Naiomi Glasses learned how to weave with a traditional, upright Navajo loom on the Indian Reservation that she calls home. She’s a Dine from Rock Point, Arizona, which is located on the Navajo Nation. She is a seventh-generation Dine weaver, which she explains as “what we as Navajos call ourselves,” and this identity is woven through Naiomi’s rugs and her entire ethos. How this 23-year-old turned her popular Instagram account into a profitable business is a story of tenacity, authenticity, and several sleepless nights.
Naiomi started weaving with her brother and her grandmother. Naiomi would watch her grandmother, Nellie, on the loom and was mesmerized by it. Her grandmother encouraged this passion. She would tell Naiomi, “Weaving could make a life for you,” and that small nugget resonated. There was something magical about the craft. Naiomi explains, “It’s special because you put a lot of work into it.”
Naiomi started by “closing” her grandmother’s designs and then quickly migrated to unique designs that were all her own. Naiomi would set up the loom the way that her grandmother taught her, and then get to work. She says, “If I didn’t already have an idea beforehand, I’d just figure it out as I went.” For Naiomi, there is so much freedom in the process because she allows her fingers to guide her, and if she’s unhappy with the look, she pulls the thread out and starts anew.
At 18, Naiomi turned her passion into a full-time job. She began to sell her handwoven weavings at local trading posts. It was an arduous process that involved weaving the rugs by hand, travelling to town, and then selling her merchandise. The money that she made was used to pay bills and buy groceries, and then she would repeat the process. Naiomi says, “When I look back on those first few years, they were rough and totally not glamorous, however, I’m so glad that I didn’t take out loans because now I’m debt free.”
Exhibiting her Wares
In addition to selling at trading posts, Naiomi began applying to exhibit her weavings at the top Indian Markets – Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market and Santa Fe Indian Market. Both markets drew over 150,000 people, so this was a way for Naiomi to grow her audience organically.
Patrons immediately noticed the vibrant colors and Naiomi’s mastery of the traditional weaving process. It wasn’t long before she sold her first saddle blanket, a 32×32 inch entirely handmade and wearable art piece for $5,000.
At the same time, Naiomi shared her art and snippets of her life on her Instagram page. She was a part of a community of Instagram weavers who shared techniques, ideas, and finished products online. Her following grew rapidly and Naiomi credits this to her authenticity.
She says, “I’m always real about my life.” Her feed is replete with vibrant colors, picturesque backdrops, and the occasional goat (or two). Her snapshots of life on the Reservation are informative, educational, and stunning. Naiomi’s confidence exudes through every pose and post. She has a wingman in her brother, Tyler, who takes all of the photos with an iPhone 11 Pro. He has “a really good eye,” according to Naiomi and he is able to capture Naiomi’s personality throughout the feed.
In the Instagram posts, Naiomi shares practical weaving techniques along with her unique brand of humor. In one post, Naiomi admits that one of the rugs that she sold was a “marathon.” She stayed up all night to weave it and finished “at six in the morning on the day of the market.” Emojis are thrown in for good measure. One thing is clear, followers are friends who support Naiomi through all of her ventures.
Viral TikTok Video
One of Naiomi’s favorite things to do is to deck herself in turquoise jewelry, rock authentic Dine garb, and hop on a skateboard. She ollies on the sandstone with the expansive sky above her and the resulting images feel ethereal. There’s no one quite like Naiomi on social media, and her skateboarding reel will quickly clock over 20,000 likes on Instagram each time she posts.
The viral TikTok video was a take on Dogg Face (aka Nathan Apodaca) and his skateboarding while drinking Ocean Spray and listening to Fleetwood Mac. Naiomi did her version, and the way that she skateboards with such panache is mesmerizing. It also brought her lots of new followers who came for the skateboarding content, and quickly ended up gravitating towards her weaving of rugs and blankets.
Naiomi wanted to get her art into as many homes as possible, but it was impossible to scale as a one-woman operation. For starters, traditional weaving “on the knob,” like her grandmother taught her, is extremely time consuming. Naiomi estimates that a 24×36 inch rug probably takes about a month to complete. She was a team of one, so her business model didn’t leave her much room to grow. Even if she didn’t sleep, this was not sustainable long term – both the lack of sleep, and the fact that she only has two hands.
Collaborations and Scaling
Naiomi was approached to collaborate on designs with Sackcloth and Ashes. She was excited for the opportunity, and wanted to shower her good fortune on her community. Naiomi’s designs were the basis for machine-made blankets using recycled wool, acrylic, and polyester. This process made the finished product both affordable and accessible for those that may be unable to afford handmade pieces. Naiomi was so invested in her community that she wanted to give 100 percent of the proceeds to Chizh for Cheii (Wood for Grandpa) that provides free firewood to high-risk elders on the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas.
Naiomi was then approached by American Dakota about producing some of Naiomi’s designs using their mill. She was also given ownership of the entire process from setting up a website to answering customer queries and then sending the orders directly to the mill. American Dakota then manufactures the rugs to order, and the entire process takes about a month. Pre-Pandemic, shipping times were much quicker, and American Dakota hopes to return to those speedier shipments soon.
The rugs incorporate all of the techniques that Naiomi learned from her grandmother, including creating Saltillo diamonds, wedge weaves, and crosses. These traditional styles are infused with rich colors. The mill matches Naomi’s natural dyes with chemical dyes to capture the deep color palette while honoring the overall aesthetic.
Naiomi keeps a lot of math in her head as she progresses through the loom. To keep both sides of the rug symmetrical, “there’s a lot of keeping track of numbers.” Naiomi’s hack is a mental map which allows her to figure out where the middle is. She uses bits of string “here and there” to visually inform her process and keep her centered. It’s decidedly low-tech, but Naiomi likes the cues on the actual object as markers to guide her along.
Naiomi was also approached by an Indigineous-owned boot brand from Canada, Manitobah Mukluks, to collaborate on a winter boot design. This was both an honor and a way for Naiomi to translate her style onto a wearable product, a trend she wants to continue to pursue as she grows.
She says “Crosses, saltillo diamonds, and stripes. Those are the fundamental designs I think of when it comes to weaving. I wanted to translate my favorite elements in rugs onto a pair of Mukluks. With Dine, we are taught that everything we do should be done in beauty. Beauty surrounds us, is above us, and below us. When you slip these on, my hope for you is that you may walk in beauty.” The boots retail for $359 and are made of grain leather with a sheepskin shearling.
Naiomi continues to share her life on social media, and more and more brands continue to contact her. She stresses that “a lot of people underestimate what a strong base of followers can do on social media.” All of Naiomi’s current collaborations are the result of brands contacting her, not the other way around. Naiomi doesn’t pay for advertising of any type. Conversely, brands like Microsoft pay her for product placement.
Naiomi is building her website as she goes. She jokes that if she answers a customer’s email and it seems like a question that more people may ask her, she adds it to her growing FAQ page. She doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to the business around her collaborations because she wants to explore the offerings of each company that approaches her. This means that her pay varies from flat rates to percentages and whether she offers limited runs or not. She wants to streamline this process as she grows, but she admits, “This is one aspect I’m still navigating as a young entrepreneur.” She also wants to make sure that she aligns with the business she is collaborating with, since her business is her name, so it’s 100 percent her.
As Naiomi continues to scale, she has advice for fellow entrepreneurs, words that she continues to tell herself as a type of mantra. She says, “Believe in yourself. Give it a try. Have fun. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you will. But at least you know you’ve tried.” There is certainly a metaphor in the way that Naiomi weaves. “Sometimes the weaving doesn’t turn out. I just take apart the thread and start over.”
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