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She became Polo Ralph Lauren's first artist in residence with her intricate Navajo weaving

The next maker in our series Made in Arizona skateboards across the windswept rock landscapes of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. It’s just one of the talents that first got Naiomi Glasses noticed on the world stage in viral videos.

She first gained social media fame for skating on the sandstone landscapes on Navajo land, often wearing long traditional Navajo skirts and turquoise jewelry.

But today, her career has gone far beyond her skateboarding skills into the fashion world where she’s gotten noticed for her intricate Navajo weaving, which like her skateboarding, is a real celebration of Navajo life.

“It means so much to share my designs. I know it could easily freak me out if I really started thinking about it, ”Glasses said.

“Artist in residence fully immersed me into processes at Polo Ralph Lauren, but also it honored my own processes as an artist and how I create.”

Her latest collaboration was with none other than Ralph Lauren, becoming their first artist in residence, using her Navajo weaving in a new collection that came out this winter. Before that, she was at New York Fashion Week with designer Gabriella Hurst and featured in Vogue for her enviable turquoise collection.

She’s also worked as a model and an advocate for those born with a cleft palate like her. In fact, that’s why she started skateboarding as a little kid.

“I’ve been skating now for 20 years, and it’s, I just like doing it to ride,” Glasses said. “I learned how to skate like in our, we lived in a cul de sac. So I would just skate around in the cul de sac. Well, honestly, I saw from the kitchen, my mom didn’t want me out on the, the concrete, she would put up pillows like around the kitchen in case I fell and like I was all padded up and everything. And then I graduated to the garage and then from the garage, I went to the driveway and then from the driveway, I was finally able to skate cold.”

She spoke with The Show more about her skateboarding and creative interests.

Full interview

NAIOMI GLASSES: Well, the first time I ever skated sandstone, I skated it when I was 16. I was daring. I was like, I felt like I could do anything really at s16. And I remember being out on the land looking for our grandma's missing sheep. They had wandered away a little too far from the house. So we were, my brother and I, we were looking around and at that time, skateboarding was like, it, it consumed my life. Like every moment I wasn't skating, I was thinking of the next time I could skate. And so I would always have my, my skateboard in the back of the vehicle or whatever because I thought any chance I get, I'm gonna go skate.

And, so we pulled up to this really big sandstone and I saw it and I was just like, oh my God. And then my brother suggested, do you think you could skate that? And I was like, I don't know, like, maybe, possibly. And then he was like, you should give it a try. And so then he hyped me up. He's like the best hype man in the world. And I went down it and I skated in it. I feel like I've been skating sandstone ever since really.

Was it kind of a transformative moment for you?

GLASSES: It, it kind of was you can see how the land changes around it when you're out there.

One of the things that's really like notable and I think is probably one of the reasons you have become so well known for this, when you skate is, is what you're wearing, right? Like you skate in kind of long skirts, traditional Navajo clothing. Why, why do you do that instead of, you know, wearing pants or shorts or something else that would be easier probably to skate in?

GLASSES: Oh, yeah. Well, back when I was in high school, I had always wanted to wear the long dresses and dress like traditionally Navajo. As soon as I got out of high school, I started wearing the skirts, and it just kind of really became a part of me. So that's when I would sometimes find myself wanting to skate and I didn't wanna have to like completely change into a pair of pants.

I mean, I want to talk a little bit about your journey in fashion, like you're a model as well. You're also a weaver. You have this like impressive turquoise collection that's been written up in Vogue and you've done a lot of these kind of collaborations now with various fashion designers and houses working from your weaving. How do you see fashion intersecting with the work that you do as well as sort of your Navajo identity?

GLASSES: Honestly, I feel like fashion is such a thing part of identity, like not just for me but for everyone, obviously. And I, I like being able to express that and I've been fortunate enough that I can work with these amazing companies and I'm most excited about showing the beauty of the net designs on pieces. I really do like expressing who I am by wearing my turquoise, as you had mentioned, in the Vogue article that was written up about me last year. That was an amazing experience.

I mean, I had met the writer, Christian Allaire, at Santa Fe India Market. And so I'm just really grateful for like people like Christian in the fashion industry because he's Indigenous as well. And he is also bringing the spotlight to Indigenous people in fashion and letting people understand that different Indigenous art forms are luxury. Like he had this one article about how bead work is luxury. And I think that was really important because a lot of times people don't value the time and effort that goes into a lot of Native artwork. And so I'm really appreciative to people like Chris in the fashion world and so many others.

So as a weaver, I know that you kind of try to combine these worlds, right? Like you try to use traditional Navajo design, but also combine it or maybe push it forward with some fashion edge. Tell us about your process and in design and and and how it shows in your weaving.

GLASSES: So a lot of my weavings aren't actually planned. I kind of have a rough idea of about how big I want the weaving to be and then I warp it up. So that's like, I guess the skeleton of the weaving you could say, and then I find out where my middle is and then I just kind of count and randomly work on figuring out exactly what design will go next. It kind of just like will come to me as I weave, it just flows to me naturally.

Where does the inspiration for that come from for you?

GLASSES: The inspiration can come from a variety of places and a lot of times I find that it comes from our surroundings. So I'll see like maybe in the sky, like I'll see like a sunset and I'll like how the colors combine in the sky or I'll see a rock randomly laying next to another rock. And I'm like, hey, that color combination is really nice or I could see striations in a rock and be like, oh, like that would be really pretty. It looks like a wedge weave and then I could try working on something similar. So really, it just comes from, it sounds like it comes from a lot of nature now that I'm explaining it.

Fair enough. So, I mean, you've taken this so far and you've been so successful in it. And I know you've probably got a lot more on the horizon, but I, I wonder this, like a lot of people as successful as you are, I think would, would leave, like would go to, you know, the big city to New York or LA where a lot of the fashion kind of world exists. I wonder why you have stayed on the Navajo Nation.

GLASSES: I feel that on the Navajo Nation, there's just so much more inspiration to draw from. I think that if I were to move to a big city and I could lose that drive in the maybe in the magic of what being here on the Navajo Nation does. For me. I think it's honestly a lot of technology too. Like I think if this were a time before then I would have probably had to move somewhere like California or New York. However, I'm really thankful that these tools and technology exists that I can, I can be at home and I can be on the land and enjoy the life that I love out here and also get to design and do something I love. So, I'm really thankful for that.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.