How Bethany Yellowtail Is Creating a Legacy of Intentional Design for More Indigenous Makers to Thrive

The CEO of fashion label B.Yellowtail focuses on reclaiming Indigenous motifs appropriated in big brand apparel and textiles. Meet the maker and learn how she’s following her creative path off the runway at home.

Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money off these affiliate links. Learn more.
June 28, 2024
Woman Standing in Front of Gallery Art Wall

Bethany Yellowtail of B.Yellowtail

After a career in corporate fashion, Bethany Yellowtail created her own label B. Yellowtail to celebrate her cultural heritage and reclaim Indigenous motifs often appropriated in apparel and textiles. Now her brand includes fabrics and textiles for other crafters to make their own special creations.

Photo by: B.Yellowtail

B.Yellowtail

Bethany Yellowtail isn’t really interested in talking about the celebrities she’s styled or the biggest collections she’s designed or all the awards she’s won. That was her career in LA in corporate fashion. Now, she’s back home in Crow Country, at the helm of her own label B.Yellowtail and doing what she was always meant to do: Intentional Indigenous design full of authentic patterns with significance and stories.

“I always knew that I wanted to have my own brand,” she says. “Working in the industry, I saw the way that we are not represented and the way that fashion makes a lot of money off of Indigenous culture. I come from a really vibrant community and our cultural ways are very strong here. It didn’t represent me or the people that I come from and that I love, and I wanted to create fashion that does.”

INDIGENOUS-OWNED

11 American Indian and Alaskan Native-Founded Home Brands We Love to Shop

Support these Indigenous-owned businesses throughout your home and life.

Yellowtail launched in December 2014 on Bethany’s birthday. “That was very Sagittarius of me,” she laughs. It was her first collection with her own manufactured pieces and it featured a design that belonged to her great-great-grandmother Irene Not-Afraid Yellowtail. “She had some really beautiful beadwork that has been passed down to my sister and I — a beautiful beaded handbag and some moccasins. So, I utilized that design and translated it into a textile design.”

Woman Standing, Smiling With Rack of Dresses

Bethany Yellowtail With Her Designs

After a career in corporate fashion, Bethany Yellowtail created her own label B. Yellowtail to celebrate her cultural heritage and reclaim Indigenous motifs often appropriated in apparel and textiles. Now her brand includes fabrics and textiles for other crafters to make their own special creations.

Photo by: B.Yellowtail

B.Yellowtail

Rich, bold colors dominate Bethany’s work. And these palettes don’t come from runway trends. They come from her Apsáalooke and Cheyenne heritage.

“For Crow design or Apsáalooke design, we have a color family,” she says. “For Crow colorways, we don’t use black. And those are just cultural rules. So, I try to listen and follow those. Whereas on the flip side, I’m enrolled in Northern Cheyenne and our primary colors are black, red, yellow, white, blue and green. A year and a half ago, I released a whole collection that was a nod to that — the medicine wheel colors. There’s a lot of black and red and yellow and white. And right now, we’re in this very colorful, vibrant seasonal collection, and we’re about to release our Spring/Summer collection in the same tones with feminine, bright colorways.”

In a decade, B.Yellowtail has become its own fashion house. It’s shoppable on the B.Yellowtail website, and has been featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and other museum stores in the US. Business is growing and it’s home now. Bethany’s expanded from just apparel and accessories to focus on home goods, too. It’s a design shift inspired by her life. Last year, Bethany moved everything remote so that she could be at home in Montana with her family and close to her people. The home goods she’s designing are a direct reflection of the things she uses in her daily life.

“I was like, ‘I want to make my own apron so that when we’re at camp cooking we can all have a nice apron,’” she says. “Food is so central and integral to our cultural doings, so I wanted to make aprons for our homes. And as an Indigenous woman, I know that will be useful to me, and I know it will be useful to other Native women. And non-Native women. You know the journals and the candles: These are things I want in my own home.”

Another major business shift: releasing her own fabrics. It’s not something most fashion designers are willing to do and yet, for Bethany, sharing her patterns with other makers is something she’s most proud of.

“I chose to start selling our designs so that other people can make their own things,” she says. “And many of them make businesses out of that. And that’s a beautiful thing to me. Knowing that us releasing our textiles — our icon motifs — could create businesses within itself for people. That’s always been important to me to find ways to elevate our communities and elevate our people.”

And, yes, it’s OK to buy these if you’re not Indigenous.

