About six months after being told she only had half-a-year to live, Arlene Fairbanks began a new chapter of her life by opening an Indigenous-focused fabric shop with her close friend, Jessica Travis.
The two were all laughs at their colorful store, Fire Mountain Fabrics and Supply, just days after opening on February 11.
“There is a need,” Fairbanks said, “and as Native people, we are everywhere.”
Fire Mountain Fabrics and Supply, located at 6264 Boone Ave N. in Brooklyn Park, specializes in fabrics used to make Native American regalia, the special clothes worn for various ceremonies.
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Travis, from the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, said the shop is Native-owned and tries to support Native fabric makers and designers. Fairbanks is a member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and met Travis because their children attend the same school.
The store was something the two friends had thought about doing for years. After Fairbanks’ cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2022, they realized there was no time like the present to make their dreams a reality.
“Stage 4 ovarian cancer and then she started chemo in August,” Travis said of the impetus for their business.
The two began ordering fabric and stored it between their two basements as they sold it online and at festivals to build up a clientele. Meanwhile, they looked for a storefront.
“If anything, it kept us going—it brought the laughter,” Fairbanks said of their early days. “It brought purpose.”
The business was a hit with the Native American community.
Some of Fire Mountatin’s clientele told Fairbanks and Travis that their search for fabrics and materials was “frustrating.” Fairbanks and Travis themselves said they had struggled to find the proper materials to make their children’s regalia, and would often have to visit multiple stores and order materials online.
“‘That’s what we hear from people that have come into the store now is, ‘We’ve been waiting for this,’” Fairbanks said.
Finding the storefront and opening felt like the culmination of months of work, according to the two owners. While they struggled to find a proper storefront, they had to continue selling merchandise online, and via pop-up shops during community events. On top of that, Fairbanks was still fighting cancer.
“We were nonstop busy and I had just got through chemo,” Fairbanks said. “It was really hard for me to stand.”
Both Travis and Fairbanks worked a full-time job as they got their business off the ground, something they’ve continued to do even after the shop opened. Fairbanks is a finance manager for the American Indian Family Center and Travis is a registered nurse.
When the store was finally secured, it took three weeks to get the keys. Even then with shelves stocked with merchandise, something else was missing before customers could be let in.
“We started letting people come in about 9 a.m. but we didn’t start taking any sales until after our ceremony and blessing was done,” Fairbanks said of an Indigenous ceremony performed in the store.
The store has a variety of colorful patterned fabrics and other ornaments for regalia. Many fabrics sport floral designs, and others feature Native geometric patterns. The shop also sells bells for jingle dancers and applique, which are cut-out shapes or figures that are stitched onto larger pieces of fabric for regalia.
“It’s a lot easier when it’s already cut and they can sew around it and put it on your regalia,” Fairbanks said.
The applique cutouts are especially helpful when making outfits in a time crunch.
“Sometimes we wait until the last minute before a powwow to get outfits together,” Travis said.
Ready-to-wear apparel is also sold at the store, including a black hoodie with vibrantly colored floral patterns and dragonflies.
Fairbanks and Travis also welcome non-Native clientele, and said that the fabrics and materials they sell can be used for other purposes. On the business’ opening day, a group of quilters stopped by looking to buy fabric for their next project. The key to using such fabric for other purposes is “respect,” Fairbanks said.
Fairbanks and Travis recommend that customers who want to visit the store check the store’s monthly calendar online to view store hours, which varies. Some days, the store is open for most of the business day, other days it’s open for a few hours in the evening or morning. At times it’s open but closes for a few hours in the middle of the day, and sometimes it’s closed all day.
“It just kind of varies depending on what our schedules look like outside of the store,” Travis said.
Travis and Fairbanks said the store hours will vary as they gauge customer demand and juggle their full-time jobs.