To Market, To Market: IndigiExchange Marketplace brings Native artisans online
(Photo courtesy of Don James / ATM)
Spirit Mountain Roasting Co.’s Ethiopia blend coffee beans. Adrian Tsosie’s print of a dog warrior. Margarita Paz-Pedro’s carved ceramic bowl. All of these finds are available on IndigiExchange Marketplace (indigiexchange.com), an online shopping hub featuring Native American makers working in media from (coffee) beans to basketry.
New Mexico Community Capital created the marketplace to fulfill its mission to provide “culturally appropriate tools for success to emerging Native American-owned businesses, Native families, and tribal enterprises,” according to its website. In 2018, NMCC leaders and trainers were visiting pueblo and tribal communities to teach their financial and business basics course when they saw a need for these businesses to get online and share marketing resources.
The pandemic only heightened these needs. In-person selling opportunities- the main revenue stream for many Native American artisans screeched to a halt. NMCC marketing manager Kalika Davis says, “A lot of their sales were from powwows and Indian Market. That all stopped. Some had resisted technology but they needed it then.”
When program manager Henry Jake Foreman received a Financial Education Innovator Award from Nusenda in 2020, he funneled his $5,000 into launching IndigiExchange. The program’s flagship is the website, which harnesses NMCC’s platform and the power of shared marketing for the collective. However, the online shop is only part of the program.
Artisans also take part in a digital media marketing course that teaches them to build their own website, and provides tutorials in branding, photography, and pricing. Thanks to sponsors, they also receive ChromeBooks, and Google Pixels, as well as subscriptions to web hosting and site building service Weebly, digital market design platform Canva, and point-of-sale platform Square. In short, they have all the tools they need to leap online.
IndigiExchange artist Alicia Littlebear, of A.littlebear Jewelry, picked up beading during the pandemic. She started to learn jewelry just before the initial shutdown in March of 2020. Littlebear (Tamaya/Mvskoke/Yuchi/Shawnee) envisioned creating versatile beaded hoop earrings that could be worn anywhere from a hip-hop show to a brunch and to work.
After her initial lessons with Nan Yellowmule, creator of the Miss Indian World beaded crown, she continued with trial and error. By November, she created a design that met her vision. “I wanted to bring together traditional beading with contemporary fashion,” she says. “This contemporary art is a way to represent contemporary indigenous people. We’re still here. We evolve.”
Customers quickly snapped up every pair she posted and sold through Instagram. She decided to form an official business to help her customers feel secure in the purchasing process. Being part of IndigiExchange, she says, only furthers that legitimacy.
“People from other states and countries are looking at IndigiExchange Marketplace,” she says, “It helps me that my work is on this prestigious page. It helps people know my brand and mission.”
While Littlebear was already familiar with online selling, other artists are complete digital novices. Clara Fernando, of Designs by Pi, has been a working artist for more than 30 years. Her creative journey began with ceramics, but has evolved to include wire wrap jewelry, painting, and reproductions of her original paintings based on pottery designs.
Her approach and artistic mission crosses media.
“Pi is my childhood nickname from my dad, but I represent it in my work with the pi sign,” she says. “I want to reconcile the idea of my people being simple minded. We had geometrical and symmetrical designs in our ancient history that were incorporated into our pottery. It was a simple life, but it was an analytical life. Not many people realize that.”
Fernando incorporates geometric sun, butterfly, and thunderbird designs on her line of greeting cards. She uses flower and squash blossom designs on small pottery pieces shaped like buffalo, turtles, and bears. All are available on the IndigiExchange Marketplace.
Prior to the pandemic, the Laguna Pueblo member was selling at a scenic overlook vendor booth on pueblo land. When that opportunity ended, she connected with trainers from NMCC to expand her business online. The marketplace’s bulk purchases of her work to resell provided a valuable revenue stream.
She also valued NMCC’s technical expertise.
“They show you how to promote your business,” she says. “The digital marketplace is huge and venturing into that is scary, but they’re willing to be there to help you. A lot of it is they give you people behind you to support you. If you need someone, you reach out and they’re there.”
With the pandemic waning, some in-person events have returned. IndigiExchange Marketplace artists are now exhibiting in front of NMCC’s offices at the Occidental Life Building, 119 3rd St. SW, during Albuquerque Artwalk’s first Friday events.