By D. Vienneau (Photo credit: Helena Lines)
Inspired by their parents’ work and their family’s Snuneymuxw heritage, sister design duo Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good are educating future generations through wearable art, traditional language and music. Together, they continue a legacy created by their parents’ artistic works which spans four decades.
Their company name Ay Lelum is Hul’q’umi’num for the Good(ay) House(lelum) of Design—a second generation Coast Salish Design House in Nanaimo, British Columbia. It has been built on a foundation of teachings and knowledge passed down through generations of artists and storytellers.
Mentored in fashion design by Sandra Moorhouse-Good, their mother and a talented painter, the sisters also collaborate with and feature artwork by their father, traditional Coast Salish artist William Good and their brother W. Joel Good.
The sisters incorporate culture and family into every element of their business. Traditional family designs are central to the creation of their fabrics and patterns, family members model their designs and they write and record their own music as part of the design process.
SAY Magazine caught up with this multidisciplinary powerhouse-duo who are not only passionate about design and eco-friendly products, but also about documenting their family traditions and passing them on to the next generation. In this interview, Aunalee and Sophia talk about family, business, their latest collection and their responsibility as educators.
SAY: When COVID-19 hit, all major events, including Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, were inevitably cancelled. How did that impact the launch of your new collection?
Aunalee: When the pandemic hit, we thought this collection would never see the light of day. We had no choice but to pivot to the digital world, so we created a photo and video launch campaign that enabled us to maintain engagement with our customer base. We kept the video very personal, within our community and our family, and did the launch ourselves. We also recorded all the music, which was produced by Rob the Viking. With the support of many networks, our latest collection Yuxwule’ Sul’sul’tun~Eagle Spindle Whorl was successfully designed and taken to market.
SAY: What does your newest collection represent?
Sophia: According to the teachings of our father, when the world was in darkness, the Creator answered the peoples’ prayers and sent the Supernatural Eagle to bring the sunlight to the people—the Supernatural Eagle is represented throughout the collection and featured on Spindle Whorls. Yuxwule’ Sul’sul’tun~Eagle Spindle Whorl also represents the women behind the Spindle Whorl, as universal mothers, life-givers, water carriers, and weavers of life. The Supernatural Eagle is featured with supernatural water figures, like killer whales and serpents, to bring us power and strength.
SAY: What came first, art or fashion?
Sophia: Our dad revitalized the Coast Salish Nanaimo style art form, and in the early ’90s he and Mom started a clothing line. Their vision really started in the late ’80s though when Mom started painting clothing and Dad was doing art and carving. Our family had a vision of a full clothing line.
SAY: What do you love about what you do?
Aunalee: The most fun is watching your showcase go down the runway when everything is complete. We develop all of the patterns on our fabrics—we create garments and music. When we’ve spent about eight months intensely working on a showcase and then see the whole vision come out on stage—that’s the most exhilarating aspect!
SAY: Of the many roles you play in your career, and in life, which do you feel is the most important?
Sophia: One of our most important roles is as educators, on Indigenous art, our history, and who we are as a people. Our role falls within education, arts and fashion. This business allows us to become more educated with our culture, affording us the opportunity, and the time, to learn from our parents and then pass that on.
Aunalee: We are a family business—a multigenerational family of artists. Second generation in our business. Our parents are our mentors, and they were both trained by their grandparents. We try to pass that on to the public, not only in our business, but it’s also important to educate the next generations. Our music is also a form of education because it incorporates language and storytelling.
SAY: We know that both of you value education, cultural and academic. What are your educational backgrounds, and how has it influenced your career?
Sophia: I am halfway through my bachelor of arts in psychology. As a working mother of five, I do plan on finishing my degree later on. Aunalee and I also continue to learn our language, Hul’q’umi’num, which is a lot of research and practice, but it is vital to the work we do and in educating the children.
Aunalee: I started my degree right out of high school and then stopped to work in the family business. I eventually went back and finished my degree in English from Vancouver Island University. It certainly helps me in marketing and in writing proposals. If you’re balancing education, work and family life, it may take a little longer, but that’s ok. The point is that you’re doing it!
SAY: What advice do you have for the young Indigenous person interested in pursuing a career in the arts or fashion?
Sophia: Go for it! We started a business around five years ago, and we couldn’t sew. We didn’t even understand patterns. We sew from samples to gowns now, but it was a learning process. You just have to start!
Aunalee: Find a mentor or artist to work/apprentice under, or you can take the more academic route. A blend of both is the most ideal. We dove in head first, but we also had a background in this industry. Ultimately, it takes a great support system to help you realize your vision.
SAY: Can you speak a bit about cultural knowledge and the importance of passing it on?
Aunalee: Being conscious of documenting is something we do all the time. When we started working with our parents, it was the pre-digital era and there wasn’t a lot of photography. We are bridging the gap between the pre-digital timeframe and the digital era for the next generation so that [my parents’] work doesn’t get lost. Our father was working with a style of artwork that was at the brink of extinction, and we realize we are instrumental in keeping that information alive.
Sophia: If someone has an elder or knowledge keeper around or within their family, take the time to learn from them. Our parents did that for us; we learned from them. We also went to language classes with our grandmother. It’s really important to value cultural knowledge. It’s something we integrate into our clothing—our collections become stories, so we are storytellers of different legends and artwork. It is an honour to be able to carry on our parents’ legacies.
Aunalee and Sophia’s latest collection celebrates women, inspiring hope and strength. We salute them for their commitment to ingenuity and cultural education, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next!