After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

Kate Crowley,

Imagine this: After producing an event offensive to Native Americans, Paul Frank is now working with Native American artists and designers — going from cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation.

This time of year about 150,000 people descend on Santa Fe, New Mexico for Indian Market and it’s a pretty big deal as leaders and artists from the United States and Canada get together for an extreme exchange of creative thoughts. This past Friday evening before the official start of Indian Market, about 200 fashion-forward folks gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to celebrate the release of the “Paul Frank Presents” collection, featuring work by four Native designers.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

Unlike previous get togethers, this one didn’t include tomahawks, “war paint,” or cocktails with tacky neo-native names. Instead it celebrated a high profile “win” for all who challenge cultural appropriation.

The event launched the collection and included a panel discussion and receptions with some of the movers and shakers involved in the Paul Frank/Beyond Buckskin/Native Appropriations saga proved that sometimes social change can be an outcome of fashion design, blogging, and community action. Whoa. The event centered on a dynamite panel with the collection’s designers (Candace Halcro, Plains Cree/Metis, Louie Gong, Nooksack, Autumn Dawn Gomez, Comanche/Taos and Dustin Quinn Martin, Navajo), powerful female writers and bloggers Adrienne Keene, Cherokee, and Jessica Metcalfe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and VP of Design for Paul Frank, Tracy Bunkoczy.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

Part academic, part celebration, the atmosphere at the beginning of the event was serious: a quick 10-minute rehash of previous events, including the party Paul Frank held where Native appropriation was flaunted, in front a mostly Native crowd was likely the source of Bunkoczy’s cautious nervousness. “It must be hard to sit here and listen to this over and over again,” Keene playfully said of the rehash to the group in attendance from Paul Frank. However Keene also noted that the ladies from Paul Frank really spent extra time working with Metcalf, Keene and the artists to make the collaboration line a reality.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

“This happened because of people in the Native American community and our allies who want us to be represented properly in popular culture,” said Dr. Metcalfe.

“I’m not used to there being any sort of response back to me….I was just blown away, ” says Keene of Paul Frank’s large-scale action, which included facilitating a licensing webinar for those in the industry as well as extensive action on items that had already been licensed.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers2

After a recap of the previous transgressions, the artists spoke to the audience about their work for the collaboration inspiring laughter and head-nodding from the audience. Gomez, wearing a crown from her Paul Frank line, stressed a duty to her community while Gong said his work for the line was directly inspired by the situation that led to the collaboration including “sustainable relationships.” Canadian designer Candace Halcro, with a hairstyle that likely was the inspiration for Miley’s new ‘do, said she loves looking “crazy and cool and trendy.” She’s known as the “sunglasses girl,” and experimented with how to incorporate Julius, the Paul Frank mascot before deciding to stay true to her brand’s most well known look. Dustin Quinn Martin, the first designer to speak ended his portion with this thought: “I hope especially the Native people in the crowd are proud of what we came up with, and feel like there’s a little bit of us in every single one of these designs and that we didn’t sell out to the man.”

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

Indeed, you might be wondering what the deal with profits is here, since it was earlier noted that the designers “consulted” for free. At the event it was revealed that the designers themselves will receive the profits from the new line, but also that much of the work concerning the manufacturing and creation of the items was left to the artists. This wasn’t out of the norm for the female designers, since none of their work can easily be mass-produced. Still, the items showcasing the graphics that the male designers created essentially needed to be outsourced for mass production. “Normal” Paul Frank collaborations involve a split of the profits between the company and the other designer. This time around Paul Frank will not profit from the sales and all of the profits from the collection will go to each of the designers. The items are sold through the Beyond Buckskin Boutique and the Paul Frank items at the MoCNA seemed to be selling well and attracting attention this weekend.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

Autumn Dawn Gomez; Dustin Martin; Candace Halcro.

The crowd was a who’s who of creatives in Indian Country and Santa Fe. Just like any other fashion party, guests were anxious to mingle, meet the designers and try on items from the line. This time though, everyone in attendance was appreciative of the work and aware of what can happen when a community challenges appropriation.

After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers

The artists and panelists pose with the Paul Frank crew.

Kate Crowley is a blogger in the Southwest who writes for New Times’ Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch blogs. Follow her on Twitter: @KateCrowley.

