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Amanda May Daly is a creative director, a descendant of Mattagami First Nation, an Anishnaabe community in Ontario, though she grew up in Timmins. She has built a career in the fashion, photography and filmmaking industries.
Daly went to school in London, England, which led to 15 years in fashion with ready-to-wear collections and in creative production for esteemed fashion brands by styling lookbooks and doing photo shoots.
Her passion for showcasing Indigenous creations in her work has led remarkable projects, from producing the Sotheby diamond collection photo shoot to working with Māori actress Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last September. Daly also worked on several events with Tantoo Cardinal to support Killers of the Flower Moon premieres in Toronto and New York.
“I’m so excited to play a small part in this wider tapestry of Indigenous folks being able to tell their stories in an authentic way,” Daly said. “Just being a cog in that wheel is super special and an honour.”
“What really motivates me is Indigenous excellence,” said Daly, who finds herself working “at a really interesting junction where I feel like Indigenous representation is exploding.”
Daly was born into culture, and she’s quick to name her grandmother Grace as her earliest mentor. She would spend every Sunday at her grandmother’s house,
“Each week it would be different. If she was baking bread, she’d make a tiny bread pan out of tin foil to bake me a loaf, or she would make rawhide clothes for my dolls.”
Daly says she remembers her grandmother talking about the strong women in the family, with her cousins being the first all-woman chief and council of Mattagami First Nation in 1962.
“So I always had the sense that women can do anything,” said Daly, explaining her grandmother’s influence,
“She was also very ‘extra.’ She loved anything glittery, sparkly, loud or kind of kooky, and that really stuck with me. I’m super grateful to her for giving me her flare, and also her pride in being an Indigenous woman.”
The power of matriarchy and mentorship
Daly acknowledges the profound influence that matriarchy and mentorship had on her journey. She draws on the analogy of mushroom mycelium networks to emphasize the hidden strength in women’s support systems.
Just as mushrooms spread beneath the surface for years before emerging, matriarchal movements and achievements may seem to appear suddenly, but they are built upon the teachings, support and strength of generations of women, she said.
“It might be 10 years before you see a certain kind of mushroom, but the whole time it’s going under the surface. I think matriarchal movements, these achievements, may seem to kind of spread up out of nowhere, but really all of these advances, all of the new ground that we gained as women is standing on the shoulders of the women who came before us who’ve taught us things and supported us.
“And taught us to be strong and gentle, to be wise and open to learning.”
Indigenous women, in particular, stand out for their collaborative spirit, advancing arts and fashion through unity and shared values, Daly said.
Her dedication to fostering an inclusive and equitable fashion world made global news in 2009 when she cast plus-sized models at a key show at London Fashion Week with Canadian designer Mark Fast.
Daly sees the power in matriarchy and mentorship in the fashion industry.
“I think that that’s where the relationship is super strong between those two concepts, because people learn to embrace matriarchal values by watching other people do it, and by being teachable or being open or being supported by people who are living those values.”
Supporting and uplifting Indigenous designers within the fashion industry is important to Daly, she said.
Mentorship and collaboration “starts to feel like second nature when you’re open to it. And I think that it’s so beautiful to see the way that Indigenous women are advancing arts and fashion through collaboration and working together.”
“A friend I met at the DTES sweatlodge is a Coast Salish carver, Bambi Smith of Salish Thunder Designs, and she customized a pair of combat boots for me with an orca design that I wore for all of TIFF,” said Daly. This led to Smith customizing a pair “for Tantoo in a gold formline design.”
Daly saw Evelyn Alec’s streetwear brand EvAlec79 on Instagram and asked her customize a jacket with her Queen of Spades print, “which is another show-stopping piece. I’ve learned to expect a lot of conversations with strangers when I wear it.” This led to Alec also making “the deadly hand-painted biker jacket for Tioreore. The back is hard to read in the photos but the copy around the war bonnet print says ‘You not only represent yourself, you represent your ancestors’.”
Kaija Heitland of Indigenous Nouveau is “another artist that has my heart exploding,” says Daly. “I approached her because I love her beadwork and we started discussing some custom concepts together. I was having trouble sourcing handbags for red carpet [events].” This led to medicine bag inspired evening clutches, “and she just literally blew me away with her talent and vision,” said Daly.
Inspired by the spirit of collaboration, Daly wants to create more spaces for celebrating Indigenous talent.
Remaining open to joy and wisdom
As she reflects on her journey, Daly emphasizes the importance of maintaining childlike curiosity and a teachable spirit.
“Even though I’m getting older and I’m letting my gray hair grow in and accepting my wrinkles and all of that, I still in a lot of ways try to look at the world through the eyes of a child,” she says.
Approaching life with an open heart and an open mind is key for Daly. “I think if we remain open and curious and teachable, life is filled with so much joy. And I think that there’s also innate wisdom in that.”
In embracing Indigenous values, she has discovered the wisdom of collaboration, innovation, and the celebration of Indigenous excellence.
Daly’s path from Mattagami First Nation to the heart of the fashion industry in the UK and back to Turtle Island is a testament to the power of culture, mentorship and collaboration.
“There is a lot of opportunity for Indigenous brands to really explode into a notoriously exclusive scene (fashion) in a way that champions both modern and accessible fashion and bespoke one-of-a-kind museum quality work,” said Daly. “That will bring traditional knowledge and techniques into the epicentre of the dialogue around 21st century fashion.”
Daly reminds us that the path to success is not only about personal achievement but also about lifting others up, and embracing the wisdom of those who came before us.
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