Pendleton: a History of Indian Blanket Trade

Pendleton started out as a woolen mill factory way back in 1863. The brand is famous for their use of Native American prints; prints which broadly, within a wider fashion world, are dubbed “Navajo” and “Indian”. Largely, the use of these sort of prints, without proper justification, reference or reason, is problematic. Fortunately for Pendleton, their complex and rich history gives solid grounds for the brand’s consistent usage of the prints, owing to the fact that some of their first wool blankets were produced directly for Native American groups. 

In pre-Columbus America, Native American blankets were made of a variety of materials, each reflecting different group’s association with the wider aspects of nature: bark, hides, pelts, feathers, furs. When Europeans colonised America, their material emphasis was very much singular – on wool – reflecting a less complex relationship to natural materials, but facilitating a narrowed expertise. European wool was dyed brightly and very hardy. When Native American and European groups began to trade, European wool was valued highly. 

By the 1900’s, Native American groups began commissioning the coloniser’s woolen mills for complex designs, building on Native American imagery with material sophistication. Pendleton Mill, uniquely empathetic but ultimately motivated by American capitalism, sent representatives to different groups for feedback on design. These representatives logged what colours, shapes and patterns each group prized and began to work with the groups. Pendleton forged solid relationships with various Native American tribes in the Northwest such as the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla. Eventually, Pendleton’s reach expanded to include the American Southwest, and the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. 

The blankets were so intrinsic to Native American groups that they were absorbed into ceremonial practices like dowries, gift-giving and naming ceremonies and then eventually traded between groups for other commodities like silver, jewellery and pottery. 

The result of this 100 year relationship is that Pendleton, unlike many other larger fashion brands that produce patterns dependent on trends and season, has a historical authority with Native American prints.

In the modern day, these prints have expanded from blankets to include a range of cardigans, shirts, hats, scarves, even mugs. Yards Store have just expanded their instore and online range – the extent is available here.

Rest assured that when wearing Pendelton, there’s a historical authenticity on your side.

Pendleton at Yards Store.

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