Paul Frank To Unveil Fashion Collaboration with Native American Designers during Santa Fe Indian Market Week

The highly anticipated “Paul Frank Presents” Limited Edition collection will be revealed this week during a special event at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts


LOS ANGELES, Aug. 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Paul Frank, in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), is pleased to announce the debut of its first ever collaboration with four Native American designers during Santa Fe Indian Market this week. The fashion collection will be showcased during a panel and event held at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Friday, August 16 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The “Paul Frank Presents” collection will also be available for purchase at the IAIA MoCNA store.

To kick off the event, MoCNA Director Patsy Phillips will introduce a panel entitled, Beyond the “Tribal Trend”: Developing Proactive Native American Collaboration in Fashion. The panel will feature Jessica Metcalfe of the Beyond Buckskin blog and Beyond Buckskin Boutique, Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations and Tracy Bunkoczy, Paul Frank’s VP of Design as they discuss the brand collaboration, the background story and creation of the collection and the development of proactive Native partnerships in the fashion world.

After the panel, each of the designers will present their products and talk about their personal inspiration for the collaboration. These Native American designers include Louie Gong of Eighth Generation, Autumn Dawn Gomez of The Soft Museum, Candace Halcro of Brownbeaded, and Dustin Martin of S.O.L.O. The “Paul Frank Presents” fashion collection includes a printed tote, pillow and throw blanket by Louie Gong, five collections of Hama bead jewelry by Autumn Dawn Gomez, authentic Paul Frank hand-beaded sunglasses by Candace Halcro and a variety of tees, tanks and bandanas by Dustin Martin.

“This collaboration has been an opportunity for us to help raise awareness about cultural misappropriations, which unfortunately happen too often in product, promotion and fashion,” said Elie Dekel, President of Saban Brands. “Our partnership with these four talented Native American designers was the direct result of our own awakening to this issue from our Paul Frank Fashion’s Night Out event back in September of 2012. We hope this ‘Paul Frank Presents’ collaboration will demonstrate more appropriate ways to engage and celebrate the Native American communities.”

These products are now available for purchase at the IAIA MoCNA store, the websites of the contributing designers and also on For additional information about this collection, please visit

About Paul Frank

Acquired in 2010 by Saban Brands, Paul Frank began in 1997 as an independent accessories company in a Southern California beach town. The brand has steadily grown to become a globally recognized, iconic brand that features artistic and entertaining designs inspired by a love of avant-garde, modern influences and everyday objects. By creating relationships through exciting collaborations and strategic licensing partnerships, Paul Frank merchandise includes apparel and accessories for all ages, books, stationery, eyewear, home decor, bicycles and more. To see what’s new and exciting at Paul Frank, visit

About Saban Brands

Formed in 2010 as an affiliate of Saban Capital Group, Saban Brands (SB) was established to acquire and develop a world-class portfolio of properties and capitalize on the company’s experience, track record and capabilities in growing and monetizing consumer brands through content, media and marketing.  SB applies a global omni-channel management approach to enhancing and extending its brands in markets worldwide and to consumers of all ages.  The company provides full-service management, marketing, promotion and strategic business development for its intellectual properties including comprehensive strategies unique to each brand, trademark and copyright management and enforcement, creative design, retail development, direct-to-consumer initiatives and specialized property extensions.  SB is led by a superior management team with decades of experience in media, content creation, branding, licensing, marketing and finance. SB’s portfolio of properties currently includes Power Rangers, Paul Frank, Vortexx,, The Playforge, Julius Jr., Digimon Fusion and Popples. For more information, visit

About the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

The mission of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), a center of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), is to advance contemporary native art through exhibitions, collections, public programs and scholarship. MoCNA’s outreach through local and national collaborations allows us to continue to present the most progressive Native art and public programming. MoCNA’s exhibitions and programs continue the narrative of contemporary Native arts and cultures. MoCNA is located at 108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, NM 87501. For more information please contact: (505) 983-1666 or visit For the MoCNA store, please call (888) 922-4242 or email

About IAIA

For 50 years, the Institute of American Indian Arts has played a leading role in the direction and shape of Native expression. As it has grown and evolved into an internationally acclaimed college, museum and community and tribal support resource through the Center for Lifelong Education, IAIA’s dedication to the study and advancement of Native arts and cultures is matched only by its commitment to student achievement and the preservation and progress of the communities they represent. Learn more about our achievements and mission at


Point Lips, Not Fingers: Paul Frank Native Designer Dustin Martin


By Lee Allen, Indian Country Today Media Network

On June 18, Paul Frank Industries announced that four Native designers had been selected to collaborate with the company on a line of products. Called “Paul Frank Presents,” the collection will debut on August 16 at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Dustin Quinn Martin, who designs T-shirts for his company S.O.L.O. (Sovereign Original Land Owners), was one of the young fashion talents who got the nod.

