Fashion designer Alicia S. puts Indigenous art on everyday clothing

In 2012, Alicia S. picked up a shoe from her closet and decided to draw on it with a Sharpie. Not thinking much of it, she posted it on Facebook—and it blew up.

“People were going crazy,” she says over Zoom. “It’s been a wild ride since.”

As a teenager, Alicia (who asked to be referred to by her first name) was a model for an Indigenous fashion designer, and always loved the idea of Native art appearing on everyday wear like t-shirts, jeans, and hats as opposed to ball gowns.

“I just had that idea in my head, like, ‘We need more First Nations art on regular wear, modern wear—going to work or going to the grocery store, just everyday things,’” she shares. “That’s probably what made me do the Sharpie on the shoe.”

Now, she’s created over 300 unique designs on sunglasses, earrings, purses, shoes, and dresses. She continues to use Sharpies on certain pieces, harnessing their oil-based pens to ensure the designs don’t crack or rub off easily.

Originally from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth (Ahousaht) and Kwakwaka’wakw (Alert Bay) Nations, Alicia gets much of her inspiration from her culture and her grandmother. 

“She told me when I was a teenager, ‘You’re the artist of your life. Your life is a blank canvas, and you can paint whatever you want,’” she recalls. “And at the time, I think she was lecturing me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ but that was the one sentence that kind of stuck in my head my whole life. I use that every day.”

Alicia’s pieces have been showcased at New York Fashion Week twice, and she was recently the face of a Sharpie campaign called the World is Your Canvas—but what she’s most proud of is a painting she did of a blue killer whale that hangs in her living room.

Photo by Ron Sombilon courtesy of Sharpie.

“It was just a piece of paper,” Alicia says—but it means so much more. She gifted it to her grandmother when she was 15, who had it framed in a colour that matched the picture. No matter where Alicia’s grandmother moved, the art came with her, and it was always hung in the living room.

“That really helped me to the core, like, ‘Oh wow, that’s my artwork, my grandma is so proud,’” she says. “And after she passed, my dad mailed me the framed print, and now I have it in my living room and see it every day.”

While there were a couple times when she almost quit fashion due to being a lone business owner and managing all the shipping and social media promotion herself, she’s glad she persevered. She still creates over three pieces a day—everything from wallets and purses to bracelets.

“It’s just me, but I love that aspect of being able to have my own say in what I want to do,” she asserts. “Everything I can touch, I want to paint—so I do it.”