Martha Kyak’s InukChic fashion is uncompromisingly Inuit, glamorous and political
Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
Martha Kyak has seen her fashion designs in many places, but one of the most powerful has been on stage alongside the Prime Minister.
When Justin Trudeau presented the final report for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls (MMIWG) in 2019, a red amauti was displayed on a stand next to him.
Kyak made the amauti, or traditional Inuit women’s parka, to honor her murdered sister. It was a very emotional moment for Kyak, the designer behind it InukChica fashion company whose name is a nod to Inukshuk.
“It was like my sister was standing there,” she said Canada’s National Observer.
Sewing the amauti was a healing process, a way to honor and let go of her sister, she says. But it was emotional work. However, Kyak felt that showing off the garment on the day could bring some comfort to viewers.
“It was like she was speaking to all the women and people out there,” says Kyak.
InukChic began when Kyak moved south to Ottawa in 2010. She has sewn parkas, dresses and other outfits for the retail store she owned in her home community of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The move happened while she was getting divorced.
“It was sudden isolation from family,” says Kyak. “Not being around people as much and struggling financially was another thing.”
Martha Kyak has seen her fashion designs in many places, but one of the most powerful has been on stage alongside the Prime Minister. #InukChic #PondInlet #MMIWG
To cope with the changes, Kyak did what she does best: she started sewing, mostly parkas, and posted her work on Facebook. Suddenly her designs drew attention and Kyak was asked to participate in one Indigenous fashion show. After that first show, Kyak was as proud as ever.
“That’s how it started; it just happened,” she says.
Once she started working on catwalks, Kyak began gravitating toward a style that blended Inuit design with modern, glamorous fashion. It was an over the top style that allowed her to let her creativity run free. These garments would hit runways across the country. But it was at her first solo show that Kyak gave her fashion a deeper message.
Pauktuutit, an Ottawa-based Inuit women’s organization, invited Kyak to a fashion show. It would take half an hour – a long time for a solo exhibition.
“I thought about what to do,” she says. “The first part was very casual and then glamorous.”
It was during the latter part of the show that Kyak made her statement, she says. Models walked the runway in red dresses, some with a red palm print on their face and the song faded played by Alan Walker. The song’s chorus repeated: “Where are you now?”
After that first show, she later presented her MMIWG work at Qikiqtani Corporation’s Northern Lights show in 2020.
It’s always emotional when women walk down the catwalk, she says. But it’s also powerful.
Women came to Kyak after the show, thanked her and shared stories about their experiences of missing and murdered tribal women and girls.
“It’s always a positive experience.”
Now her designs are attracting attention elsewhere, including a recent stop at Vancouver Fashion Week. InukChic’s fashion has also made it onto the pages of Fashion and other magazines.
Kyak hasn’t been able to do any custom work lately as she juggles a day job alongside her fashion and artwork. But Kyak now sells wholesale to shops in Nunavut as well as the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Textile Museum in Torontowhere she also exhibits her designs.
Her big hope is to make InukChic international.
“If there are any invitations, I go immediately,” she says, especially if it’s her dream show in New York City.
Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer