Designer Goldtooth plans fashion show at museum

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — Over the last couple of years, Farmington native and Piedra Vista High School product Jolonzo Goldtooth has had to adjust to a schedule that routinely keeps him traveling not just from coast to coast, but abroad as his reputation as a fashion designer continues to grow.

Designer and stylist Jolonzo Goldtooth works with model Caroline Okanee during a shoot in Montana in April.

It's not a lifestyle that leaves a lot of room for relaxation.

"It's always busy," Goldtooth said last week as he worked on his latest project, the Totah Benefit Fashion Show, which will take place this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. The event will help offset the expenses his fashion team will incur as it heads east for Fashion Week in New York City, which runs Thursday, Feb. 9 through Thursday, Feb. 16.

"This is my life, my career, my passion," said Goldtooth, a member of the Navajo Nation. "It's really hectic, but that's the nature of the beast."

Indeed, as soon as this weekend's event wraps up, Goldtooth and his team of models, and hair and makeup artists, collectively known as JG Indie, will pack their gear and head for Manhattan, where the designer will debut his new line. After that, it's off to Melbourne, Australia, in March for another event.

Demanding as it is, it's a lifestyle that offers plenty of rewards, too, as Goldtooth acknowledged, and he's eager to help other local young people carve out a career in fashion-related industries. He hopes to use part of the proceeds from this weekend's event to help stage more workshops and presentations on that subject in the Four Corners.

Waterflow native and former Miss Indian World Kansas Begaye will serve as mistress of ceremonies at the Totah Benefit Fashion Show this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

"I want to show people from here that getting into the fashion industry is a huge possibility," said Goldtooth, who became a designer in 2012 after graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in psychology. "I get asked every other day by parents how they can get their son or daughter involved in this."

Goldtooth designs his workshops with aspiring models, photographers, makeup and hair designers, and journalists in mind. He already has presented several such events at locales around the Four Corners but said he's had to resort to holding those events in private homes recently because he lacks the funds to rent public spaces.

"I'd like to be doing them in a more professional setting," Goldtooth said.

He hopes to raise enough money from this weekend's event — at least $4,000, he said — to cover the JG Indie travel expenses to New York and have enough left over to rent space for workshops at the Farmington Museum or in other well-known public spaces.

Lady Yazzie of the Dancing Earth company in Santa Fe will perform during this weekend's Totah Benefit Fashion Show at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Goldtooth and his team members get together once a week at Starbucks to discuss future products and talk about how they can help other Native young people follow their path. He is particularly interested in delivering presentations on the reservation in low-income communities.

"That's a background we all come from," Goldtooth said. "We want to show them that this is possible, but they have to take this risk and have that passion."

Despite his success as a designer — Goldtooth has been invited to Fashion Week for the past three years, as well as various other high-profile fashion industry events around the world and has built a growing roster of clients — the San Juan County native continues to live here and maintains a strong relationship with his family, which operates a ranch on the Huerfano Chapter.

He believes that gives him a good deal of credibility in Native circles, since he easily could have relocated to New York or Los Angeles, where so much of the fashion industry infrastructure is based.

Instead, Goldtooth is interested in building his own infrastructure here, and this weekend's show is a big step in that direction. As of last week, he already had enlisted the help of several dozen volunteers to help mount the production, including nearly 30 models from Albuquerque, Gallup, and Cortez and Durango, Colo., in addition to the Farmington area.

Designer Jolonzo Goldtooth works with model Corrina Sagarnaga during a February 2015 photo shoot at Lions Wilderness Park in Farmington before his first trip to Fashion Week in New York City.

The show will open with a meet-and-greet session that will feature Navajo appetizers that Goldtooth described as a fusion of urban and rural influences, while DJ Besso spins records. Kansas Begaye, a former Miss Indian World from Waterflow, will serve as mistress of ceremonies, and Lady Yazzie, a member of the Dancing Earth indigenous contemporary dance company in Santa Fe, will perform, as will Cree hand drummer Chase Sayer of Canada. A runway show featuring creations by JG Indie, Penny Singer and Native Barbie will follow.

Singer is a former Farmington resident and award-winning Navajo designer whose new line will make its debut at the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art in Phoenix, Goldtooth said, while Native Barbie combines hip hop and Native cultures.

The event will feature door prizes donated by local businesses. Goldtooth said he was very pleased with the enthusiastic reception he got from local officials and merchants when he approached them for help in putting on the show, singling out the Farmington Museum, the Three Rivers Brewery and Chile Pod restaurants, and La Dolce Vita salon and spa for their contributions.

The idea of local Native young people finding work in fashion-related enterprises is no hollow dream, Goldtooth said, adding that rather than feeling stigmatized by being from the reservation, he is deeply proud of his background.

Work by Navajo designer Penny Singer will be featured at the Totah Benefit Fashion Show this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

"To me, that's the best part of being indigenous," he said.

He urged Native young people to revel in their identity and make it a part of their creative pursuits.

"The advice I've gotten from other designers, especially (Taos Pueblo product and "Project Runway" star) Patricia Michaels was, 'Stay true to yourself. … You can tell a superficial story, but what's going to market you is your journey, your uniqueness.'"

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

A new fashion line by San Juan County native Jolonzo Goldtooth will make its debut during the Totah Benefit Fashion Show this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

If you go

What: The Totah Benefit Fashion Show

When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11

Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.

Tickets: $20 for adults, $30 for couples, $10 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for children ages 7 to 17

For more information: Visit