Warning: This story contains distressing details.

Martha Kyak has seen her fashion designs in many places, but one of the most powerful was on stage next to the prime minister.

In 2019, when Justin Trudeau was presented with the final report for the Murdered and Missing Women and Girls (MMIWG) National Inquiry, a red amauti was displayed on a stand beside him.

Kyak made the amauti, or traditional Inuit women’s parka, to honour her sister who was murdered. It was a highly emotional moment for Kyak, the designer behind InukChic, a fashion company whose name is a play on Inukshuk.

Martha Kyak is the founder of InukChic. She's also a painter, jeweller and illustrator. Photo courtesy of Martha Kyak

“It was like my sister was standing there,” she told Canada’s National Observer.

The sewing of the amauti was a healing process, a way to honour and let go of her sister, she says. But it was emotional work. Still, Kyak felt that displaying the garment on that day might lend comfort to those watching.

“It was like she was speaking to all the women and people out there,” Kyak says.

InukChic began when Kyak moved south to Ottawa in 2010. She had already been sewing parkas, dresses and other outfits for the retail store she owned in her home community of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. The move happened while she was undergoing a divorce.

“It was a sudden isolation from family,” Kyak says. “Not being around people as much, and struggling financially was another thing.”

Martha Kyak has seen her fashion designs in many places, but one of the most powerful was on stage next to the prime minister. #InukChic #PondInlet #MMIWG
A red dress done by InukChic. The work is political as much as it is glamorous. Photo courtesy of Martha Kyak

To cope with the changes, Kyak did what she does best: she started sewing, mostly parkas, and posted her work on Facebook. All of a sudden, her designs began to get attention, and Kyak was asked to participate in an Indigenous fashion show. After that first show, Kyak was the proudest she had ever felt.

“That’s how it started; it just happened,” she says.

When she started working on runways, Kyak started leaning into a style that integrates Inuit design with modern, glamorous fashion. It was an exaggerated style that let her push her creativity. Those garments would hit runways across the country. But it was at her first solo show that Kyak brought a deeper message to her fashion.

Pauktuutit, an Ottawa-based Inuit women’s organization, invited Kyak to do a fashion show. It would last half an hour — a long duration for a solo show.

“I was brainstorming what I should do,” she says. “The first part was very casual wear, and then glamorous.”

It was during the last part of the show that Kyak made her statement, she says. Models walked the runway in red dresses, some with a red palm print on their faces, and the song Faded by Alan Walker played. The chorus of the song repeated: “Where are you now?”

Models for InukChic pose in the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of Martha Kyak

After that first show, she later presented her MMIWG work at the Qikiqtani Corporation’s Northern Lights trade show in 2020.

It’s always emotional when the women start walking the runway, she says. But it’s also powerful.

Women came to Kyak after the show, thanked her and told stories of their experiences involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“It’s always a positive experience.”

Now, her designs are getting attention elsewhere, including a recent stop at Vancouver Fashion Week. InukChic’s fashion has also made its way into the pages of Vogue and other magazines.

Lately, Kyak hasn’t been able to do custom orders as she balances a day job alongside her fashion and artwork. But Kyak is now selling wholesale to stores in Nunavut, as well as the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Textile Museum in Toronto, where she also exhibits her designs.

Her big hope is to take InukChic international.

“If there are any invitations, I will go right away,” she says, especially if it’s her dream show in New York City.

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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