how i get it done

Lauren Good Day Is Making Wearable Native Art

A woman wearing her long dark hair in two braids poses for a portrait. She is wearing an outfit inspired by traditional tribal regalia..
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos:Debbie Black Hawk

Lauren Good Day got her introduction to Native art at 6 years old, when her mom taught her how to bead her first bracelet. As a Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet, and Plains Cree teen in North Dakota, she became a sought-after designer of tribal regalia, including jingle dresses, shawls, and intricately beaded moccasins, for powwow dancers. “I made a decent amount of money too!” she says. After college, Good Day spent a decade showing her traditional Native drawings at galleries and selling her work; then, in 2019, she launched her first ready-to-wear collection based on her art. She’s since collaborated with brands like Sephora, Prados Beauty, and Sackcloth & Ashes. 

Her latest fall line — sold exclusively on laurengoodday.com — mimics traditional buffalo-robe paintings and features her original ledger art. (After the Civil War, Native artists and historians who drew on animal hides adopted ledger pages as a new medium.) Natives on horseback parade across one black satin maxi dress with puffed sleeves; a moss-green frill-neck top stands out for its elegant motif of elk teeth. “I’m always updating our traditional dress with digital prints and new textiles,” Good Day says, “but the root of my aesthetic is who we are as a people and a culture.” She lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, with her husband and three children, who are between 2 and 10 years old. Here’s how she gets it done.

On her morning routine: 
First things first: I get the kids up and get them ready. I always joke that I’m a mom all day and an artist by night. We usually start the morning this way: We pray and we smudge. Basically, that means we smoke ourselves off with our traditional plant medicines, which would be sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. We also pray that we’re kind and that kindness, luck, and good fortune come to us. We ask that we’re protected as we go about our day.

On what gets her through the day:
I’m a coffee lover and maybe even an addict. I was using artificial creamer until I realized how bad it is for you. So now, I make black coffee and add my protein shake for the cream. I have to be careful about sweeteners because Native people are more prone to diabetes — my mom and grandmother had it.

On her evening routine: 
The majority of my creative work happens after we have dinner as a family and put the kids to bed around 8:30. Many times, I’ll work on original art at night. I might dive into a beadwork project, which will later be turned into a print and pattern for my clothing. Or sometimes, I’ll get online and answer customer-service emails or update the website. On a good night, I go to bed at midnight. But sometimes, I’m up until 3 a.m.

On powwow dancing and staying fit: 
I love the stair-stepper because it has really helped prepare me as a powwow dancer. Powwow is our cultural celebration of life. I know dancers who train all year just to keep themselves in shape. Most days, I do anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes on the stair-stepper, and then I do some light weight lifting. As a mother, I have to make sure that I’m keeping my body healthy.

I call my husband a “powwow dad” because he helps me get our three kids ready to dance. I’m braiding hair, while he’s putting them into leggings and dresses. My husband once asked me, “Do you ever get nervous going out there and dancing in front of all those people?” I was like, “I never thought about it that way.” I guess it’s just natural to me. My mom took me to powwow before I could even walk. I’ve seen the celebrations get larger since then, too. Native families who were put in metropolitan areas to assimilate into white culture because of the Indian Relocation Act are finding powwow as a way to connect to their people. It’s one way our aesthetic culture is alive and thriving. If it wasn’t for powwow, I wouldn’t be where I am today as an artist.

On launching her first collection: 
For start-up funding, I put in $5,000 of my savings from selling my art, and my mother contributed the other half. It was a fairly small collection, eight pieces, and I launched on social media. I had a base audience of connections and friends from the Native powwow community. But still, I had no idea how it would hit with people or in the market. The pieces sold out and I restocked twice. I reinvested the money into my business, and after the launch of my second collection, my mom and I went out to dinner to celebrate.

On being flexible: 
My timeline is very fluid. I’m not a super-hard planner. I’ll be like, “I’m going to get my fall collection out sometime in September or October — around then.” This is something that I could improve on, I guess. It’s the nature of Native culture. There are certain times to do ceremonies, and those times are strict, but what we do as a people in our daily lives is more like, “It will get done when it’s meant to get done.I love having the freedom to work on my terms as an artist. Maybe I don’t want to deal with the website right now, so I will go and work on a drawing. I can decide when I want to be creative or when I just want to spend time with my family.

On doing business with her community: 
I always try to work with other Native people to contribute to the Native economy. I have two employees: One of them is my husband, Bryce DeCory, and the other is my cousin Debbie Black Hawk, who is my assistant and photographer. When I do a shoot, I always try to work with Native models. And whenever I do really well with a new collection, I give back to other individual Native artists by purchasing some of their work.

On embracing her inner Auntie: 
I’m 36. One of my younger models called me an “Auntie” recently, and I was like, “What? Auntie?” But I have come to terms with getting into the middle range of life. This is my time. I’m finding a lot of success. I’m shining. In Native culture, you become an Auntie to a lot of people, whether you’re directly related to them or not. In my role as a Native woman designer and artist, I also need to remember to encourage our youth.

On the moment she felt like she made it:
Seeing my artwork at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., was a highlight. My piece was ledger artwork and called Independence Day Celebration. I actually come from a historical ledger artist named Bloody Knife, and his art is in the museum too.

On banishing self-doubt: 
Whenever I start doubting myself, I quickly change my thought pattern into positive thinking. And I’m a firm believer that what you put out there — whatever you think or say — will happen. If I start to think people aren’t going like this design or it won’t sell, I’m like, “No! People are going to feel empowered wearing it. They will be proud of who they are when they put this on. Or they will appreciate it if they’re not Natives.”

On cultural appropriation versus appreciation: 
People ask me about this on the daily. When you purchase directly from a Native artist or a designer, that’s cultural appreciation. When someone asks me, “But can I wear this dress? I’m not Native,” I tell them what I sell is always appropriate ready-to-wear. I would never create anything out of sacred pieces. It’s appreciation when you contribute directly to the Native community.

On the people who help her get it done: 
I have one part-time person who comes in and does maintenance for our studio space and the fulfillment area in the basement. My children model for me, and they’re also fit models for clothing. I did a campaign called “Indigenous Barbie,” and my two daughters are featured in it. My kids are such a driving force with my artwork because I create to keep our culture alive and available for the next generations.

Lauren Good Day Is Making Wearable Native Art