Naiomi Glasses: The Mastermind behind a Fusion of Native American Art, Skateboarding, and Ralph Lauren

At 26, the Navajo artist is passing down generations of a rich Native American tradition of weaving through her collaboration with Ralph Lauren, by becoming the fashion house's first artist-in-residence.

Naiomi Glasses: The Mastermind behind a Fusion of Native American Art, Skateboarding, and Ralph Lauren
17 Dec 2023, 06:33 PM
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In a remote house in the northeast corner of Arizona, among the red rocks and vast expanses of the Navajo Nation, you'll hear a beat so steady it keeps nearly perfect time. Hour after hour, day after day, artist Naiomi Glasses sits on her floor in silence, weaving at her loom. "It's very meditative," she said. "And having to do these repetitive motions, you kind of just get into a trance. It really is a great time to just sit and think."

The 26-year-old thinks about the six generations of family weavers who have come before her, passing down this rich Native American tradition. Now, those designs (which can take months to make and cost thousands) have caught the attention of the fashion world, in particular Ralph Lauren, a brand Glasses always wore as a kid and dreamed of someday working with, but never thought possible. "I definitely dreamt of it while weaving," she said.

Amazing Journey of Naiomi Glasses

Amazing Journey of Naiomi Glasses

It may seem like an improbable journey for a shy girl from Arizona who was mercilessly bullied as a five-year-old for having a cleft palate. To escape the torment, Glasses found solace on a skateboard. "It's always been a safe space where I feel like I can be myself, learning how to be even more confident," she said.

She took that confidence to the loom, first trying her hand at weaving at 16. Her brother, Tyler, showed her their grandmother's ways. And soon, the siblings started selling their pieces at the local trading post. But their parents encouraged them to think bigger. So, in 2020 they turned to social media. Using the reservation as a set, Tyler posted Naiomi showing off her colorful creations – and those impressive skateboarding skills. 

This video became a worldwide sensation:

"And then suddenly it blew up!" Glasses laughed. "And it traveled everywhere."

Including, incredibly, to Ralph Lauren, a brand famous for embracing Native American culture. In Glasses, the fashion house serendipitously found a like-minded partner for its first artist-in-residence.

"He has always loved the West," said Ralph's son, David Lauren, the fashion house's chief branding and innovation officer. "He has always gone in search of the art and the culture that Naiomi loves and cherishes as well. And so, the ability to come together to create something, and to be inspired together, is beautiful. And it keeps getting better by the day."

These days, Glasses is busy launching her new collection, out this month. She calls it a love letter to her people. She's hoping to promote her culture in other ways, too. The Ralph Lauren ad campaign, filmed at her family's home in Arizona, created dozens of jobs for local Navajo. "It's a big moment in Indigenous design history," she said.

For which she admits a sense of duty: "I feel that it's important that we're represented in a beautiful way. And I'm really excited to be able to share these designs with the world."

She also feels a responsibility to use her newfound fame to raise money for skateparks on her reservation. "Skateboarding did a lot for my own mental health," Glasses said. "And I feel like it can do so much more for so many other people in their mental health."

Naiomi Glasses' late grandmother once told her weaving could create a life for her. She used to sit quietly at the loom and wonder what she meant. Now, she says, she finally understands: "The dreams that I dreamt here at the loom have come true."

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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Lauren Barnello.