WENDELL SAKIESTEWA: DESIGN STAR ON THE RISE
FROM STREET WEAR TO CELEBRITY WEAR
Wendell Sakiestewa (pronounced “Sock-ee-ess-ta-wah”) grew up in Arizona, surrounded by the creative arts of his Hopi heritage. Wendell’s grandmother, a seamstress and pattern-maker, taught him to sew, introduced him to buying fabrics, showed him how to make and layout a pattern. She nurtured his talents, and entered him in every art contest she could and he won most of them! As he got older, Wendell was encouraged to follow the artistic family tradition and pursue crafts like carving, jewelry, and painting. Creativity came naturally to him, and he easily mastered any craft he undertook, whether it was sewing, drawing, or beading. While he loved the arts of his heritage, Wendell wanted to try something new and different, so he decided on a career in electrical engineering. He loved drawing blueprints and schematics, and used these skills in a job creating cockpit gears.
After five years in that profession, he was ready for a change. Fascinated with interior design, though with no formal interior design training, he had an insatiable desire to learn and succeed! Sure enough, soon he was busy with many interior design projects. He excelled, working with fabrics, colors, and textures. He was on the right track, but it would take one more leap to find his true calling. He took his love of all that was decorative about interiors and transferred it to fashion design. Wendell enrolled in fashion courses at a local community college and found a job designing swimwear.
With his newfound passion, Wendell decided to head for LA and complete his fashion design education at
FIDM. It wasn’t easy, as Wendell financed everything on his own. He was determined to follow his dream and had total confidence in himself. While at
FIDM, he interviewed for a cashier’s position at Scott Hill, an upscale clothing boutique in Beverly Hills. They were so impressed with Wendell that they didn’t hire him as a cashier. Instead they brought him on, as an assistant designer! Wendell did it all, from managing, to taking inventory and helping the store’s tailors. He was a jack-of-all-trades! At Scott Hill, Wendell worked with lots of celebrities and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to put together an entire outfit priced in the $15,000 range! It’s there he met and befriended Keanu Reeves. The boutique sold high-end clothing as well as Scott Hill’s own line. After two months as assistant designer, Wendell started controlling the manufacturing of Scott Hill’s line from Italy, which meat lots of Italian business trips! Wendell’s experience with Scott Hill provided inspiration to succeed on his own.
After graduating from FIDM’s Fashion Design Program in 1996, Wendell worked for several companies designing junior and missy wear. Confident that he could do everything involved in producing a line, Wendell decided to go freelance. Being able to do it all – design, costing, production, and sales – is a major benefit of his wide range of experience, now that he runs his own business. He says, “Now, I wear many hats. It’s stressful but rewarding!” Eventually he started designing menswear and realized he particularly loves the edginess of streetwear and is always miles ahead of mainstream trends in his designs. His clothes do particularly well on the East Coast and in China, which Wendell appreciates: “I love knowing that people are wearing my clothes all the way around the world!”
In one his first major engagements as a freelance designer, he designed musician Smokey Robinson’s line of children’s clothing, called BornStar. The BornStar was line was featured in Earnshaw’s magazine, a journal focused on children’s clothing, in February 2000. That success led to a high-profile collaboration with Tyrone Barry III, and Snoop Doggy Dog. Tyrone Barry III was launching a line of urban apparel called Motavate, inspired by the rap superstar. Wendell explains, “I vibed with Snoop and we went from there!”
In January 2001, FIDM’s Career Center helped Wendell make a stellar celebrity connection. Madonna’s guitarist, Monty Pittman, called FIDM looking for a designer to create costumes for a major media event, the premier of the movie Snatch, starring Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt. So where is the Madonna connection? Snatch was written and directed by Madonna’s then husband, Guy Ritchie, and some of her band members performed in the film. The Career Center knew the perfect designer for the job – Wendell! He met with Monty that same week to discuss the style they were going for. Within one day, Wendell completed a series of sketches and fabrications. It was Madonna herself, who had to approve his designs, and she loved them! Monty wore Wendell’s striped cotton zoot suit to the premier and was bombarded with one question: “Who’s your designer?” Realizing his last name was somewhat difficult to pronounce, Wendell had armed Monty with business cards to hand out.
In 2004, Wendell took on a new celebrity client, champion boxer, Fernando Vargas, El Feroz. Vargas contacted Wendell through FIDM. They met, vibed and immediately started to work on concepts for Vargas’ urban male clothing line, creating Nawshis Clothing Company (“Nawshis” ~ “nauseous”)( fernandovargas.com). Finding inspiration in everthing about the “straight out of Oxnard” Fernando – his attitude, aggression and lifestyle – Wendell says, “I stepped into his energy and created a marketable, sharp clothing line.” The new company’s line was unveiled at the MAGIC Marketplace in Las Vegas in late August, 2004. Wendell has continued to create fight clothing gear for Fernando Vargas, into 2008.
