In 2012, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain was sitting in East Glacier, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in the house where he grew up. He'd just returned from three years in the Midwest, where he'd studied creative writing, and he was unsure about what to do next. "I was, like, 'Fuck, I gotta do something.' Besides write. Because, you know, expecting to make money off of writing is silly," he says. HolyWhiteMountain wanted to make money, but he wanted to do it in a way that would offer something to the reservation community.
"When people think about reservations," HolyWhiteMountain says, "they think about poverty and addiction and domestic abuse and things like that. ... I was like, 'Maybe I can make something that people from Indian Country can be proud of.' Because it's so hard to be proud of something when you're continuously being told that what really sets you apart from the rest of country is a sad history and a bad present. That can be so hard on people's sense of self."
Hoping to give people in Indian Country something that would allow them to identify proudly with their reservation origins, he decided to print T-shirts that declared "Rez Made" in all-caps on the front. On the back would be a feather overlaying a circle, broadly symbolizing, he says, "the interdependence of the individual and community."
HolyWhiteMountain, a University of Montana graduate, returned to Missoula in 2012 to get Rez Made started. In Missoula, Statriot, Zoo City Apparel and Garage Tees had all successfully launched apparel businesses. HolyWhiteMountain contracted with Garage Tees to do his printing, and he began selling shirts at powwows around the state. He found a receptive market, selling, he estimates, more than 1,000 shirts over the next two summers.
Last month, he launched his website, rezmade.com. While he continues to do printing for powwows through Garage Tees, the printing and shipping of online orders is done through a Chicago-based company. This, he hopes, is only a temporary arrangement. Ultimately, he would like to base Rez Made on the Blackfeet Reservation, so that he can offer people there not only something to identify with but also an importantif smalleconomic boost.