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The Beauty in Community with Warren Steven Scott

Toronto-based designer Warren Steven Scott has built a community around his whimsical, Indigenous-inspired earrings, but he’s proving he has much more to offer. 

In just four years, he has become an Indigenous fashion designer to watch. The 33-year old, who is a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, launched his eponymous label back in 2018 during the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. Prior to the event, though, Scott admits, he hadn’t quite mapped out his next steps as a fashion designer. While studying at Ryerson University, he completed an internship with fellow Canadian designer Jeremy Laing, then went on to work with Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish (whom he counts as friends and mentors) of the Toronto label Comrags. 

When the opportunity for IFWTO came up, Scott knew this was the perfect opportunity to showcase his creative instincts. ”As soon as I saw the announcement, there was no question. It was such a natural decision and something to start working towards,” he says, noting that he was one of just over 20 designers to be selected for the show. “That’s kind of where it all began.” 

Scott found inspiration for that first collection in a series of old photos of Indigenous Canadians that was shared online by Paul Seesequasis, a Plains Cree journalist and editor. The images showed Indigenous people living their everyday lives—a stark contrast to typical archival images of Indigenous peoples, in which they’re portrayed in full regalia and presented through a colonial, ethnographic lens. 

“That’s what the first collection was kind of inspired [by], because my aunties and grandmas weren’t in regalia every day of their lives,” Scott notes. 

The designer’s Indigenous roots are also the inspiration behind his colourful laser-cut acrylic statement earrings, which have easily become a brand signature. Scott initially designed the earrings—which reference Salish motifs—as showpieces for his first runway collection, but once he realized they would be a more accessible entry point into the industry, he ran with them. 

“[The earrings] seemed like the perfect medium to showcase these shapes from the West Coast,” Scott explains. “I play around with those styles and ideas of formline, and positive and negative space; the ovoid is considered the mother shape.” 

Scott officially started producing and selling clothing in 2021, when he released his latest collection, Cedar in Sec-he Sky. It features brightly coloured and voluminous dresses, new earring designs in two custom acrylic colours (made in Italy from recycled plastic), and a selection of clever artworks made from the offcuts of his earrings—a creative way to avoid excess waste. 

“With the clothing, I really hit my influences more, which is kind of showing something influenced by history or tradition,” Scott says, pointing to details on his dresses like gathered fabric, which is meant to imitate the visual texture of woven cedar baskets while simultaneously referencing the act of gathering materials. This concept of gathering also provided the backdrop for the collection’s lookbook, which captures the ease, happiness, and candid moments of spending time with friends—themes that naturally build on the inspirations of the designer’s debut collection.

Scott has built a loyal community of followers from far and wide in the short time since he launched his label. “You never think that, suddenly, a customer in Vancouver is going to see a barista who also owns the same earrings and they’re going to [start a] conversation,” he says, noting that people often tell him they’re complimented when they wear a pair of his creations. “That’s the biggest reward.”

As a designer, Scott says his customers have given him everything he could have asked for, adding, “There’s pride, there’s joyfulness, and there’s also this wanting to share as well, and I think those are all parts of community that are absent sometimes, so it’s cool that we can experience that with what I’m doing.”