A former Emporian is preparing to make a big impact on the world of fashion.
Hazel Haggard Stabler, who now lives in Wichita, will show her Buffalo Hunt Camp collection of Native American-designs and accessories at New York Fashion Week next month. A member of the Yaqui/Ojibwe tribe, Stabler will be one of two Native American designers whose work will be shown on the runway at 4 p.m. Sept. 7.
“I’m very humbled by it and grateful for the opportunity and to be able to share my culture in this way,” she said. “This is not just a great opportunity for me, but I feel like it’s great representation for my culture, and for Wichita and Emporia and the state of Kansas because I feel like I’m representing all of those things and I’m going to do the best I can do to bring good light to the places that are important to me.”
Stabler, who is the daughter of Jack and Theresa Haggard, has not always been a designer. She started making clothing after her children were born. It was something her own mother did for her as she was growing up.
“I never did learn to sew until I had children,” she said. “I wanted nice things for my kids, and I actually started doing heirloom sewing. I’d do smocking and lace insertions and dressing my girls in pretty little dresses. We’d go to pow-wows and we’d go to native gatherings and I’d dress them in contemporary native styles.”
Stabler said it was important to both her and her husband, Hollis, who is a member of the Omaha tribe, in raising their three children. Today, they all participate in cultural activities.
“We are still active and they are still active,” Stabler said. “They’re all adults now and have children and they’ll still participate in cultural activities.”
While she was designing and making clothing, Stabler said she never had aspirations to become a designer. Then, she was asked to participate in a fashion show during a lady chieftains conference at Harvard University.
“They asked me to do a fashion show and I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not a designer.’ And they said, ‘Well, we just see how you and your kids dress. Just bring those clothes and will you do a show?’” Stabler said. “And so, I had about three months and I actually put a pretty good little show together and that kinda started — it started the whole chain of events. I started getting invited to conferences and pow-wows and festivals to show my wares and goods. I’ve done shows all over the country.”
Stabler’s work uses a mixture of rich black, yellow, white and red colors in a variety of materials that celebrate traditional native designs. She then adds in turquoise and bright greens to make each piece unique.
“I do contemporary and traditional designs, but contemporary designs are based on components of native traditional dress,” she said. “The way I feel about doing these shows — do shows for native and non-native organizations — because I want better relations between natives and non-natives. This way, I can share my culture in a way that everyone is comfortable. Everybody likes fashion. It’s a way for me to be able to celebrate my culture in a good way.”
Stabler said she experiments a lot during the design process, mixing and matching different fabrics, colors and textures, while incorporating other materials like feathers, hackles, bones and animals skins.
“I think out of the box,” she said. “I don’t just think and I just don’t go in a straight line where everything has to be ‘matchy-matchy.’ I like to combine things that you wouldn’t even think about putting together.”
Geometric patterns, ornamental appliqués and florals are often focuses of inspiration for Stabler as she begins the design process. She also designs and handpicks all of the accessories for each ensemble, from making jewelry to finding vintage items to pair with different designs.
“I have a dress that I’m taking that has feathers on it, but they’re actually not just feathers, they’re called hackles and they’re made from dyed chicken feathers and they’re real fluffy and pretty,” Stabler said. “I got that idea from the men’s bustles, and the bustles are the pieces that they wear on their back. There’s eagle feathers, there’s turkey feathers, chicken feathers — all various kinds of feathers. I wanted to emulate the men with the feathers, and then the back of the dress, the opening is an arrow, which is kind of a little signature that I have in several of my clothes.”
Stabler said it’s not just the clothes that will be celebrating her culture during the show. Her three daughters will be modeling her designs and native music will be featured during the show as well.
“There are young ladies who sing and they are going to be singing live during the show,” She said. “They will be singing traditional music, so, I’m trying to put together really good production. I have 12 minutes on the runway. It’s a 60-foot runway at 12 minutes to bring my platform across to whoever’s there. I heard that there will be 300 seats available, and last year I did a show in Wichita for 300-plus people, so I feel comfortable. I’m not nervous and I feel pretty comfortable. My goal is to just make sure that it’s the best that it can be.”
Stabler is already making plans for her next big show after New York Fashion Week. On Oct. 12, Stabler will participate in the ICT Native Gala to raise funds for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women educational efforts in Wichita as well as the St. Joseph Apache Mission.
The event will feature actress Elaine Miles, who appeared on “Northern Exposure,” Jody Klein and Pete Sands.
For more information about Stabler’s show, find “Buffalo Hunt Camp” on Facebook. For more information about the ICT Native Gala visit www.ictnativegala.com.