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Native Sun News: Sun Rose Iron Shell achieves 'Warrior Status'

The following story was written and reported by Denise Giago, Eyapaha Today Editor. It appears in Eyapaha Today, a monthly publication of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Model Wakeah Jhane wearing Hand painted deer rawhide earrings with swavorski crystal detailing. Apache folding weapon set, Elk tooth skirt and fitted tee set by Warror Status.

Warrior Status: Sun Rose Iron Shell
By Denise Giago
Eyapaha Today Editor

Sun Rose Iron Shell (Sicangu and Oglala, Lakota) is a designer whose point of view reaches far beyond the realms of mere clothing. Her brand Warrior Status challenges the wearer to think and live as a modern day warrior.

Iron Shell is a recent graduate from the highly acclaimed Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she received a BA in museum studies and a BFA in studio arts. Her hand crafted clothing and accessories amalgamate acuity of vision with a social and environmental conscience.

Though she had been creating her own powwow dance regalia since she was a child, it was during her time at I.A.I.A. that she made the decision to pursue a career in fashion design. However, the Institute did not (and still does not) offer a degree in Fashion Design, so there was little academic support for her to accomplish her dream, but the designer was not discouraged. “When I graduated I was asked what I was going to do with my degree and I said ‘I am going to be a fashion designer!’” laughs Iron Shell.

Iron Shell’s design style is a direct influence of Northern Plains classical arts, such as parfleche, quill work (wo’skapi), dress design and hide paintings. Her enthusiasm for abstract design emanates from Plains style geometric beadwork. Before she could walk, her parents presented her to the powwow circle and she has been dancing ever since. She began sewing her own regalia at an early age, which led to experimentation in fashion design. City-bred in Denver, Colorado, Iron Shell’s ability to blend urbanized style with traditional designs and techniques is one of her unique attributes.

I first saw Sun Rose Iron Shell’s designs at the 2013 LNI Lakota Fashion Week runway show presented by The Edison Richie Project and Lakota Way. Her models strutted confidently down the runway seemingly empowered by Iron Shell’s sexy, street savvy designs. Her garments are both inventive and seriously wearable. Iron Shell’s Warrior Status collection includes screen printed tees, skirts and dresses embellished with beadwork and quill work as well as footwear, handbags and accessories. I was impressed not only by the originality of her designs but also by the philosophy behind her Warrior Status brand.

Eyapaha Today had a chance to catch up with Sun Rose Iron Shell and find out more about her designs, her dreams and her plans for 2014.

When I called Iron Shell for an interview she was just getting ready to ship out the last pieces of her current collection to Beyond Buckskin. “This is the last of my 2012 and 2013 collections. I am ready to just get it all out there and start fresh,” she said.

Beyond Buckskin is currently Iron Shell’s main outlet. She is one of the featured artists for their online boutique, where she sells her custom clothing and handmade parfleche earrings and accessories.

Iron Shell’s inspiration is rooted in the old Lakota stories of super natural icons. “I grew up hearing about Deer Woman and Double Faced Woman, mostly stories about hitchhikers and the eaters of men’s souls; stories from after the inception of the reservation. I wanted to find out the pre-contact stories. I wanted to learn their designs and songs.”Iron Shell’s creations also reflect traditional star knowledge and universe and plant themes.

As a young girl, Iron Shell was fascinated by what she refers to as “old school warrior stuff” in the stories her elders would tell; stories about invisibility medicine societies and other special warrior powers like ‘the death glace’. Iron Shell explains, “I have always been interested in those things, you see, I want to live old school but we are in a crazy time, with drones and GMO’s, apocalyptic stuff, most people don’t even realize.” The designer also draws directly from her own upbringing, “I am an AIM baby for sure. I grew up in an activist home. So that lends to my militarist aesthetic.” Warrior Status: It’s not just clothes, it’s an attitude.

Iron Shell’s motivations for creating became stronger after spending time with Rosebud (Sicangu), youth serving out their sentences at the juvenile detention center (Wanbli Wiconi Tipi, Rosebud, SD). Throughout her summers, Sun Rose would teach art at the center making collages and painting parfleche cases. During this time she conducted discussions related to Lakota history and introduced inspirational leaders and elders. Her students were able to express themselves and explore ideas of what it is to be a modern Native American. Many were influenced by the gangster image of the 80's and would illustrate those concepts through their art.

After much reflection, the designer came to a realization, “The youth of my generation are the result of assimilation; only today the gang violence and organized crime stereotype are the tools that defeat their hopes. I see them subdued, with high suicide and dropout rates; their ambitions are clouded with secular concepts. I believe healing by self-image can be a way to reignite that warrior spirit within my youth. I want my young people back, our warriors. I want to give them new hopes for life through culture and sustainability; to reclaim our warrior status as Indigenous Peoples.”

The adolescents at the detention center inspired Iron Shell to expand her artwork into fashion by creating a new image of Indigenous aspiration. Her plans are to create a fashion line that aims to invoke and promote revolutionary thought with an emphasis on global Indigenous unity; a clothing style that unites and actively encourages those dedicated to protecting the people, land, and life.

Her work at JDC also got Iron Shell thinking about how the way we present ourselves relates to our actions. “These kids were dressing like gangsters, they were emulating something else. My main inspiration for Warrior Status came out of that experience. I thought if I could get them thinking a different way, you know, to change their philosophy through what they wore.”

Iron Shell figures it this way, she is a young woman from the rez presenting her innovative designs with her models looking all fresh, and that is the draw. Once she can get young people’s attention she can open a conversation. “Warrior Status is about preparing the people mentally, almost like tricking them into thinking militarily about how we will combat this wave of war as the world gets crazier and crazier,” explains Iron Shell.

Warrior Status is also about a fusion of the traditional and the contemporary. The designer ruminates on a time when Lakota women made clothing for the Shirt Wearers (a Lakota man who earned respect and admiration of the People would be permitted to wear a heavily decorated and symbolic shirt that marked him as someone special). “I want the people wearing my clothing to have that same feeling; to feel they are protected and cared for, to feel they are important and needed in their communities. Maybe when they are wearing something that makes them feel that way they will think twice about doing negative, hurtful things.”

Iron Shell continues, “I think about designing clothing that would help people to live in these crazy times as a warrior. I am even looking into working with bullet proof fabrics. That is also why I design with images such as gas masks and bio-hazard symbols; it is a sort of mental preparedness to get people thinking about these realities.”

When Iron Shell was a Museum Studies major at I.A.I.A. she was given a project to create an architectural plan for a museum. She designed a facility that was safe from nuclear fallout. Her museum concept also had its own independent energy source and clean water supply.

“I wish we had that now, a truly sovereign place where we could go and just be Lakota and leave this Babylonian system behind and come together and take care of each other. I dream of creating a place with its own sustainable electricity and clean water source; to build something where people could live. I think Lakota people would naturally gravitate to the jobs that suit them best and benefit the community as a whole.”

Iron Shell recognizes the fact that Lakota culture has captured the imagination of many around the world in the way that few other indigenous tribes have managed. “I grew up Lakota in a colonized world, in the time after treaties with the U.S. after the reservation period, after the boarding school era and right after the American Indian Movements national protest. I am the generation of resistance. We Lakota are the ones known internationally. We have to be the ones to stand up and do something.”

To contact Sun Rose Iron Shell and see more of her designs go to:

(Denise Giago can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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