ACONAV: Loren Aragon, Acoma Navajo Fashion Designer

ACONAV creator Loren Aragon grew up a mix of traditional and modern.

He says his grandfather, who taught him a lot “about who we are as a people”, also encouraged him to learn about the world outside of Acoma Pueblo. It’s a combination that took him from a degree in mechanical engineering to the world of fashion.

After earning his degree from Arizona State University, Loren wanted to try something different. Seeing the work at the Santa Fe Indian Market drew him to want to do more with fine arts. He had always drawn and found himself doing illustrations and sculpting with gourds. He took lessons from his uncle, who made jewelry. Loren used the designs from the traditional pottery of Acoma in his jewelry. Together with his wife, Valentina, he started a greeting card business. It was the craft of his mother and aunts, however, that would take him into the world of fashion. Seamstresses, they created traditional garments that reflected the designs and culture of the Pueblo.

For Loren, the catalyst for this new phase of his journey turned out to be an awareness of how the label of Native American could mean very little connection to true Native culture. Seeing fashions which were labeled “Native American” but showed only a generic view of the rich tradition he knew from his own background in their design bothered him. As he puts it, the pieces “were a hodgepodge of unidentifiable designs.” This lack of truly Native designs inspired him to create ACONAV, his fashion company. Today, Loren and his company are highlighted as he competes for Designer of the Year in the Phoenix Fashion Week.

In 2012, with a fellowship from the Wheelwright Museum, Loren designed and created prints that used the pottery traditional to Acoma. He felt these would be recognizable patterns that would identify the prints as truly Native American. With two traditional and two modern pieces that adhered to the standards required for entry, he headed to the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013 with his new collection. Having been well received there, Loren created his first full twenty-piece collection and headed to other shows.

Loren entered his work in a competition held by Jolonzo Goldtooth in 2015. The prize was a chance to accompany Jolonzo as a guest designer to New York City’s Fashion Week. His designs won him such respect that he was asked to return in 2016. In 2016, he also placed second in the Phoenix Fashion Week’s School for Emerging Designers. It was a goal of his to be part of this fashion “boot camp”, with workshops on how to understand the business side of the industry along with how to reach out to the media to create interest in his designs.

The importance of all the attention, for Loren, is to help people understand that Native artists can and should represent themselves, that true Native American designs are reflective of a rich cultural background rather than a few generic patterns. Even the name of his company reflects this individuality: ACO for his own tradition from Acoma Pueblo and NAV for Valentina’s Navajo heritage. ACONAV’s motto is: “cultural designs embodied in timeless elegance”. They do everything inhouse, making their company and their products truly Native made and Native owned.

Another important part of his designs is to promote empowerment, especially the empowerment of women. As Acoma Pueblo is a matrilineal culture which holds women in high regard, Loren would like to see his fashions help women “stand out, step forth and move on to bigger things.” ACONAV works with models and actresses as well as business women who often find themselves in the spotlight. Through their fashions they seek to give women a sense of confidence that allows them to shine in that spotlight.

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