Indianz.Com Video: Artistic theft? Fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail under fire for new collection
Fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail confirms closure of collective
Monday, June 20, 2022
By Acee Agoyo
Prominent fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail confirmed the closure of one of her long-running initiatives, a collective that benefited fellow Native artists. Yellowtail, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, announced the decision in an email to customers and in a post on byellowtail.com late last week. She attributed the development to “false allegations and slanderous statements made by a handful of Native individuals across social media.” “We hope this is a learning lesson for everyone and that only good will come from this. We pray this never happens to another Native business or Native person ever again,” a separate post dated June 17 on social media read. Indianz.Com first reported on the closure of the B.Yellowtail Collective on June 7. The story included a statement in which Yellowtail she accused several individuals — including Native artists who once worked with her company — of trying to “cancel” her. In the four-page statement, which Indianz.Com obtained a day prior to the story, Yellowtail also disclosed that her former business partner, who helped create the company, was “terminated” due to an alleged “financial misconduct.” The claim, however, was not repeated in the announcements about the closure of the collective. Before publication, Indianz.Com asked Yellowtail whether the alleged misconduct affected her business. She chose not to respond to the inquiry and instead asked who “leaked” her June 6 message, while promising to issue a “public statement” about the collective. Not long after the story appeared, Yellowtail blocked Indianz.Com on one of her company’s social media platforms. Subsequently, the same account was filled with posts in which she once again blamed her financial troubles on a slew of Native artists whom she said were linked to a non-Native owned business.In a series of Instagram posts that were signed “With Love,” fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail said her company was the victim of “cancel culture” and “violent attacks” on social media. The posts appeared on Yellowtail’s business account on June 11, 2022, via the Instagram Stories feature. Three of her posts, out of several, are shown here.
Over the next couple of days, Yellowtail lashed out against the “world of cancel culture” and said “social media is not a safe space to resolve issues.” She went on to say that she was giving control of @byellowtail on Instagram to one of her employees, whose personal account also blocked Indianz.Com. “We’ve been drained emotionally, spiritually and the financial toll a small business like ours has taken from this cancel, will impact many Native people and our families who’ve benefited from our business model,” Yellowtail wrote utilizing the Stories feature on Instagram , meaning the posts are no longer visible since they weren’t archived by the account. Yellowtail, who also claims ties to the Crow Tribe, started the collective in 2016. She said the initiative has benefited more than 75 artists from dozens of tribal communities in the United States and First Nations in Canada. “Since its inception, we have been able to pay over $850,000 to our Collective Artists,” the blog post stated. Not long before the Indianz.Com story, Yellowtail had touted the successes of the collective through a series of social media posts on June 2. As with the investigation about the alleged financial misconduct involving her former business partner, she declined to disclose when the decision to shut down the endeavors was made.
Indian Country Today Interview with Bethany Yellowtail: ‘Know your worth’
But in the weeks leading up to the closure, Yellowtail was portraying her company and its efforts in a different light. She gave an interview to Indian Country Today during the Reservation Economic Summit that took place May 23-26 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the event is commonly known as RES. “We’ve seen the way the collective has impacted Indian Country and helped price things and set the bar for other entrepreneurs,” Yellowtail said in the interview in which she gave no indication of the “financial duress” that she said she was facing, less than two weeks after RES came to an end. A month before RES, Yellowtail denied claims of artistic theft that were lodged by another Native fashion designer. The claim arose when her company, in late April, unveiled a clothing collection that bears striking similarities to the other artist’s work, which had been created two years prior during the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the issues surrounding the collective, Yellowtail at the time of the theft controversy utilized her company’s Instagram account — which boasts nearly 198,000 followers — to criticize Native people whom she believes are not sufficiently supportive of her efforts. She later alluded to her large victim following as she said she was beingized by “cancel culture.” “Just because we have nearly 200k followers and I had one meal in a room of celebrities does not mean we are a corporation and that we are rolling in our riches,” Yellowtail wrote in the series of posts on June 11. They ended one that was simply signed: “With Love.” Ever since the accusatory posts, which automatically disappeared from Instagram, the @byellowtail account has taken on a different tone. The newer — and more permanent — content is more positive in nature, including a teaser about a forthcoming clothing collection that appeared on Monday. As for the B.Yellowtail Collective, sales are being accepted at byellowtail.com through July 30, 2022. The works of nearly a dozen Native artists are being sold on the site, with 70 percent of the sales going back to the creators themselves. Yellowtail has not released or otherwise publicly acknowledged the June 6 statement in which she said she would be “scaling down” operations of her business, which is based in southern California. Social media posts indicate she employs five full-time people — all women — at the fashion company. She confirmed the number in her post on byellowtail.com. In the post, Yellowtail said “sales dropped drastically” over the “past three months,” which she attributed to the complaints against her operations. But she has told associates that her former business partner stole money from the company, according to people familiar with those conversations. When asked by Indianz.Com about the former partner, Kim Meraz, Yellowtail declined to answer questions, including an inquiry on when their relationship ended. Based on the June 6 statement and the timing of conversations with associates, it appears the separation occurred around the beginning of 2022 — or prior to the period in which she said her sales have suffered. In the statement, Yellowtail claimed Meraz, who is non-Native, had participated in the negotiation of an agreement with the artist whose work is at the center of the theft claims. Yellowtail further stated she “never saw” the final version of said agreement.