“One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked from non-Indigenous folks is if it’s OK to use it,” says Bethany. “My answer is yes. There’s so many crafters and quilters and DIYers out there. I invite them no matter where they come from. If they’re drawn to a design or a textile, it’s absolutely OK and we welcome it. I only design and make and sell things that I know people from all walks of life can wear. Even our Rez Girls tee. If someone wants to wear it and rock it and be an ally, that’s awesome. We don’t make and sell things that are deemed sacred for non-Native people to wear.”

Elk ivory is B.Yellowtail’s most-recognized motif. It’s been a part of Bethany’s designs since the first collection, and she says she brings it back often because it’s an incredibly important symbol.

“If someone gives you elk teeth, it’s like getting diamonds,” she says. “Here in Crow Country, we call them Apsáalooke Diamonds because our traditional dresses are fully adorned with elk teeth. And those specific incisor teeth on the elk — there’s only two — so you can imagine how many elk it takes to fully finish a dress. Some of our families have old dresses from our great grandparents that have full elk teeth all the way down, but it’s really rare because that’s not our way of life anymore where we have to hunt that many elk anymore.”

These printed fabrics convey that same love in a modern way. Same for her ribbon patterns. So far, B.Yellowtail has released two spools to buy. One is a nod to old Apsáalooke regalia. The larger ribbon is a nod to the Bighorn Mountains and four directions in a Cheyenne design style.

“Both of them represent our homelands and the mountains that we come from,” she says. “A lot of the geometric designs that come from our culture are reflections of the world around us. And for our world, the mountains are really important to us. They’re sacred to us. Specifically the Bighorn Mountains or the Rocky Mountain Range. They’re our origin story, so we give a lot of thanks and gratitude to the mountains. The four directions are integral to our prayer life and spirituality.”

Spiritual intention is a hallmark of Bethany’s work. She doesn’t follow Big Fashion schedules or the cadence of runway cycles anymore. “For years, I felt like I was always behind and I’m always late,” she says. “Now, I give myself more grace and space to design. I don’t like to make things that I don’t really love. Everything that I make has thought. In my creative practice, I pray and I give gratitude and I think about where this design will go and the people that it may touch. And that it’s always done in a good way.

“I decided that I’m just going to do it our way and create products that I love and designs that are inspired,” she says. “And sometimes that creativity ebbs and flows ... For a creative person, it’s really challenging, but also as an Indigenous person, it’s really challenging because our teachings tell us that we’re not supposed to create things when we’re in a bad way or mourning. So the things that we design and create, I really take a lot of care in that I’m in a good mind state or good way because they touch so many people. And I want people to feel good and feel that prayer and intention.”

She also wants people to feel empowered by her designs. “My favorite thing about seeing people out in the world wearing my work is that they wear it to some of the most monumental points in their life or important doings in their life,” she says. “Like landmarks in their life. That it makes them feel strong and protected and empowered.”

That’s why Bethany made the “Rez Girls Can Do Anything” T-shirt. She created the campaign to celebrate and empower young women in her community and to change the narrative about being from a reservation.

“I’m a Rez Girl,” she says. “I was raised on a reservation, and I have a huge, giant family. There’s tons of girls in my family. And the two reservations I come from and the county that encompasses the majority of our reservation has one of the highest rates per capita in the US for missing and murdered Indigenous women. And those are Rez Girls.”

Partial proceeds from the T-shirts go to the Native Wellness Institute, an Indigenous-founded non-profit providing culturally responsive wellness and healing-related training and technical assistance to Indigenous communities. And in partnership with the Native Wellness Institute, B.Yellowtail’s Rez Girls Mentorship Fund includes workshops, retreats and mentorship opportunities for young girls, women and two-spirit relatives.

“It’s so important for our young people to see themselves as valuable and see themselves in mainstream culture,” she says, “and not be a trope or a mascot. Those things have had a real effect on how we think of ourselves, and how much value we put on ourselves. And so I wanted to create this campaign that celebrated us.

“That slogan has taken off,” she says. “And I love seeing res girls — not just in my community — wearing it and believing in themselves. Because when you come from places like where we come from, it takes extra strength. It takes an extra belief in yourself to overcome obstacles. It takes courage to achieve these things.”

INDIGENOUS STORIES

23 American Indian and Alaskan Native Books to Fill Your Home

Support Indigenous authors and creators with books for every room, from kids' crafts to cookbooks to the perfect new coffee table book.

Bethany is proof of that courage. Rez Girls don’t have as many opportunities, especially when they want to break into the fashion industry. The area she’s from has over a 75% unemployment rate and many live well below the poverty line.

