P.O Box 82032, Fairbanks AK US 99708
Rico Dewilde started designing T-shirts as a way to let go.
But it became a way to remember loved ones and to honor his ancestors.
"I was real close to them," said Dewilde, 32. "And I wanted to do something different."
After three of his family members died, Dewilde, an Athabascan Indian, said he took the Native concept of potlatching, where Athabascan people gather and put away the belongings of loved ones lost to let them go and to later remember them, and took it to the next level.
"It's part of the whole finishing mourning," Dewilde said. "It's a way of letting go. ... You make sweatshirts, you make shirts, cups, hats. That's the way we do it today."
Remembering the artwork of a friend who was in prison, Dewilde set out for fresh designs for the T-shirts indicating the potlatch of his family members.
"I seen his work on people's tattoos that came out of the system," Dewilde said, referring to prison. "I talked to him on the phone and told him what I wanted, he busted out a bunch of artwork. He sent them to me and I paid him.
"I shopped around for garments, made 25 of them and gave them away to close friends and family."
And that's when Dewilde's clothing line became the talk of the town. The clothing line led him to his third show during the Indian Gaming '08 convention in downtown San Diego on Monday, where hundreds of tribal leaders and those associated with Native gaming attended a day full of workshops and prepared for Tuesday's trade show.
With the help of two friends, one still in prison, Dewilde's clothing line continues to grow, nearly six months after it started.
With a growing number of Native designers and entrepreneurs, Dewilde said he wanted his clothing line to have a Native look, but to have a different Native look.
"With Hydz I wanted to represent beauty and strength of Native American culture because I think we lost a lot of that. We're taught to be ashamed," Dewilde said. "I think we lost a lot of our pride. It's kind of a way to bring back our pride."
Judy Matt, a Native jewelry artist for nearly 30 years from Missoula, Mont., said she has seen young entrepreneurs like Dewilde emerge into the field over the years.
"It really is a young people's job," said Matt, 50. "It's hard to do, it's like building a store, taking it down, and putting it back up again."
With two sons in their twenties who are also clothing designers, Matt said only good things can come from younger generation entrepreneurs.
"He has really excellent designs," Matt said of Dewilde. "It's really a good thing to see young people get involved."
Like Matt, Dewilde sees the good things that make him enjoy his work, but more importantly he can see the hope that it brings, especially when it comes young Native Americans in his community.
"That speaks a lot for the younger generation in Alaska, they look at me and go, 'Dang, this guy can legitimately create something that brings him out and sees different parts of the U.S.," Dewilde said. "Because a lot of people feel trapped in Alaska.
"This, I think, also gives the younger generation the 'this can be done attitude,' " he said. "We're not stuck. If you try hard enough, you can get out."
Dewilde said his interest in becoming a successful entrepreneur is exactly what got him out and gave him hope.
"It's a tool to a way out, a key to the door out," he said.
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