Angelena Campobasso is a designer and fashion show producer who grew up on the Colville Reservation and now lives in Spokane. Along with running bead-supply store Creative Native , she creates jewelry and accessories inspired by her Indigenous heritage, and works with other artists and designers in the community. She's worked with Runway Renegades and the Hearts Gathered Salish School on the Colville Reservation organizing shows benefiting the homeless.
We asked her about her inspiration for creating some of her amazing jewelry and accessory designs, and also asked her to tell us a little bit about some other talented Indigenous Washington designers—you can read that here.
You started your first business when you were 18 years old! Will you share with us what inspired you to start your entrepreneurial career at such a young age, and why you started Creative Native?
I believe my mother was my inspiration to do art and be creative. I used to watch her draw her hair and clothing designs since I was very little. She also sewed and designed some of our clothes. We helped her make Indigenous clothing and traditional items sometimes; that’s how we learned to make some of our traditional clothing with my mom and auntie.
I have been doing art since I was a young child. Drawing, painting, sculpting, and now jewelry making and fashion. I started Creative Native in 2002. It was actually funny how I started making jewelry. My ex-husband said he couldn’t afford me, so I needed to make my own jewelry! So, I did…and I couldn’t stop! I decided I would try to vend and see if people would buy my items. My projects sold like crazy! I became obsessed! At the time, I wasn’t working, and I had more time to create. I didn’t have children then, so my mind was more focused on being creative. Creative Native was born!
What you do is so unique! How do you find a home for your work in the marketplace?
I realized people like homemade, heartfelt, beautifully created, Indigenous items. The art and passion of creation is very much appreciated by folks coming from all walks of life. The Northwest, as well as Tribal areas, are all starving for Indigenous culture and the beauty it offers.
You never really see Native Americans or Indigenous fashion models on magazines or coming down most runways. The light came on one day, I thought, why not? I want to uplift young and upcoming Indigenous models. I have even inspired other Indigenous creators to go for it. They too have done fashion shows and teamed up with Runway Renegades to do a show or two. The Northwest is wide open.
Why are jewelry and accessories such a major part of fashion?
Adding the final touches, such as jewelry and accessories, are the ornaments on the tree. To really stand out of the crowd, you have to add the extra glamour! Women want to feel special and adored. Wearing beautiful jewelry does that, it can actually change your mood, and adds that glamour to any outfit!
How do you balance your creative life and your business life?
I love creating beautiful things and wearing them, it brings me a sense of accomplishment and makes me feel wonderful. I love making people feel more beautiful, helping them express their beauty, putting them up on the runway and teaching them pride in their culture, in themselves, showing them how beautiful they really are.
At the same time, we are doing work for non-profits which makes this work much more meaningful. In some of my spare time I create things, walk away when I get too tired, or create another day. I either get up earlier in the day or work later in the evenings or weekends, and still have a passion for my planning profession and being a mother.
In what ways did growing up on a Reservation influence the work you design now?
When I was a kid growing up on the Colville Reservation, I didn’t realize things were different in other parts of the world or even outside the reservation borders. I remember when our parents would bring us into the nearest city, which was Spokane, coming down I-90 into the city, I thought: "wow!" I was excited shopping in the malls, seeing all the different kinds of people, seeing all the styles of jewelry and clothing always inspired me.
When I got older, I realized how precious our people really are. How there are hardly any Indigenous people who reside in the U.S. after it was colonized. I realized that knowing and preserving our culture is so very important. If you lose who you are, where you come from, and you cannot express yourself and your culture somehow, then you can become lost. Having a close-knit community, belonging to a tribe, and a realizing of self, has inspired me to this day to be creative in everything that I do.