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Discovering a Passion for Fashion While Bird Dancing

2014 Collection, Cher Thomas Designs. Photo Credit Amy Davila

O’odham and Yuman fashion designer Cher Thomas is one of many Native fashion designers making their way around the world through the power of the internet. Thomas, owner of Cher Thomas Designs, is using fashion to educate and inform the Native and non-Native audiences about Native cultures.

Thomas is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. She primarily creates traditional regalia for O’odham and Yuman Natives and women’s formal wear, and she also releases an annual contemporary collection.

“My inspirations are the O’odham, Piipaash, Cocopah, Apache and Navajo cultures,” said Thomas. “I am deeply inspired by the beauty of the Arizona landscape in different parts of our state. I also am deeply inspired by the bold and beautiful women of Indian Country who work for the betterment of our People.”

She always had a passion for fashion, even as a little girl. “As a child, I danced bird and also basket danced. I would look at everyone’s beautiful dresses and the bright colors. I would draw pretty dresses all the time. I was supposed to be practicing my handwriting or something, and I would be drawing dresses instead. A lot of my homework had small dresses drawn in one corner,” Thomas said, laughing.

She started sewing 18 years ago, she said, when she helped her mother, Juanita Lopez of Co-op in Gila River, make a quilt for a Christmas gift.

2013 Collection, Cher Thomas Designs.
Photo Credit Steve Yap
2013 Collection, Cher Thomas Designs.
Photo Credit Steve Yap
“I was fascinated by the machine and her ability to create such a beautiful quilt from scraps of fabric. [Years later], I got into creating actual contemporary fashion when the first Native American fashion show at the Heard Museum was produced. I was asked by the organizers to display the dresses I created for my reign as Ms. Indian Arizona State University,” Thomas said.

Thomas and her work have been featured in many magazines and fashion shows. Some of her biggest shows are Melbourne Fashion Week’s Indigenous Runway Project in Melbourne, Australia, and the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards Red Carpet in Winnipeg, Canada. She has also been featured in Native Max and Native Peoples magazines.

Thomas has a charitable program called Cher Shares, through which she speaks to students about Native fashion and entrepreneurship and shares a portion of her profits with established nonprofit and educational programs.

When asked if she had any advice, Thomas said, “We are all responsible for the protection, perpetuation and preservation of our Indigenous cultures. Nothing should come before the will of The People.”

Thomas will be debuting a new collection for 2017 called Oovf e Thosh, or “The Woman of the Sun.”

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