“We don’t have a lot of resources where we’re from and that’s unacceptable to me to see our cultural inheritance being taken from us when so many of our people are still just trying to survive,” she says. “It was important for me to create a business that not only tells my own story but tells stories from my own culture and that also benefits our community in different capacities, whether it's advocating for issues or working with nonprofits that help our people. To me, even though I’m a small brand, I always have a component of giving back because that’s a value that’s instilled in me, and I love our people.”

It’s full circle. The Rez Girl who wanted to leave home is back home. And while her fashion label isn’t big, her impact and legacy are.

“I’m in a new transition and chapter of B.Yellowtail and I’m really looking forward to it unfolding in the way that it’s meant to,” she says. “I know that with these fabrics and textiles and this direction we’ve gone in will enable people to make and create their own special things — and things to express themselves and their own creativity. I know that the prayers I prayed to be here and those fabrics have enabled me to come home and participate in being with my community again.”

Next Up

How Heart Berry Is Reclaiming Indigenous Design, One Strawberry at a Time

Indigenous artist Giizh (Sarah) Agaton Howes celebrates Ojibwe plants, Native patterns and how the two are always connected. Meet the maker and learn more about these beautiful, bold florals in Native design.

Gullah Gift Guide: 12 Gullah Artists, Makers and Brands You Should Follow

Black Southern Belle creator Michiel Perry shares artists, makers and lifestyle brands whose work explores the culture and life of the Gullah people, African American descendents of West and Central Africa living in the southeastern Lowcountry.

The Best Crafting, DIY and Hobby Books to Buy or Gift

If you’re looking for a new hobby or need the perfect gift for a beginning crafter or experienced artisan, our crafting book guide will help you find the perfect book for any occasion.

The Ultimate Tea Party Guide: The Best Ideas and Buys for Hosting a Grown-Up Tea Party

Why should dolls and stuffed animals have all the fun? Consider these ways to ring in the spring with a golden afternoon.

This North Carolina Artist and Interior Decorator Has Her Own Fabric Line and Home Decor Collection

Bari Ackerman is the brain behind Bari J. Designs, a collection of home goods, wallpaper and fabrics inspired by her love of flowers and dedication to a decor style she calls “curated maximalism.” Shop Bari’s collection, buy her book and see how to recreate her style at home.

Tour This All-Pink A-Frame in Waco and Then Shop the Look for Your Own Home

Alli Pozeznik's retro Texas pad is a must-book on Airbnb. It's Barbie meets '70s kitsch with a generous helping of cowgirl aesthetic. Take a peek inside and shop the same decor, furniture and accessories.

How to Wash a Wool Sweater

Rajiv Surendra proves that not only is it possible to wash your wool sweater at home without shrinking or damaging it, but it's also remarkably easy.

Block Print Like a Pro: How to Carve Rubber Stamps for Fabric Printing

If you’ve always wanted to create your own T-shirt design, this tutorial by Maine artist Allison McKeen will have you block printing with color in no time. Plus, the tools you need are easy to use and just as easy to find at almost any craft store. Learn how to block print like a pro with this easy beginner’s guide to carving rubber block stamps and using fabric block-printing ink to make your design shine.

Tour Jazz Artist Mathew V's Modern, Airy Apartment and Shop His Favorite Pieces

The chart-topping musician's Vancouver apartment riffs on clean design from neutral palettes to sleek, modern silhouettes. Step inside for a tour and shop the look with items from CB2, Anthropologie and more.

How to Start Using Your Cutting Machine

If you’re afraid to take your new cutting machine out of the box, you’re not alone. Even Dennis Setteducati and Andrew Boza — The Crafty Lumberjacks — were afraid to use their new machine at first. Learn how to become a cutting machine pro with our beginner's guide for Cricut, Silhouette and other popular brands, then get step-by-step tutorials for making a sticker and an iron-on.

More from:

HGTV Handmade

What's New in Handmade

On TV

Home Town

11am | 10c

Home Town

12pm | 11c

Home Town

1pm | 12c

Home Town

2pm | 1c

Home Town

3pm | 2c

Home Town

4pm | 3c

Home Town

5pm | 4c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Vacation House Rules

8pm | 7c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

10:30pm | 9:30c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Lakefront Bargain Hunt

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

12:59am | 11:59c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

House Hunters

1:59am | 12:59c

Vacation House Rules

2:59am | 1:59c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.