When we arrived at the Aboriginal Designers Co-op in Winnipeg, Iris Lauzon was quietly and deftly sketching lines on a large, blank piece of brown paper. These simple and seemingly easy pen strokes were the very beginnings of what would, when she was finished, become a silver, full-length bridesmaid dress — one of eight — with a beaded Thunderbird symbol on the skirt bottom.

Iris has been a seamstress for many years, having studied under Yvonne Yuen at her design school in Saskatoon. So impressive are her skills that she once created a custom beaded jacket for Senator Murray Sinclair that he wore when he was first sworn in.

Now she is one of four members of the Aboriginal Design Co-op: a small, colourful shop in the corner of what used to be the Neechi Commons. Though it was sad to see the remnants of the Neechi Commons through closed shutters when we visited, that the design co-op still exists is heartening. The local media and word-of-mouth support has been helpful in making sure people know that the design co-op is still up and running, Iris said.

Custom fabric by co-op member Roxanne Shuttleworth

The co-op model is ideal for the craftswomen who own the shop together. It gives them each a place to display and sell their work — clothing, jewellery, paintings, custom fabric, and more — while only having to be in the shop to mind the till one day per week and one Saturday per month. The rest of the time, Iris said, they can each focus on doing what they love — creating things.

“I think it’s a perfect set-up,” she said, “to just have to come in one day a week and then the rest of the time you can work on your pieces.”

Iris tells us this while doing a few quick measurements and then drawing the outline of the back of a dress in the paper in front of her. She’s lost count of the number of times she’s done this, and admits that even when she’s not working, she’s designing in her mind. Above her is a small sign that she embroidered and placed above the counter: “I might look like I’m listening to you, but in my head I’m sewing”.