Artist Jamie Gentry weaves elements of her culture and creativity into the traditional moccasins she makes by hand. While her family gravitated to sports while she was growing up in Victoria, Gentry, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, was drawn toward creative pursuits like art and dance.
“My aunt and uncle were both artists,” she explained regarding her relatives, carver Kevin Cranmer and jewelry maker Lou-Ann Neel. “Their artwork was always around and that greatly influenced me.”
Although she always wanted to make moccasins, Gentry could never find someone to teach her until she moved to Sooke in 2010.
When the T’Sou-ke Nation offered a workshop four years ago, Gentry jumped at the opportunity.
“I didn’t intend to start a business once I got started, I just wanted to learn how,” she explained. “But once I got started and couldn’t stop making moccasins, it seemed to make sense.”
She put them online with the cards and children’s clothing she makes from recycled materials and was pleasantly surprised by the response. “It was shocking how quickly it took off from there,” she noted.
Gentry originally started selling her moccasins at Beyond Buckskin, a North Dakota online boutique for native artists. Her work is also available through Manitobah Mukluks, a company that prominently features the work of First Nations artists.
“It’s one of the fastest growing companies in the world and has provided a lot of exposure,” she said. “This month has been my busiest so far.”
Although Gentry usually averages two to 10 pairs a month, she is working on completing 30 orders by the end of December. All her moccasins are woven or stitched in Different in what way?different styles, some featuring beading and some leather stamped by her husband, Robert.
“It’s become a full-time passion, they’re all custom designed and I love what I do,” she said. “It’s important to preserve our culture by adding elements of yourself and your culture to what you design.”
Although she didn’t initially have a sense of what to charge for a pair that can easily take a couple of days to complete, depending on the bead work, Gentry is grateful that Manitobah Mukluks assisted her.
“They put an emphasis on raising awareness that it’s an art form, not just a craft,” she said. “It’s a very time consuming process made by hand with love.”
She charges between $150 to $325 a pair, depending on the amount of work and beading.
Although Gentry was “completely shocked” to be selected as First Nation Entrepreneur of the Year in a recent Black Press Best of West Shore feature, it helped reinforce her belief in what she’s doing.
“Even though I don’t like being in the spotlight, it felt really good to be acknowledged,” she said. “I want this to be sustainable and that underlined for me that I’m on the right path.”
Check out Gentry’s work on Facebook.com/Love in Everything.