How I live: Amy Yeung

After a career in fast fashion, the Indigenous designer left Los Angeles for New Mexico to return to her roots and launch a brand that gives back.
Amy Yeung hero 16x9-min (New Mexico)

‘This is really my coming home,’ Amy Yeung tells us from her colourful, fabric-strewn studio-shop in Albuquerque’s Old Town. She’s referring to the arc of her life’s journey. Born to a Diné (Navajo) mother but adopted and raised in a non-Native family in Indiana, Amy always knew a bit about her heritage, but only learned the full picture as an adult, after tracking down her biological mother.

At the time, Amy was a high-flying designer based in Los Angeles. She had gone to fashion school, lived around the world and spent years, she says, ‘designing fast fashion clothing destined for landfills’. But something didn’t sit right with all that waste, and she was looking for a new direction. So, one day, she packed up her possessions, waved goodbye to LA and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to work on a new project with purpose.

That project was Orenda Tribe, Amy’s upcycled and vintage clothing brand that makes ‘sustainably reimagined’ items. ‘We find old things, damaged things, things that are stuck in some warehouse that have been there for 50 years, and then we simply reimagine what they could be through colour or reconfiguration,’ she says. Orenda Tribe’s pieces are eye-catching, bright and unique – from tie-dyed vintage field jackets and turquoise jewellery to Mexican folk dresses and rodeo belt buckles. Amy avoids creating new items from scratch. ‘We’ve got enough stuff already on the planet,’ she says. ‘Let’s just focus on that.’

Not long after launching the brand, Covid-19 ripped through Navajo Nation with a particular ferocity. Indigenous populations have been some of the hardest hit during the pandemic, and Amy has since dedicated huge amounts of time and energy drumming up money through a range of avenues to support her wider community. ‘We’ve raised close to a million in funding, close to a million in masks and close to a million in in-kind donations,’ she says, while pointing out that her former fashion career has been particularly helpful during this time.

‘In my 56 years on the planet, I’ve run a bunch of fashion companies, I’ve been a creative director, a vice- president. But now that I’m back home, I consider myself more a solutionary,’ she says. ‘Learning how to create wealth, how to pivot on a daily basis, how to get things from point A to point B – those are really good skills to come up with solutions during the Covid-19 crisis on Navajo Nation. So, I’m pretty damn happy with the life I had before, because it all got me to this place where I can be of service to those who desperately need help right now.

Indigenous pride

‘We love supporting our fellow Indigenous designers,’ says Amy. Here are five of her top picks.

1. B. Yellowtail – fashion company run by Bethany Yellowtail, a member of the Indigenous Northern Cheyenne Nation. 

2. Ginew – the only Native American-owned denim collection, based in Portland, Oregon (and the cover stars of Courier issue 27). 

3. OXDX – a Diné-owned clothing label based in Tempe, Arizona.

4. Lilium Orsus – an online fashion shop run by Amy’s daughter Lily, who also models for Orenda Tribe.

5. Thundervoice Hat Co. – a Diné-made, reclaimed, sustainable hat brand.

This article was first published in Courier issue 39, February/March 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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