One creative area of the business, which has attracted Wendell’s interest, is the styling and staging of photoshoots promoting the clothing. Wendell received an early credit in Earnshaw’s for a photoshoot at Smokey Robinson’s home, featuring the BornStar line. More recently, he has earned credits in the pre-MAGIC issue of DNR (August 23, 2004), in the Lexani Lifestyles magazine, and Downlow Magazine, relating to the Nawshis clothing line.
Outside of the world of celebrity clients, Wendell has had a major success in support of Special Ops Paintball (shop.specialopspaintball.com), a supplier of clothing, equipment and accessories to those participating in the sport of woods paintball. Beginning in 2003, Wendell designed their Marauder line, featuring a jersey and pants in cotton ripstock, as well as their Fusion line, featuring a jersey in polyester and their Fusion pants, in cordura. The Fusion and Marauder products were featured in the premiere issue of RECON, a magazine focused on woods paintball, in June 2005. In addition to the designing the prototypes, Wendell supervised their initial, small-scale U.S. production, and supported the transfer of production to China, as the line’s sales grew into the half-million dollar range. The line has continued with great success into 2008.
In 2007, Wendell began a collaboration with entrepreneur Jason Keston, who was planning to launch 4Boys Gear, marketing a new line of modern urban men’s underwear and swimwear, made in America. 4boysgear.com is now a dynamic and interactive full ecommerce website, featuring Wendell’s high style, high performance designs.
Doug Donehoo, a former private banker and environmental activist, in 2008, sought Wendell's support for 4-rth ("for earth"), a unique venture that aims "to combine the most comfortable and durable eco-friendly fabrics with unique fashion design for superior fit and style." The 4-rth.com website is marketing men's and women's sportswear, manufactured in Los Angeles, and using Wendell's designs.
In 2009, Wendell began a collaboration with Evade Armor, (evadearmor.com) a company seeking to bring a revolutionary sense of style to sports fishing and hunting. Wendell’s designs combine sharp design with highly functional features and fabric choices. His Evade UV Protecting shirt is made from a breathable dimple mesh that has been coated with the latest UV absorbing protectant, and includes Micro mesh vent sides to maximize breathability. His design for the Utility Short is made of a high strength nylon material, which provides a light weight feel and dries out fast, includes two heavy duty velcro straps to adjust fit, two large cargo style pockets on each leg, and a easy access reinforced plier pocket, all features desired by sports fishermen.
Late in 2009, Wendell began working with Baller Jeans (ballerjeans.com) creating jean and t-shirt lines for the startup, incorporating a patented, functional pocket design in the jeans. Wendell has been coordinating the creation of the clothing and associated graphics, prior to the launching of the line in 2010 at the MAGIC tradeshow in Las Vegas in February 2010.
In addition to his contract work, Wendell has been working since 2007 on developing a personal goal -- his own clothing line inspired by his Hopi Native American roots. His men’s line featuring Hopi symbols as design elements, launched in 2007, followed in late 2008, by his women’s line, featuring creatively embellished tops and bottoms. His work can be seen on the website, hopiwensaks.nativeart.net, as well as on his Online Catalog website, hopiwensaks.com. The authenticity of these nevertheless fully contemporary designs is attested by the extensive attention they’ve received. Some of the creations from the men’s line were featured in
Native Peoples Arts and Lifeways magazine, May-June 2006 and, again, in the Sept-Oct 2006 issue.
Indian Country Today Tourism and Gaming 2006 also featured his work, as did the
National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian) magazine’s Sept-Oct issue. Channel 12 Phoenix reported on his work. Four of his clothing pieces were featured in a 2006 Fashion Show at the Indian Craft Shop & Interior Museum in Washington, D.C., part of a ten day celebration of The American Indian Influence in Fashion. Subsequently, in 2007, one men’s pants and one shirt from his line were chosen for display alongside items from the permanent collection of the
Interior Department Museum, in a nearly year-long museum exhibit titled,
Reinventing Tradition: American Indian Design in Contemporary Clothing.
Wendell’s father, the great Hopi artist, Michael Kabotie, passed in October 2009. Inspired by his father’s work and memory, Wendell has been re-designing his own, hopiwensaks clothing line, and plans to launch the new designs at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, March 2010, (heardguild.org/indian-fair/indian-fair.aspx). The Signature Artist for this year’s Fair is Michael Kabotie.
To showcase his personal designs, Wendell is founding his own retail outlet, the Yellow Blossom Boutique, in San Diego. “Yellow Blossom” is a translation from his native Hopi language, of his last name, Sakiestewa.
Wendell’s work is on a new website, wensaksdesigns.com, which provides a complete overview of his designs and achievements in the fashion industry.