A rare article of clothing that found its way to a vintage clothing business in England may have Manitoba roots dating back more than 170 years.
The jacket — which is believed to have been made by Indigenous people on the Canadian Prairies around the 1850s — ended up at the Glass Onion, a vintage clothing wholesaler and retailer in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, as part of a shipment from the U.S.
The Glass Onion’s head of marketing, Alice Leadbetter, told 680 CJOB her company processes 20,000 kilograms of vintage clothing a week, with regular truckloads of secondhand clothing from across Europe and the U.S.
The jacket in question was found in a bale of clothing, mixed in with countless other fringed suede pieces, and it stood out immediately, Leadbetter said.
“We’ve been in business for 15 or so years now and we’ve never come across an item quite like this. We do get a lot of vintage clothing and a lot of gems, but this one was really extra-special. Very rarely do we get an item come through of such age and historical and cultural importance as well.
“Luckily our team are vintage experts and they instantly spotted that this one had an amazing story to tell so we made sure to keep it in a safe place and store it … and that’s when we began the research process of trying to get to the bottom of what the history might be of this amazing item.”
The eventual goal, she said, is to reunite it with its community of origin.
Leadbetter said the jacket has intricate beading on the front and shoulder areas, as well as fringing details that were discovered to have been created with dyed porcupine quills. She said it’s shocking the jacket is in such good condition, as it likely moved multiple times over its long history and its journey across the world.
In order to find out the jacket’s roots, Leadbetter said she took a chance and shared some videos on TikTok, only to receive an overwhelming response from Indigenous social media users.
“We are kind of experts in vintage clothing, but we’re not experienced in native clothing, which is why I uploaded videos to TikTok … to see if there’s anyone out there who might be able to point us in the right direction or recognize it,” she said.
“I woke up the next day, it had half a million views, thousands of comments — native TikTok really came through.”
Thanks to that social media help, Leadbetter received recommendations of museums, university professors, and others in Canada and elsewhere to help narrow the jacket’s origins down — which led her to Manitoba.
“We feel confident now that the jacket is either Métis or Cree, most likely from Western Canada — Manitoba, or perhaps the Alberta or Saskatchewan regions,” she said.
“I’m now trying to narrow it down even further by getting in touch with anyone who might specialize in Métis dress or Cree dress. That would be amazing, because I think it’s the finer details now that will help us narrow it down even further.
“We’re still learning, and we’re really appreciating all the help and kindness people have showed to help us get to the bottom of this.”
Anyone with information that might help achieve that goal is asked to contact Leadbetter through the Glass Onion’s website.
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