Today, one of the current fashion trends is Native American inspired clothing and apparel, with both fashion designers and consumers not understanding the meaning behind the designs or clothes.
This gave Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Nathaniel Nickels an opportunity: to not only design and produce his own Native American clothing line, called Warpaint Apparel, but also to educate those who don’t know the meaning behind a Native American headdress or a Native-inspired graphic on a T-shirt.
Launched in 2012, Warpaint Apparel features Native American designs with a modern twist. Its T-shirts feature an arrowhead and arrows, a wolf with tomahawks, and a war chief with headdress. The company also has recently launched snapback hats with the Warpaint logo in a variety of colors.
“Warpaint Apparel is bigger than one tribe or even a nation. War paint itself is universal—it applies to many aspects of life. Native Americans use it to represent different things, from battle cries to mourning a loved one,” said Nickels, explaining his choice for the company name Warpaint. “Other cultures do the same thing. We have friends from other cultures such as Africa, Peru and Puerto Rico; they all wear different types of paint. Even in the movie Braveheart they wore paint on their faces, and they are Scottish. All these cultures use war paint to represent different things; to keep war paint pretty much Native American would be selfish.”
Nickels is self-taught in the art of screen printing, starting out in 2005 with his first company, called Royalty Clothing Company.
“I started doing a one-color silkscreen press, which is screen printing using a 110 mesh screen printer. I could only do one color at a time; I would do one red, then clean it off and do a black after that,” said Nickels. “If I got a big order, I would outsource to a place called Brand X. They are a pretty big company now, so they do a lot of screen printing.”
His brother Aaron Nickels, who is a graphic designer, photographer and videographer, helped Nickels step into the realm of creating digital art or graphic design using Photoshop and Illustrator software to design the shirts.
There are many different ways to print a design onto a T-shirt, Nickels explained.
“I learned by asking a lot of other screen printers [about] different methods of screen printing. I did a lot of research on my own. I learned [about] different types of printing on garments, such as the old-fashioned way of silkscreen printing,” said Nickels. “There is sublimation printing, which is a dye process where you dye [the design] into the shirt, so it becomes a part of the shirt and it feels good on the shirt. There is also direct-to-garment [printing]; they use a machine which prints on the shirt. What I use are heat transfers, which is pretty much screen printing, but you can put them on a paper to store the design and you can transfer it onto a shirt later.”
“First it was overwhelming, like ‘What did I get myself into?’ I had to learn [everything from] the different types of paints to the different methods of printing, and learn the art of decoration garments,” Nickels said.
Nickels is not limited to designing for his own company; he also helps design and produce for those who request it. For instance, he works with a music company called TRAP 20, based out of Mississippi, and he is working with musical artist El Feca.
This summer Nickels has expanded his horizons by getting a business license through the SRPMIC. He would like to put in bids to print T-shirts for Community departments, giving the Community a reasonable deal compared to other companies out to make a large profit.
“The business license has helped me out a lot,” said Nickels. “Now I have wholesale connections, which is very helpful, because I was paying top dollar for everything I was making. That was costing me a lot, and [I was] having to sell it for more. [This] was hurting [customers] because they didn’t want to pay that much. I want to give them the best price.”
Warpaint Apparel has received requests from a few shops and barbershops in the Valley to sell their items, but Nickels’ ultimate goal is to someday open his own retail store. He also would like to expand his line to include bags, hoodies, sweats and other garments.
“For those who are interested in [starting] a small business, I would say do your research and [learn to] take criticism [so you can] perfect your craft,” said Nickels. “Also, practice makes perfect, and strive to better yourself. What works for some might not work for everyone. Find something you’re passionate about and give it 100 percent, no shortcuts.”
To see Nickels’ product line, visit warpaintapparel.bigcartel.com. The Web site also features TRAP 20 apparel.