Navajo fashion designer Goldtooth continues to draw attention

Mike Easterling The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — In the space of barely six months, Jolonzo Goldtooth has gone from a fashion design newcomer to a mentor for Native young people in the Four Corners who aspire to break into the fashion business themselves.

Goldtooth, a Piedra Vista High School and University of New Mexico graduate who still lives on his family's ranch on the Navajo Nation's Huerfano Chapter south of Bloomfield, burst onto the national scene in February when he showed his line at PLITZS New York City Fashion Week. Now — even as the rapidly rising star prepares for a show this weekend at the Santa Fe Indian Market, a show on Aug. 30 in Melbourne, Australia, and another show Sept. 12 at the fall PLITZS New York City Fashion Week — he's doing what he can to help Native designers, models, hair and makeup artists, and photographers from the area achieve the kind of success that has come his way of late.

"It was the way I was brought up," Goldtooth said last week as he prepared to lead a fashion business workshop at the Three Rivers Art Center, adding that he made a point of taking along Native Farmington models when he made his first trip to New York in February. "I feel like I need to share the blessings I have ... It makes me definitely proud."

Goldtooth continues to put that philosophy into practice. He's working regularly with hair and makeup artist Goldie Tom from Gallup and photographer Jan Harrison of Fruitland, both of whom are Navajo. Goldtooth, Tom and Harrison all took part in last week's workshop at TRAC, as well as another recent workshop Goldtooth organized in Gallup.

"I would like to go around the Four Corners region and develop a pool of models and help them build their portfolio," Goldtooth said, explaining the purpose behind the workshops.

Goldtooth, who made it to the semifinal level for the Lifetime network reality series "Project Runway" in April, has created his own design label, JG Indie, and said orders are beginning to stack up. He also regularly draws invitations to take part in fashion shows in such locales as New Zealand; Vancouver, British Columbia; Paris; and Milan, Italy.

"I would say that's the only thing that's troubling," Goldtooth said, explaining that while he's beginning to generate a good income from those orders, he's also having a bit of trouble coming up with the cash to fund his crew's considerable travel expenses to those far-flung locations to further market the label.

That won't be so much of a concern this weekend when Goldtooth previews his new collection relatively close to home in a show at the Encaustic Art Institute in Santa Fe. The show takes place at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21 at the EAI, 632 Agua Fria St.

"I feel really blessed to be able to have my own show," Goldtooth said of that event, which is held in conjunction with the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market presented by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. The event is the largest Native American arts market in existence, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world.

As soon as that's over, Goldtooth will make his first trip out of the country to show his line in Australia at a show for the Indigenous Runway Project. That will leave him just enough time to fly home, get organized again, and jet to the East Coast for the fall PLITZS New York City Fashion Week, an event he described as taking place at the height of the fashion industry season and attracting throngs of buyers. It is there that he plans to debut his new Native Royalty look.

Goldtooth, who also was profiled in recent editions of Native Peoples Magazine and Cowboys & Indians magazine, acknowledged that his career momentum appears to be snowballing with all the attention he's drawing. But it's a point of pride for him that he remains based in the Farmington area and that many of the materials he uses in his designs are found in this region.

Goldtooth said he tries to stay grounded in everyday life in the Four Corners, explaining that he was deeply disturbed by the recent toxic wastewater spill from the Gold King Mine into the Animas and San Juan rivers. He plans to express those feelings by designing two garments that reflect the before-and-after nature of how the rivers looked, employing sort of a yin yang approach.

He's also pleased to be giving another Native New Mexico designer, Loren Aragon, his first exposure to the fashion big leagues at PLITZS New York City Fashion Week next month. Goldtooth said that opportunity presented itself in correlation with the recent second annual Survival of the First Voices Festival in Kirtland, a free conference founded by Kirtland natives Allie Young and Jourdan Bennett-Begaye that encourages students to use art and media as mass communication tools to preserve their indigenous culture, reclaim their history, build a strong cultural foundation, change the misrepresentation of Native Americans and increase the Native American presence in mainstream society.

Goldtooth served as the fashion show coordinator for the conference, while PLITZS New York City Fashion Week was one of the festival partners. Goldtooth said Wayne Shields, the founder and chief creative director of PLITZS Fashion Marketing, had planned to attend the event and select an emerging Native designer to take part in Fashion Week, just as he had provided that opportunity to Goldtooth earlier this year.

But when Shields couldn't make it, he entrusted that responsibility to Goldtooth, who chose Aragon. The Acoma Pueblo native will find himself in much the same position as Goldtooth was just six months ago, showing his looks for the first time under the bright lights in New York City. Goldtooth said Aragon is very excited about the opportunity.

"He's just the third Native American to show for the PLITZS foundation at Fashion Week," Goldtooth said.

The Four Corners native paused to consider how far he has come in the three years since he began his own design career, and he said there's no reason other Native young people can't achieve the same kind of success. He said Aragon deserves to be recognized for the fact that he incorporates his own textiles into his designs — something Goldtooth would like to learn to do.

As focused as he is on taking advantage of his opportunities, Goldtooth also intends to lead the way in building a network of Four Corners fashion professionals who nurture, support and rely on each other, someday perhaps building their own distinctive brand in a highly competitive industry.

But for now, he isn't getting carried away with himself. After all, he's got way too much work to do over the next several weeks.

"I'm still emerging," he said.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and Follow him@measterlingfdt on Twitter.