As many of us did, Native American and Black model Kita Updike grew up in the pages of fashion magazines, getting lost in glossy editorials and high voltage fashion features. Hailing from a small town in Indiana, Updike found a sense of inspiration in fashion magazines dreaming that one day, she could emulate such glamour. Yet with a lack of representation in the magazines she grew up with, Updike saw an industry with no room for an indigenous model like herself– so, she made room.
Fast forward to today, Updike is taking the reins on the fashion world’s next generation infusing herself, her heritage, and especially, her activism into everything she does, from her modeling career to acting roles. Known as @chippewajane on Instagram, Updike’s bio proudly reads “indigenous princess,” her higher-than-the-heavens cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips drawn into an inviting Mona Lisa half-smile, she’s regal looking and quite striking from first glance. Vocalizing her narrative, Updike has become the model she would have wanted to see in the pages of magazines growing up. A symbol of the changing times today, Updike’s presence in the modeling and greater fashion world creates an example for other young indigenous models, designers, and creatives watching and looking for depictions of themselves as Updike did. On Native American Heritage Day, CR caught up with the blossoming model on-the-rise in a shoot on the exploration of volume and shape to discuss representation in fashion, becoming an industry buzzword, and what the holiday means for her.
CR: Your work shifts between acting and modeling, what do you notice about a lack of representation as a Black and Native American woman in these industries?
KU: I was adopted at birth and grew up in an all White family in the Midwest, so I think I’ve always been very sensitive to media representation. I was always looking for someone who embodied more of myself. I would particularly search for native people, as that is something that was not present at all. Unfortunately, the idea of celebrating native culture in fashion really only exists in terms of using patterns, textiles, and other items without giving context to their meaning or credit to artists. I was getting my hair done yesterday, and a lady walked in with this fall coat that had native patterns and I thought to myself, “Ma’am do you even know what you’re wearing?” I don’t even know where those patterns come from, because there are so many groups apart from my own, Chippewa.
In my opinion, that’s the intersection of this issue. Inspiration, borrowing– whatever you call it, has happened forever. That’s a great thing in my eyes, I’m an interesting mixture myself, we just need to see more indigenous people getting to play the game too and on an equal level. I really hope people practice a responsible level of discernment when it comes to what they wear, as some patterns and styles have sacred meanings.
CR: What made you want to pursue both acting and modeling? Did you always want to do this?
KU: I grew up doing theater, and always imagined that would be where I ended up. Mostly, because I didn’t think there was any room for me in fashion, especially as a model. I looked at the magazines and wished to emulate the beauty and glamour I saw. Modeling is a performance, and I am a performer, so it all just fits. In addition, clothing and the way it can make me feel is a big influence in my life.
CR: Can you tell us about any hidden talents? Your bio on Instagram says you’re a tennis player?
KU: Yes! So I started very young as a competitive gymnast, and then was injured. I left gymnastics and my father, who plays tennis, had previously introduced me to the sport. Naturally, I moved my competitive attention. I would say I follow the two deeply still, and play tennis when I can. I have a local group that I play with where I live, in the Bronx. Other than sport, I also sing, constantly, which is how I got into musical theater at a young age. Classical voice is my preference!
CR: How do you hope to make a difference in your respective industries?
KU: I’d really like to do the full runway season. I am determined, along with my fellow native models, to bring a presence to fashion shows and also bring more attention to indigenous designers. These goals also extend to campaigns and editorials.
I also want to take the time to speak on relations between the US government and native people. This has always been a very strained relationship which has affected me since birth. Non-native families are not legally allowed to adopt native children and because of that, my parents had to gain permission in adopting me from my tribe. Most people have no idea that these relations are that tense, but I hope that by using my platform to share this makes others want to find out more. No matter what I do, I’m interested in projects that are challenging, but still feel comfortable.
CR: Diversity has become a huge buzzword in fashion, do you think the industry has grown in showing greater representation?
KU: As someone who fits the “diversity” buzz, I’ve been both worried and excited entering into fashion. This has been a huge point of contention for me, and I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. I was very fortunate to be developed by my mother agent, Nicholas Policarpo of Clover Management, who constantly talks me off the ledge on issues like this. Many times I have expressed to him— “Do they want me just because I am different, or are they actually paying attention because I belong and deserve to be here?“ I know people are especially interested in our faces and stories after conversations about people who don’t fit the status quo, but what happens three years from now?There is definitely a learning curve that I’m riding in order to figure all this out.
CR: Why is Native American Heritage Day important for you? What are you reflecting on today?
KU: It’s important because any chance to pull up and make noise for your people is important. Not only for yourselves, but also in the hopes that people outside will want to celebrate and value your community. Today I will be thinking about how powerful we are! The persistence of indigenous nations in the Americas is astounding.
CR: What message would you send your younger self?
“That ain’t the look, girl.” – repeated to myself constantly upon reflection.
CR: What are you hoping to see for the future of fashion and film?
KU: In film I wanna see more people taking chances. I don’t even mean pushing what people might consider extreme. A close friend of mine was expressing to me that some people at the top of the chain of command had hesitancy of gentrification being a theme in his work. Why are issues like this avoided when they are so common? Brands with bigger commercial presence are obviously very calculated, but there has to be some progression. That leads me to believing there needs to be more leadership opportunities in creative fields for younger generations. It’s important to have longevity and maturity, but how do we move forward if there isn’t also room for new blood
CR: Any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
KU: Yes, there are things in the works, and I am excited to see where my career takes me…
PHOTOGRAPHS MIKEY ASASIN
FASHION RON HARTLEBEN
HAIR LUCAS WILSON
MAKEUP DAN DURANEND
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createdAt:Fri, 27 Nov 2020 18:29:06 +0000
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