Interview – Erik Brodt, founder of Ginew
At Robin Denim we value brands for many different reasons. Of course, quality and design are two of the main factors for determining whether we like a brand or not, however, those are not the only two. There are several other factors which we also take into account, for example, the heritage and the vision of a brand are key for making a product even more desirable. The story behind a brand can be an important trigger by appealing to our imagination. One of the brands that immediately took hold of us because of their heritage and story is the American brand Ginew.
We had the chance to chat with Erik Brodt, co-founder of the authentic Native American brand. Our conversation began with Erik explaining the importance of the Native American spirit at Ginew, after which we got the opportunity to ask Erik a few questions about the processes, the fabric and the collection of Ginew.
Robin Denim: Can you please start by introduction Ginew as a brand. What does it mean to you to be the only Native American owned denim brand in the world?
Erik Brodt: Ginew is the only Native American denim collection in the world. The two of us began Ginew in 2010 while we made belts for members of our wedding party from the buffalo hunted by Erik’s father. The collection has steadily grown since then, as a collective exploration from leather goods into apparel and beyond. The common thread behind Ginew is the vision to express our Native American (Ojibwe, Oneida, and Mohican) heritage and family stories through the collection. Ultimately, through Ginew, we sound a contemporary Native American voice and style.
In fashion, there are some who are inspired by Native American culture, art, and style; however, we are among a handful of Native American designers in the industry. We do not romanticize or plagiarize our culture or designs. The two of us live our culture. Rather than being a Native American-inspired collection, we are a collection by inspired Native Americans who bring to life garments which honor the ways of our family. Because we some of the only Native Americans in the fashion industry, we present our story and collection thoughtfully and straightforward. Through Ginew, we present our culture as we see it and live it. Both of us clearly recognize how common it is for other collections/brands to mimic/plagiarize tribal designs, often without understanding the depth and meaning of the colors, patterns, and images used. In bringing our Native American voice and style to life through Ginew, we may help others see that our culture is vibrant, dynamic, and present as ever.
The most important values to Ginew are courage, honesty, resilience, and integrity. We seek to design and create items that will become part of one’s daily life and story. Our aim is that people will wear our items for years to come as the item becomes an heirloom. In order to do so, we meticulously design our garments to last and construct them of the most durable components available.
Robin Denim: Ginew is known to be the only Native American owned denim brand in the world, how does it influence your products?
Erik Brodt: Each item in our collection is directly inspired by our relatives. Our family, and thus our culture, inspires each of our garments. This allows to share a narrative of contemporary Native American life. Our style is classic with modern fits and touches which subtlety acknowledge distinct and unique qualities of our cultures.
Robin Denim: Where does the production take place? And can you describe the production process at Ginew?
Erik Brodt: The creative process at Ginew always begins with a story and utility. All items in the collection are directly inspired by a Ginew relative – their interests, vocation, characteristics, and values. We feel lucky to have access to old family photos – either from family, private, or museum collections – which provide us a glimpse into the daily lives of our relatives spanning back to the late 1800’s & early 1900’s. Combined with family stories pieced together from knowledge keepers and various family sources, we develop a concept of a garment based on a relative’s role/vocation/craft. At this point we begin to develop the design based on the utility of the garment to their daily life. Once the garment design concept is formulated, we meticulously source materials and introduce subtle elements which speak to our culture. All pieces in the Ginew collection are made in the USA of fabrics and notions that are sourced in the USA. There are few exceptions, where sometimes we encounter a fabric from Japan which directly speaks to our vision. All items are manufactured/built in Portland, Oregon or in Los Angeles, California.
Robin Denim: What do you think is the most interesting item you’ve designed? And why?
Erik Brodt: The most interesting item we have designed…tough. The Ginew Rider jacket is inspired by Amanda’s grandfather, who worked his entire career as a welder in Milwaukee, WI. He chose to commute to Milwaukee from the reservation for his 30-year career. This involved driving 4-5 hours one-way from North-central WI – on rural, weathered roads – to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, every Sunday and Friday night. 30 years! He welded frames for Harley Davidson for years…and thus we designed the Ginew Rider Jacket to meet his values of utility, strength, resilience and commitment to culture & family. Designed in the spirit of the denim jackets “chopped” and modified by his peers, we lengthened the back – applied a banded collar – lengthened the sleeves – trimmed out the side panels – and made it of the toughest USA-made fabric specific to the period. People ask us, “What is Native American about this jacket?” Well, to us it truly embodies what it means to be a Native American man – strong, resilient and committed to culture & family. To us, EVERYTHING about the jacket is Native-style.
Robin Denim: What do you think is the most important part of making a quality pair of raw selvedge jeans?
Erik Brodt: The most important part of making a pair of quality selvedge jeans is being true to the utility of the jeans. Jeans are workwear – they better fit great and last for many wears in all aspects of someone’s life.
Robin Denim: What can we expect from Ginew in the future?
Erik Brodt: In the near future expect us to launch our first selvedge denim jean – the Crow Wing Jean – in 13.75 oz. White Oak Cone Mills indigo selvedge denim and 13.5 oz. Black Japanese selvedge denim. All of our jeans we feel are central/vital to the collection and aptly named after the rivers running through our respective tribal lands. Expect more fits to come in the seasons ahead. This year we will be launching the Mohican Crew collection – inspired by the Mohican CCC Crew from 1930’s WI – jacket & shirting. We are also proud to be teaming up with our friends at L A N D in Austin, Texas, to launch a uniquely designed and branded SHOP Jacket. Lastly, we will be launching an AMAZING Ojibwe Thunderbird collection featuring some hand-cranked, chain-stitched patches with Fort Lonesome, bandanas hand-dyed with Folk Fibers, hemp tee shirts, and a trucker hat. This year will be a fun year for Ginew!