Beading her way to FJFW | Helen Oro – First Nation indigenous fashion designer of Canada

Fashion and Jewellery Designer Helen Oro is from the Pelican Lake Tribe of the Bear Creek Clan. Picture: SUPPLIED

We at Fiji Fashion Week are preparing ecstatically to receive the first group of indigenous First Nations people of the Pelican Lake Band from Saskatchewan in the middle of Canada.

Fashion and Jewellery Designer Helen Oro is from the Pelican Lake Tribe of the Bear Creek Clan.

She is “thrilled to be the first indigenous team to attend the Vodafone Fiji Fashion Week and excited to bring our traditional culture and unique perspective and creativity to the event while representing the indigenous community on an international stage”.

Fiji Fashion Week’s audience is in for a treat as Helen is accompanied by a team sponsored by Discover Saskatoon, composed of two photographers, Larissa Burnouf and Alexandra Jarrett, four models Ember Sunchild Whitford, Kenisha McAdam, Serai Buffalo and Sheena T Kaine, all of whom are members of the indigenous First Nation bands.

Helen’s designs are inspired by traditional indigenous art and culture incorporating modern touches to create a vibrant and contemporary look.

Helen adds: “Together, we are proud to represent our indigenous communities at this year’s event and look forward to sharing our unique vision with Fiji.”

The Vodafone fashion show is one of the most prestigious indigenous fashion events in the world and attracts media, designers and models from around the globe. With other international designers participating in this year’s event, it promises to be an exciting and vibrant showcase of the latest trends and styles.

Helen got into jewellery and fashion design as a young mum who couldn’t afford to purchase fancy beaded jewellery, so she decided to teach herself to make her own.

Helen says once she started, “it pretty much took on a life of its own and before I knew it, I was building a brand due to the popularity, it was gaining. She takes her inspiration from her”.

Ornamental Beading is heavily embedded in her culture.

It is part of their traditional ceremonial and everyday wear in times gone by.

Native American beadwork is a way the people expressed themselves artistically and tell the stories of their lives.

“These days in beading, we are telling a story of what we are going through and where we are going, especially after the colonisation of our people who were then put into reserves and not allowed to leave without permission from their colonial masters on our own land.”

So Helen, who has featured in many other international fashion weeks and made it into many top 10 lists, was also named top 4 Sask designers to look out for ELLE Canada in 2016.

In 2018, Helen was added to the woman of the year gallery by Chatelaine magazine for her work with indigenous fashion.

She is coming to Fiji with all her beads in her work case.

She travels everywhere with them.

While her work has appeared on many a red carpet event, she also believes in sustainable fashion.

“I revamp, upcycle, reuse glass seed vintage cut and coney beads, that’s really important to me and I am just doing my part to save the environment and reduce wastage.

“But I learnt that as a child, it’s part of our indigenous culture not to waste.”

Helen will be running a workshop to share how beadwork can be worn, styled, felt and seen.

Sharing her culture and contemporary approach through her creations.

She has created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for many through mentoring, helping to build portfolios, and teaching about model safety.

Wanting to do more than create beautiful pieces, she wanted to build a brand that gives back, educates and empowers others.

You can see her collection at Fiji Fashion Week on Saturday, June 3 at the Vodafone Arena in Suva.

Tickets are still available at the Vodafone Triangle, MHCC and Damodar City.


  • Ellen Whippy-Knight is the managing director of the Fiji Fashion Week.

More Stories