“We’re sewing the stories of our family into this [and] our story isn’t the story of all American Indians.”
— Erik Brodt
In the mid-1980s, a teenaged Erik Brodt spent several summers helping his grandparents around their house when they moved to the White Earth Reservation in north central Minnesota. Brodt, who grew up in Wisconsin and is a tribal member of the Obijwe Nation, treasured the trips. He helped his grandfather sort through old clothing he’d had for years – high quality, utilitarian vintage apparel that, to Brodt’s amazement, had lasted decades with ease. Among the collection were wool jacket shirts, delicate pocket watches, and sturdy denim jeans.
Brodt attended the University of Washington, intent on becoming a doctor and increasing the number of Native American medical professionals. At a meeting of UW’s Medicine Wheel Society he met Amanda Bruegl, the Society’s accomplished then-president and a member of the Oneida and Mohican nations. They shared mutual interests in healing medicines and the stories and objects that kept them connected with the past.
When the pair decided to get married in 2010, they planned a ceremony that radiated with intention, tradition, and honor. They handcrafted belts for wedding participants constructed with the leather of a buffalo hunted by Erik’s father. Later that year they began selling similar leather goods online, and Ginew was born.
Ginew, which means “brown eagle” in Ojibwe, is part of Brodt’s full name and as such, represents the deeper meaning behind the brand. Everything Brodt and Bruegl create and present to the world under the name of Ginew has a creation story firmly rooted in culture and history, keeping family, resilience, and legacy in mind.
After working exclusively and successfully with leather, Ginew introduced its first denim line in 2014; customers immediately coveted the pieces. The Heritage Coat pays homage to Brodt’s great-great grandfather, who transitioned from hunting and gathering to a life in agriculture. The denim jacket balances contrast stitching with a thick wool lining that is vibrant, richly patterned and woven exclusively for Ginew by Pendleton. The Wax Canvas Rider Jacket is a tangible tribute to Bruegl’s late uncle who welded frames for Harley Davidson.
Each design, like every other Ginew item, is meticulously researched and draws direct inspiration from clothing worn by laborers and farm workers in the 1920s and 1930s.
“[My great-great grandfather had] toughness and grit and dedication to try something new in the face of everything—you think about those things and what we’re doing here isn’t just a brand,” says Brodt. “We’re sewing the stories of our family into this [and] our story isn’t the story of all American Indians.”
Brodt and Bruegl have maintained their full-time careers as doctors in the eight years since they started selling belts on Instagram. Today their collection, with respective family stories woven precisely into each design, has grown to include several styles of jackets, denim jeans, shirts, and accessories.
By fall of 2019, Ginew will introduce four denim colorways for men’s jeans; Bruegl is spearheading a line of womenswear for the first time. She’s excited to continue working on Ginew and is looking forward to debuting her designs. “I don’t have a specific personal process [but] I like to run with my dogs, and usually around 3-4 miles in, my mind starts to wander in to creative spaces whether it’s design, writing, or working out a new concept,” she says. “Portland [has been] a great fit for me, both for my role as a physician and as a maker/creative with Ginew. The collaboration among other makers in Portland has been a very welcome surprise.”
Storyteller: Emilly Prado | Photos: Renee Lopez | Published: November 2018