NAME: Dustin Quinn Martin

AGE: 23


SPECIALTY: T-shirt designer since college days

INFLUENCES AS A DESIGNER: “My contribution to the line was built on the concept ‘Point Lips, Not Fingers.’  When I was growing up, my grandfather taught me it was rude to point fingers (literally and figuratively).  So, like many Navajos who grow up on the rez, I learned that pointing my lips was a polite alternative to conventional hand gestures.  Anyone who’s spent time in Navajo land will know what I’m talking about…

“The design I cooked up uses a cultural quirk (lip-pointing) to embed meaning and humor into the image and remind viewers of what sparked the collaboration. Graphic silhouettes (think Kara Walker) of a Dine man and woman are featured in most of the products.  These figures are met by Julius (Paul Frank’s signature brand character) lost on a hike through Native America.  Their pointed lips show that the monkey’s childish curiosity has been met with patience and respect rather than gesticulating rudeness.  Elsewhere in the design you’ll see the Paul Frank brand surrounded by (and integrated into) familiar ‘Native’ geometry.  But these perfectly symmetrical shapes evolve into abstract fields of modern-looking angles.  These jarring shapes imply new directions — for thoughts, for friendships, for artistic traditions, for brands.  Fresh trails can only be blazed with the help of patient and forward-thinking guides.  These guides point lips, not fingers.”

THOUGHTS ON WORKING WITH PAUL FRANK INDUSTRIES: “Without a doubt I’m very thankful for the opportunity.  Negotiating terms with a multinational brand licensing corporation was an eye-opening experience and a huge confidence booster.   Though I now have an even better idea of how much there is for me to learn, I also know that a fashion collaboration — no matter how ‘big league’ it may appear at first — isn’t rocket science.  When I was able to look past ‘Paul Frank’ and [Paul Frank Industries’ parent company] ‘Saban Brands’ to see the people behind the curtain, it became a lot like working with friends.

“Above all, I went into this experience with this mindset: ‘This is the type of recognition and respect Native artists and designers have been praying for.  DON’T DROP THE BALL.’  I hope all four of us chosen designers make Native America proud.”

Learn more about Dustin Martin at the official S.O.L.O. site, Photos of and information about products featured here were provided by Beyond Buckskin Boutique.



Paul Frank Native American-designed collection an apology for powwow party?

Paul Frank parent company Saban Brands President Elie Dekel surrounded by products featuring Paul Frank icon Julius the Monkey. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / June 19, 2013)
Paul Frank parent company Saban Brands President Elie Dekel surrounded by products featuring Paul Frank icon Julius the Monkey. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / June 19, 2013)

By Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2003

On Tuesday, I wrote a post about the new “Paul Frank Presents” collection of accessories designed in collaboration with Native American artists.

After so many egregious misappropriations of Native American culture by fashion brands (“Navajo” T-shirts at Urban Outfitters and feather headdresses on the runway at Victoria’s Secret), I wrote that it was heartening to learn that Los Angeles-based Paul Frank, the brand that turned a sock monkey into a fashion statement, announced it is collaborating with four tribes in regions across the country in what seemed to be an authentic way, giving artists the opportunity to design accessories for a special collection launching in August on

(The artists include Louie Gong from the Nooksack tribeCandace Halcro from the Cree/Metis tribe; Dustin Martin from the Navajo tribe; and Autumn Dawn Gomez from the Comanche/Taos tribe.)

But I failed to include the backstory. Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota, who writes about Native American art, fashion and design, as well as owning and operating the site, where many of the artists tapped by Paul Frank sell their designs, elaborates on the collaboration in an illuminating post here.

“While I am undeniably thrilled about the announcement and all that it represents, the press release failed to mention the various factors that led to this collaboration,” Metcalfe writes. “Last September, the lifestyle brand Paul Frank hosted a “powwow”-inspired fashion event that featured some questionable party favors and activities.”

“After a sizable backlash from people from Native American communities and our allies, the brand removed over a thousand images of the event from their Facebook page, and the president of the company, Elie Dekel, reached out to myself and Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations. He reached out to the two of us, I think, because we had been the loudest in pointing out the obvious racism behind this event … and so it began — the gesturing to apologize for this major slip-up,” Metcalfe writes.

Although Paul Frank’s collaboration with Native American artists will undoubtedly help bring the work of these talented young people to a wider audience, the company should have been forthcoming in press materials about the journey it took to get here. Because what is corporate responsibility without full disclosure?