How it all began.......
What began as toting fabric swatches around in the back of a car has evolved into a thriving local business in Browning, Montana, the hub of the Blackfeet Reservation. When Angela Johnson, owner of Native Life, first started selling fabrics, she literally hauled her wares with her in the car; which she says was rather hard as fabric is really quite heavy.
In 2010, Angela and her cousin, Longtime Sleeping, manager of Native Life, went around to craft shows and other local events where they sold their fabrics and other goods. February 2011 they were able to open the doors to Native Life; an eclectic and lively store which offers a wide variety of fabrics, supplies for native regalia, gifts, and much more.
“The idea of Native Life started with Lisa and I, both of our kids dance at powwows. When I made dance regalia for my kids I has to shop at seven different stores to get the materials that I needed,” remarked Angela. “I typically just settled with whatever materials and supplies I could find, rather than finding what I really wanted. It was very frustrating,” added Lisa. “It was so difficult having to call fabric shops in other cities and trying to explain to people over the phone what types of products we were looking for. It was just such a hassle,” said Lisa. They knew they were not alone; they could see that there was a great need in our area for a single store where customers could find all the special items associated with native dance regalia and ceremonial dress, not to mention just regular sewing and quilting supplies. Since opening the doors in February, Native Life has served customers from Nevada, Canada, North Dakota, and of course from all over Montana.
They specialize in all things pow-wow, native, western, wildlife, and quilting. Their extensive selection of fabrics even includes Pendleton fabrics and Tradecloth.
One of the most unique features of Native Life is the variety of special services they offer. First and foremost customers can place custom orders.
“If you are looking for something but can’t find it in our store, we will put out feelers to find someone who can make it for you,” said Angela. “Customers can purchase fabric from us and we will find a seamstress to sew whatever it is they want. No payment is made to the seamstress until after the product is complete; the customer just has to purchase the material. This limits the risk to both the individual and the seamstress,” noted Lisa. “We work with excellent and well trusted seamstresses,” added Angela. Customers can put in custom orders for just about anything.
For those who are looking for unique local made gifts, Native Life has a wide selection of gift items for everyone in the family. They sell beadwork made by local artists; Montana made jellies and jams, candles, artwork, and much more. “We use local artists as much as possible and try to get a nice mix of different types of work. Almost everything in the store is made in Browning or at least Montana,”
Walking into Native Life it is obvious that both Angela and Lisa put their hearts into the store. It is comfortable and welcoming, the kind of place customers would just stop in to visit and see what new items they have in stock. “It is important to us to make personal contact with our customers. We want them to feel comfortable,” said Angela. In fact, they recently added a coffee shop to the long list of services available at Native Life to accommodate that comfortable, “just hanging around” atmosphere. Now as customers browse through the shop, sit for a quick sewing lesson, or participate in the sewing club they can also enjoy a freshly brewed espresso, one of Pauline Matt’s native herbal teas, or one of their many other specialty coffee! They even have their own special house coffee blend, appropriately named Native Life.
As with all great ideas, there were many people who helped along the way offering encouragement, support, and advice. Looking back, Angela says that “Dianne at Creative Needle in Shelby became my mentor. She was wonderful, giving me a lot of advice concerning opening the business. She had nothing to gain from helping me.” Angela also felt that she would be remiss not to mention the help she received from Tom McKay and Dianne McGee. By offering Angela a place to put the building, they really made her dream a reality. “They have been so wonderful and so helpful all along the way,” said Angela.
Check out everything Native Life has to offer in thier new online store. You just might find exactly what you are looking for. If not, they will be happy to help you find it!
Note: This article is revised version of an article written by Virginia Harman for the Rural Montana Magazine in November 2011.