much meaning.

Real Style: You’re known for bringing your First Nations culture and heritage into your designs. How do you gather inspiration from your culture?

Helen: Everyone seems to be inspired by First Nation culture and art, but always seem to offend us, because of how they’re choosing to honour us- wearing headdresses, or using certain patterns or designs that belong to families and tribes that aren’t meant to be shared. I feel so inspired by our beautiful beadwork that is normally used for our regalias and ceremonial wear. It has deep meaning but is so versatile with how you can wear it. Being a First Nations woman and sharing my rich culture through my contemporary designs in an appropriate manner is so important.

It’s a way to change stereotypes, educate and celebrate where I come from. I get to show people there’s a difference between being inspired by the culture and wearing feathers in your hair, face paint and fringe to actually being inspired by a First Nations designer’s creations and knowing the history behind what you’re wearing, knowing where it came from and sharing our culture in an appropriate manner.

Real Style: Do you have any favourite materials to create with?

Helen: Feathers, gems and diamond banding. I love glitz and glam, and over the top looks. I feel I can accomplish that with these items, always.

Real Style: What are some of the challenges of launching your own Canadian accessory label?

Helen: I feel I’m starting to find my balance with ready to wear and my Statement collection, which is meant for special events, productions and red carpet. I struggled with which product would sell best in storefront and which I would keep to custom orders for special clients. Everything in my life as an entrepreneur has been trial and error, and I feel I’m still growing and learning. I do have much to learn when it comes to growth and marketing, but I’m slowly building my brand and finding what’s effective for us.

Photo Credits:  Syilx Images
Hair: Simply Style Mobile Hair Designs
Makeup: Makeup by Havana
Models: Kwem Desarae and Cherrie Yetko

Designer: Helen Oro Designs