Kelly Holmes was introduced to us by an earlier Muse and fellow Lakota, Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, as a true inspiration. Now that we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Kelly, we absolutely see why! Kelly is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and visionary behind Native Max Magazine, a print and digital publication and brand that features the fashion, art, culture, and lifestyle of the Native American and First Nations people of North America.
She’s straightforward, authentic and driven in a way that resonates with us so deeply; Kelly is a hustler! In our interview, we talked about what it takes to start your own publication, why you should invest in Native designers, and how her mother and children help her overcome her fears. We’re thrilled to feature her and tell the Native Max story to the BYOM community.
- Age: 24
- Location: Denver, CO
- Field of Interest: Publishing, multimedia, public speaking and entrepreneurship
- What Inspired You Today? The fact that I notice small clues of how my hard work of the past few years is paying off. Sometimes it may not seem like anything is happening for us, but if you take time to notice those subtle hints, it can confirm everything for you.
- What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? I’ll admit, it’s so hard for me to find something about myself. I have to say my stubbornness. Because I’m so stubborn and resilient, I don’t take no for an answer and I’ll work my tail off to achieve something. I have to say it’s what’s gotten me so far.
Questions + Answers
You started Native Max Mag in 2012, the first-ever Native fashion magazine, at 20 years old. That seems like an intimidatingly large accomplishment – in a fantastic way. From talking to people who take such big leaps, accomplish such huge goals, there seems to be a theme: they don’t worry about what the accomplishment “means,” they just go for it. Did you feel similarly?
Yes, I certainly do. I sort of laughed out loud when I read this because it is so true! I myself have this “tunnel vision” when it comes to working towards something. All I see is the end result, and the rewards that’ll come from accomplishing it. Then when I’m in the middle of everything, I finally notice the amount of work it takes and all the money, time and energy it’s going to take.
In its own ways, it’s both good and bad. It just means I don’t look at a problem as a problem. I look at a problem and think of a number of solutions to fix it.
Editors Note: Kelly will be speaking at San Diego State University on Nov. 6, presenting her experience and the Native Max story to the One SDSU Community, Journalism and Media Studies department, the Native American Student Association and various other student organizations. It’s going to be an amazing event. If you’re in the San Diego area, definitely consider attending!
With your incredible drive and immense passion, it seems impossible to imagine that you’d be afraid of anything. And yet, everyone has those moments. If and when you feel apprehensive, vulnerable or fearful, how do you deal with it? What helps you overcome it?
Of course, everyone has their moments. All of my mentors and persons of inspiration all seem to have something that they’re afraid of: I literally think of all that I’ve been through in my life, from my childhood to being a teenager trying to make it in the city to going through childbirth! I’ve been shy and quiet my whole life, and realized all this strength and courage to take on new things I had in me all along.
So yes, I do face times where I’m scared. Since my mom has been there with me every day of my life, I sort of look to her for guidance, to help me cross any threshold in front of me. But she reminds me, that this is my life, my path.
I also think about my children, and imagine what they’ll see of me when they become my age. I want to set a great example for them, to reach for their dreams no matter how big or small.
As a writer and editor-in-chief, which process do you prefer, writing or editing? Why?
Because I’m an editor-in-chief and a writer for the magazine, I balance both editing the magazine as a whole with writing stories. With each topic, writing or editing, you present a different side of you. Writing, you sort of make your reader hear you. With editing, you convey visual storytelling; it’s almost like placing all the puzzle pieces together. To be both a writer and editor-in-chief, I have to learn to do both accurately and evenly. I admit it’s difficult, but I’m so glad I’m able to balance the two.
However I prefer editing, as in both editing words and designing the magazine, placing the pieces together as we work on an issue. I love editing more because I’m free to sort of do whatever I feel is best. With writing, you have to follow guidelines, tell the subjects’ story accurately and properly. For me personally it’s so much work.
In the past, you’ve spoken about how people didn’t think there would be a market for Native Max. How did you feel when you heard that, and how do you feel now, knowing you’ve proven them wrong?
I’ll admit, it was heartbreaking. To hear professionals, experts, and even my own people, tell me something like Native Max wouldn’t make it. To forget about my idea because it would be a waste of time, that it wouldn’t matter to anyone. That enough can lead anyone to believe it would be a bad idea.
But, of course, I’m stubborn and persistent with anything. I always seem to make myself believe anything is possible (literally). I didn’t listen to what anyone told me, and decided to go through with it, even if I would start it by myself. Now, there’s those same people who are asking to work with me, to collaborate on a project or event. It obviously makes me feel great, that I didn’t listen to any of the nay-sayers.
