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February 17, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Jessica Metcalfe

Kate Hart
This week's Badass Lady You Should Know is a woman I've long admired: Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, a Dartmouth alum whose analysis of fashion, Native traditions, and cultural appropriation is a driving force in breaking down stereotypes and and misrepresentations. Born and raised in North Dakota near the Canadian border, Jessica is a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She runs the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, writes poetry at Red Willow, holds a PhD in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona... and she's only 33. I'm honored (and humbled) to feature her profile.


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) led you there? When and how did you decide to commit to your career? How does it intersect with your passions?

Jessica: That’s a long story! – and unfortunately, I haven’t found a witty way to shorten it. I was on the academic path to become a professor. I was working as a Visiting Professor at Arizona State University, and my time there was such a bad experience that it was a good one. I love teaching and I miss the students, but I don’t miss the bureaucratic bull that goes with teaching these days. I decided to abandon the scholarly route, and instead launch a business (with no business background, mind you). Creating my own job and my own path was an impulsive, frightening decision – one that I am forever grateful for. Now, I own and operate Beyond Buckskin – a website dedicated to promoting and selling Native American-made fashion – and I love it.

I’m a creative person deep down. But being an artist is tough work! I have a lot of respect for artists. Being able to work with artists on a daily basis is a blessing – it’s such an honor! I also get to travel to universities as a guest speaker and share my knowledge and experiences on this crazy journey. I get to connect with students throughout the US and Canada, and it is a rewarding experience every time.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Jessica: My main creative outlets are beading and creative writing. Beadwork is therapeutic, I think, and is an inspiring process. I get to experiment with colors and patterns – and I like to dig through fashion magazines looking for inspiration. Combining fashion trends with Native American beadwork is an uplifting process that makes me excited about the overall vision and mission of Beyond Buckskin. Creative writing also influences my main work, since I am the main author of the Beyond Buckskin blog.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Jessica: My biggest challenge right now has to do with spreading myself too thin. I take on a lot of projects because there’s so much I want to accomplish. I have to maintain the blog and boutique, but also do all the promotion (PR, social media, word of mouth, and other creative endeavors) and I fill many of the orders personally and handle customer service. Everyday, I do artist consultations, seek out new artists, and add new items to the boutique. I also work on event planning, and I have 4 big events coming up in March and April. I will be traveling to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Cambridge, MA, and Albuquerque. If you’re in any of these areas, check out for more information.

Fashion at Heard North and
presenting at a panel
Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive? 

Jessica: There are two main ways that I stay inspired and stay productive. The first has to do with rotating – I ‘m very fortunate that my job is multi-faceted, and I can rotate from being a business woman (working on the Boutique side) to being an academic (with my writing or presentations) to being a creative artist (by beading or writing). These different aspects work different parts of my brain – when I’m burnt out on one, I can shift over to another. The second way I stay inspired is through people. My family and friends are a source of constant, unwavering support. Also, I am very blessed to get to work with artists on a daily basis – they inspire me, they light the fire under my ass, and they force me to think big and to think creatively.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure. 

Jessica: I fail all the time. And I mean that in the best way possible. I put myself out there a lot, and I engage in new ventures that don’t always pan out. I don’t let the fear of failure stop me. Instead, I learn, adapt, and try again. If something still doesn’t work out, I know that there is a better path for me somewhere out there. I always try my best, but sometimes my best self is better suited for another project.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Badass
(on the left with bent knee)
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Jessica: I come from a long line of strong, independent, smart, funny women. It’s just a part of life.

Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Arizona. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Native designers of high fashion, and is in the process of editing her dissertation for a book manuscript.

She is the main author of the website, Beyond Buckskin, which focuses on all topics related to Native American fashion, and is the owner of the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, which promotes and sells Native-made couture, streetwear, jewelry, and accessories.

She has taught courses in American Indian studies, studio art, art history, and literature at tribal colleges and state universities. She has presented at numerous national conferences, lectured at museums, and co-curated exhibitions. Her current work focuses on Native American art, clothing, and design from all time periods, with an emphasis on contemporary artists.

You can also find Beyond Buckskin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Keep an eye on the Badass Ladies You Should Know website for bonus materials
and a short answers interview with Jessica later this week!


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