Colourful and intricate beadwork not only serves as a bold fashion statement but can also be a meditative outlet for designers. Beaded pieces can include dangling and studded earrings, pins, and broaches to enhance any style. Indigenous bead worker Kaytlyn Nadjiwon of Soft but Sturdy has been creating and selling her unique designs for the last two years.
After intending to learn beadwork from her mother, Kole Peplinskie, fellow bead worker and close friend, helped bridge the gap and taught Kaytlyn how to bead. Kaytlyn recalls, I was able to find community in Kole, who is now a really close friend of mine, but at the time I just met. I’m really thankful for them for sharing the craft for me. They were really there for me as someone I could send my terrible first projects to and get some praise”.
It was during a period of grief and loss that Kaytlyn turned to beading the most. After losing her mother in August of 2019, Kaytlyn focused on her newest projects as an outlet during such a difficult time. “It was during that time when Kole visited me at the hospital and brought me beading supplies. I spent that week beading a monarch butterfly, which was my first big project.
My mom did pass, and it’s really special to me. That is how I started beading again, because I needed something to ground me”. Kaytlyn continued to bead for quite some time following her mother’s passing. When she shared a pair of earrings on her Instagram page, a follower reached out, and she was able to sell her first pair. “That’s when the idea sparked that I could actually do this. The year after my mom passed was my first collection. I launched it on the date of her passing, which was on August 8th. I called it Joy, and that was when Soft but Sturdy really began”.
When asked what the name Soft but Sturdy means to her, Kaytlyn described it as taking back the idea of resilience. While people are well-meaning, words such as “strong” and “resilient” can come across as condescending, especially when referring to the experiences of an indigenous person. Kaytlyn explains, “This is me taking it back and saying “I don’t want to be strong and hard and admired for these traits that I’ve been forced to take on based on what happened to me”. So, I took it back and decided that I’m both soft and vulnerable while being really strong”. These qualities radiate through Kaytlyn’s designs and through the colours and styles she chooses to work with.
Along with her work for Soft but Sturdy, Kaytlyn is also the brand ambassador lead for Octopied Mind. Both businesses share many of the same core beliefs and values, such as human rights and building a community of like-minded individuals. Kaytlyn reflects on the appeal of Octopied Mind as a brand, “I really like what they stand for. Being inclusive, constantly learning and evolving, and the way they engage with people. It makes me think about my place in community and my place in the world. Octopied Mind is really good at intertwining all of those things together while being a business”.
Kaytlyn became the brand ambassador lead six months ago and has been helping Sarah and Jill with their community presence, marketing, collecting data and seeing how people are receiving the brand. Kaytlyn and the ladies at Octopied Mind have been inspiring and supporting one another. “Sarah has been so lovely. She suggested that I bring my earrings to the shoot for the “Don’t Touch Me” launch. Sarah said “bring your stuff! I want to be able to lift you up”. And that is what I want to be able to do that for other small businesses when I’m at that level”.
As an Indigenous creator, Kaytlyn has been fiercely vocal about the injustices that Indigenous people continue to face in Canada. When asked how she wanted to contribute to the conversation, Kaytlyn admits, “I think that I’m really interested in giving people that sense of love and power that comes with adorning themselves. Whether that is Indigenous folks who are wearing powerful medicine, or settlers wearing Indigenous bead work”.
Through Soft but Sturdy, Kaytlyn gives people the opportunity to understand where the artwork comes from and to appreciate the culture, instead of appropriating it. “Every time I see someone who wears beaded earrings, I think, “that person is on my team”. It’s like a signal notifying me that people are supporting Indigenous businesses are are in our corner”. For those who want to support Indigenous artists and businesses, Soft but Sturdy‘s bead work is worth looking out for.
For more information, visit https://ko-fi.com/softbutsturdy/shop
Author: Vanessa Butera, Content Writer, The Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – [email protected]