Indigenous business woman paves way for Native American fashion, culture in Iowa City

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By Simone Garza, Corridor Business Journal

Iowa City, IA – At just 5 years old, Alicia Velasquez began making clothes for her dolls. Using her seamstress mother’s fabric scraps and her father’s beadwork as inspiration, she would staple or duct tape together her creations.

“Fashion is something I always wanted to do since I was a little girl,” she said. “I wanted to be a fashion designer and create. My dad taught me everything you could think of. I was always by his side,” she said. 

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Today, Ms. Velasquez is the artist and entrepreneur behind The House of Dotł’izhi, 327 Kirkwood Ave., Iowa City, the only indigenous-owned brick-and-mortar shop in Iowa City.

“I’m excited and it’s an honor to be the first,” she said. “But, it’s also sad and there should be more Native-owned businesses.”

Ms. Velasquez lived in Arizona during her high school years, eventually meeting her husband of almost 25 years and having four children. She has lived in Oregon, Idaho, and Oklahoma before her transition to Iowa in December of 2020.

The meaning behind the business’s name originates from the western Apache term for turquoise. The stone, which is regularly used by Ms. Velasquez in her art and jewelry, represents a woman’s strength, beauty and worth.

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As an Apache, Spanish and Yaqui woman, Ms. Velasquez strives to source her materials in traditional and sustainable ways. For peridot, she travels to the San Carlos Apache Mine, where she chips at the rocks and collects the stones by hand, or she contacts Native elders in Idaho to hunt for stones. She has also built relationships with trusted dealers to ensure all the turquoise used in her jewelry and art is natural.

“I am here to support, help, and show that Native American art is not just dreamcatchers, feathers, and buckskin,” Ms. Velasquez said. “We are allowed to evolve our art and fashion trends.”

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In 2019, Ms. Velasquez attended Phoenix Fashion Week. Up until this point, she said she had been indecisive about focusing on creating either jewelry or clothing for her business. She eventually chose jewelry.

Velasquez is the artist and entrepreneur behind The House of Dotł’izhi

Ms. Velasquez primarily sells customized and bespoke jewelry. These limited edition and one-of-a-kind pieces typically start at $200, depending on the materials and labor. Creating them can take up to 20 hours to complete. The boutique’s top selling items are turquoise studs and beaded fringe earrings. 

She also teaches other local Native Americans how to do traditional beadwork.

Her next endeavor is to find a bigger space to establish a Native American cultural center in Iowa City.

“I have a responsibility to make sure my people know the arts, crafts, and traditions our culture has,” she said.

 

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