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Tosa Two Heart honors Lakota, Native communities through personal fashion brand

Tosa Two Heart (right) has several designs inspired by Native American culture, including the umbrella shown on the left. The alumnus said she sees art as a way of honoring her Lakota heritage. (Courtesy of Tosa Two Heart)

By Nate Catlin

Nov. 20, 2022 8:56 p.m.

Tosa Two Heart is wearing her community’s hearts on her sleeves and is hoping others will too.

Alumnus Two Heart is exploring new niches in fashion by incorporating traditional Lakota designs into modern clothes. She said her work amplifies the voices of Native Americans in the exclusionary space of Western fashion through its emphasis on Lakota symbols and traditions. In doing so, she said she hopes to raise awareness for the rich culture that shaped her life and pay homage to the Lakota people.

“Part of fashion and Native art is educating the world on who we are as Native people and what makes us unique, not in a stereotypical way, not in a negative way,” Two Heart said. “But this is who we are, and every one of us has our own story to share.”

[Related: UCLA student celebrates Indigenous heritage through handmade beadwork business]

Two Heart said she is constantly looking for ways to add the story of her community and its members to her designs and also include their utility as facilitators of Native expression. This is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work, she said, because she gets to play a role in how people express themselves with pride for their cultural heritage. Kenneth Ramos, an alumnus and friend of Two Heart, said Two Heart’s clothes represent Native American pride for the people wearing them.

“It’s a way to express pride in myself, in my culture and in larger American Indian cultures and tribal nations, assert sovereignty and express a pride of being tribally sovereign,” Ramos said.

(Courtesy of Tosa Two Heart)
Three models pose while wearing Two Heart's designs. Kenneth Ramos, an alumnus, said Two Heart's designs bring pride not only to Two Heart, but also to those who wear them. (Courtesy of Tosa Two Heart)

Two Heart said she typically produces about one to two designs per year for an array of clothes such as her “Something Else” collection and utility items such as umbrellas. She said these designs are based on past events and current developments in her life and the Lakota community. For example, Two Heart said her first design was a blue Lakota-style star quilt in honor of her grandmother, Wicahpi Waste Win (translated as “good star woman”), whose star quilts inspired Two Heart as a child.

She said she also takes inspiration from other sources such as the Japanese brand tokidoki and the luxury designer brand Versace, which allows her to blend contemporary and traditional aesthetics. Additionally, Two Heart’s pieces function as her version of Lakota winter counts, a Lakota practice that focuses on commemorating one year of life through a single visual representation, she said.

Regarding the Indigenous community’s response to her work, Two Heart said it has been positive, whether it was in person at fashion shows or online through her social media accounts such as TikTok and Facebook. Ramos said this can be attributed to the distinct visual silhouette of Two Heart’s work, which functions as a beacon for different Native communities to jointly express their cultural pride. Clementine Bordeaux, a doctoral student in dance and world arts and cultures and Two Heart’s friend, said Two Heart’s blend of aesthetics also contributed to the community’s response.

“Her work inspires me to think about how we might look in the future,” Bordeaux said. “It’s still very Lakota. It’s using new colors, new fabrics and newer designs, but it’s still very reminiscent of who we are as tribal people.”

(Courtesy of Tosa Two Heart)
Clementine Bordeaux (pictured) wears a blue jacket designed by Two Heart. The alumnus said she is always impressed by Two Heart's ability to blend traditional designs with modern utility. (Courtesy of Tosa Two Heart)

[Related: Student Simona Konstantinovskaya’s passion for thrifting inspires clothing business]

Outside of her creative endeavors, Two Heart said she is heavily involved in serving her community through her job as a director at a local health board. During her time at UCLA, she was involved in creating and organizing events for members of the Native community, such as the Ms. UCLA Pow Wow Pageant and the Native American Fashion Show at UCLA. Bordeaux said she is always impressed with how Two Heart can balance her creative and personal pursuits while still remaining driven and passionate about serving her community.

However, Two Heart said the road to building her brand and getting her name out there has not been easy. But she said the fulfillment and happiness that she feels when she sees people wearing her work have pushed her to continue telling her story. From her first T-shirt design to her current endeavors, Two Heart said she is focused on imbuing her work with its own intent and meaning.

“You end up being cooler than the cool kids if you do your own thing,” Two Heart said. “Be confident. Be proud.”

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Nate Catlin
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