Manitobah Mukluks

My love affair with Manitobah Mukluks started with these mukluks.

The Annie McKay Storyboots were a limited-run-special-edition project designed with the idea of resilience in mind. They are drool worthy. I still have them and they’ve seen a lot of dancing and a little bit of rock and roll. Annie left her design to our owner, Sean, with the hope of keeping the art of mukluk-making alive before she passed.

Hanging out in my Annie McKay Mukluks.

I was asked to take this photo for a friend. She was hired by the head of marketing, Tara, to help write some blogs and create posts for their social media. Shortly after taking this photo, I scored a gig dancing in a Tribe Called Red music video. The song was Sisters and it was 2014. The premise was a road trip with three besties – young, vibrant Indigenous women, on their way to electric pow wow for the weekend. I knew it was going to be magic.

My immediate thought was, “who is going to style us?”

Their answer…”no one…”

Opportunity struck. I jumped at the chance and quickly got to work emptying my closets of clothes, beads, hats, jackets. The only thing missing was footwear. So, I reached out to my friend and they connected me to the agency doing Manitobah’s PR. They outfitted me with a trunk full of the latest mukluks and moccasins of the season.

That’s how it all started. The video was a hit. I got messages left right and centre from young Indigenous women who saw themselves in us. They loved the vibe, the beads, the beanies…the mukluks. We helped light up dance floors and screens with the energy of Indigenous youth. People noticed it. In fact, 4.5 million people noticed. And, one person in particular, Tara, the lady in charge of marketing for the brand.

She told me, “I saw that video and freaked out. I needed to understand who had that vision. I’ve been working (with no budget) to articulate the voice and feeling of the brand for young women. You captured that energy in three and a half minutes.” She gave me a job right away. My first role was PK (product knowledge)…it was basically described as a huge road trip. She sent me from retailer to retailer across Canada telling the Manitobah story. I got to share Indigenous knowledge in malls and trading posts across Canada. She barely trained me and just let me run loose with my performative energy and storytelling. I loved it.

Gravity Pope PK

Every opportunity that comes across my plate, I always say yes.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter. But I infiltrate anyways and try to make it my own. I squeeze into cracks and holes and offer my unique skills. I love to talk, posing for pictures (thanks ballet) and, mostly, I love creating VIBE.

So, naturally, I begged Tara to give me a budget to do a photo shoot.

And she said, “no!”

This is Tara: probably saying “no”.

I hate that word. But, less than a year later, things changed. Manitobah started selling mukluks on the internet (all over the world). Tara finally had a budget for making content! I started as a model. I learned the ropes behind her creative briefs and strategy. We navigated our tiny budgets and made magic. Now, 5 years later, I still help provide creative direction for all of our imagery. Together, Tara, the team and I set a vision for Indigenous representation in our marketing and storytelling. She gives me room to explore, but silently demands excellence. Now, Manitobah has grown into a global brand that competes with mainstream footwear brands like Ugg and Sorel.

This brand will always have a soft spot in my heart. It helped me get my start. It gave me a leg up when I had no money and no map. It let me learn big industry lessons, with a soft place to land. That’s what building capacity looks like. I try to do the same with Indigenous youth that I mentor. I give them lots of rope, demand excellence and provide a safe place to land.

So look out for my pictures in malls across Canada or in our newsletters…they’re usually my legs!

My legs.


Posted on

September 19, 2019