How This Native American CEO Is Helping Her Community Own Its Worth

(Photo courtesy of Thosh Collins.)
The Collective elevates authentic indigenous art and provides entrepreneurial opportunities for Native people. (Photo courtesy of Thosh Collins.)

Native American: B.YELLOWTAIL is a line created by designer Bethany Yellowtail, who’s vision and brand values reflect her Native American Indian heritage. She also created the B.Yellowtail Collective, including pieces in this image.

Determining price in negotiation involves issues of cost, market value and an important definition of worth. That power in pricing is important to Bethany Yellowtail. Yellowtail is the CEO and designer of the B.Yellowtail label, a fashion line that reflects her contemporary take on her Apsaalooke (Crow) & Tsetsehestahese & So’taeo’o (Northern Cheyenne) Native American Indian heritage. She started her career with BCBG Max Azria Group, moving on to be lead pattern maker for several private labels before launching her own brand. Yellowtail also recently developed the B.Yellowtail Collective, an online brand featuring Native American makers.  A chance meeting inspired her to help her community make an important change. Let’s see what she has to share:

Tanya Tarr: What do you think of when you hear the word ‘negotiation’?

Bethany Yellowtail: I think the concept of negotiation has a negative connotation to it. But I know negotiation means so much more that arguing, and I am constantly negotiating and problem-solving in my own business. Our team has to do our due diligence on sourcing the best fabric and labor while still maintaining the integrity of the clothing we’re creating. We’re constantly negotiating on price with manufacturers and vendors, and at the same time, we’re mindful of things like fair wages. It’s important to me that people are compensated properly. That’s actually part of why I started the B.Yellowtail Collective.

Tarr: Can you tell me more about how you developed the Collective?

Yellowtail: Yes, it’s an online brand initiative I started recently. There’s a story that goes with it, too. I had an important moment at a gas station on my reservation in Montana last summer. By the way, there’s only one gas station on the reservation. There is no cell service or wifi at all.

I was waiting in line to pay, and a man came and asked if I wanted to buy a pair of earrings he had made. When I asked him how much, he said “oh just $15. I need gas money.” At first, I was excited because the earrings were beautiful. But given the real cost of materials and labor, I realized those earrings should have been priced at around $75. He was underselling himself and undervaluing his work.

That moment had an impact on me. On that same trip, I saw my family make beautiful works of art, but they also weren’t pricing things correctly. Unemployment is so high on the reservation, and a lot of people make jewelry to generate income and get by. It’s important to note, too, that this jewelry isn’t just crafts, it’s art and tradition that have been handed down through generations. It’s in our DNA to make beautiful things, and we should be valued for it.  I asked myself, how could I figure out a way to help create a sustainable living for my community?

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