It was so hard to look past the doubts and negativity, but I’d rather try something and fail, then to never have done anything and watch someone else try the same idea and succeed.
I would just like to touch on the fact that we’re traveling to Manchester, UK towards the end of November. We’re expanding our business, network and manifesto onto a global platform to provide an opportunity for indigenous people worldwide to showcase their talents and stories. We already have a few places we’re working on already, such as northern Europe, Australia, Canada, and Hawaii.
Unfortunately, most people have very little awareness of the Native experience, even those with the best of intentions. Two questions: first, why do you think that is the case, and second, how do you express your personal experience as a young Native woman?
I feel like it’s because wherever Native Americans are presented, its highly inaccurate. In school, children are taught about how Native Americans were mean and vicious, only when they were, obviously, trying to defend their homelands. In multimedia and publishing, Native Americans are highly absent, or whenever they are presented, it’s the negative stories that just perpetuate the stereotypes.
That’s what makes it difficult for Native American youth to look out into the world and feel connected to mainstream media and pop culture. Due to the stereotypes and preconceived assumptions of Native Americans, it’s almost as if we’re invisible, only relics of the past. That’s what I felt firsthand.
As a young Native woman, my experience was tough. I’ve been through racism, discrimination and bullying because of who I was and where I come from. But instead of being angry and defensive, I choose to educate others about our people. This means recognizing ignorance as an opportunity to share my experience with others. As I grew up, I’ve seen that the Native experience has always been present around me, but it’s invisible to most people. A lot of issues that were once overlooked are now getting attention which is great news.
A sticky subject: cultural appropriation. How can non-Native people wear Native apparel and Native-inspired styles respectfully?
Believe it or not, it’s easy: Be Aware.
If you want to wear something that’s “tribal print,” it’s okay because they’re generic geometric patterns with no tribal affiliation. However, say you’re in a popular store and it says “Navajo” or “Cherokee” or any other specific tribe, walk away.
Buy designs from Native American designers and Native American-owned boutiques and shops. Your purchase of their products are going to benefit the designer, their business and the economy in more ways than one, like if you buy from small businesses. Designers and artists often either hunt the animal for their material and food, or purchase material from a relative or friend. Every inch of that animal is utilized in some way, whether that’d be for material, tools or food, such as the buffalo or seal. Every piece they make is handmade or made with the utmost love and care. Some designers even bless or pray for their items, that anyone wearing their items will have good fortune. The techniques or procedure they utilize to make their works are usually methods handed down from generation to generation.
One example is I know a few Inuk and Tlingit women who design beautiful seal skin accessories and jewelry pieces, utilizing their ancestors’ traditions and methods. My Tlingit friend purchases the sealskin from a hunter who hunts to feed his family in rural Alaska. The profits they make go back into making more pieces for their businesses. It’s a beautiful cycle where nothing is wasted.
Another thing to never do is disrespectfully wear a headdress, whether it’s fake or real. No matter what one may think, it’s not in any way honoring or paying tribute to our culture. In a very brief explanation, headdresses, or warbonnets, are held in the highest regards. Leaders, or chiefs, would wear headdresses. Every feather on the headdress was earned. You wouldn’t wear a purple heart or a military medal that you didn’t earn, right? Same with headdresses. I’m Lakota, I was raised in our culture. I learned our language and traditions firsthand from my family. Yet, I would never choose to wear one.
There are many healthy and respectful ways to honor and pay respect to our culture. Shop Native American and First Nations-handmade items.
For years we’ve featured Native American and First Nations designers in our magazine, and we’d curate trendy collages of different items. We’ve always received inquiries and positive responses regarding the pieces we feature. Now we decided to link the products found in the magazine straight to our new online shop, nativemaxshowroom.com. You can look through our magazine and if you find a piece of jewelry or clothing you like, you can click on the item and purchase straight from our online shop.
Do you have any advice for those looking to start, or in the process of launching, a media outlet or even just a blog?
Starting a blog is easy, but if you’re wanting to make it into sort of a business, you have to treat it like a business. Develop a brand for yourself and your blog, choose on what you want to feature (food, beauty, health, fashion, etc.). Then finish with your brand identity: logo, main colors, layout, presentation. It all matters. You want to be put together and professional. After, start creating blog posts and social media networks. Market your new site, whether it’s in person or online. Connect with others like yourself.
Once you start gaining momentum, you may want to look at how to monetize your site. I’ve done this with Native Max. I started everything myself from scratch, with no college education. I found a niche and something that could fill a void. It’s definitely a lot of work, but all worth it.