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Young Kaska designer from the Yukon makes waves at fashion show in Italy


Starting your own business can be tough, and Natasha Peter had lately been wondering if it was time to give up on her venture, Kaska Dena Designs. 

“Since the beginning of the year I’ve been like, really thinking about quitting,” she said.

“You know how businesses are, there’s a lot of ups and downs.”

This week, though, things were definitely up for Peter, and she may now be setting aside any thoughts of quitting.

The Indigenous fashion designer, originally from the small community of Ross River, Yukon, saw a collection of her work featured this week on the runway at the high-profile Milan Fashion Week, in Italy.

“It was quite the experience and the excitement was just so surreal,” Peter told CBC News from Milan earlier this week.

“Like, everything happened so fast. And right now I’m sitting in my room and thinking, like wow, I can’t believe I’ve made it this far in my small little entrepreneur business that I’ve created on my kitchen table.”

A woman stands beside a banner gesturing to the words 'Kaska Dena Designs.'
‘The excitement was just so surreal,’ said Peter. (Submitted by Natasha Peter)

Peter said the event organizers had seen her work on social media and got in touch to invite her to Milan. 

“I thought I was pranked for sure,” she said. “I showed it to like, a few of my trusted sources and I even looked them up — and it turns out that they were pretty legit.”

Peter said the event organizers were impressed by how her jewelry and clothing designs reflect and celebrate her Kaska Dena heritage. She named the collection in Milan after the Dena name given to her grandmother, Tootsie Charlie — “Gu’Kine of the North.”   

“My grandma had passed away five years ago now, and I still respectfully acknowledge her and all of the things that she had passed down throughout the years,” Peter said.

Peter recalled how, just a few weeks before heading to Italy, she was still working hard to make the final pieces that would be part of the collection.

“I didn’t know what to make. So I just randomly put pieces together and things just happened to come together perfectly. And I was pretty proud of that,” she said.

“And I just, you know, I felt my grandma’s presence throughout this whole journey, and I’m really, really thankful.”

A model in a colourful dress poses on a runway.
Canadian model Camelia Vokey in a dress and necklace from Kaska Dena Designs, at Milan Fashion Week. (Milan Fashion Week 2024)

For Peter, Milan Fashion Week was an opportunity to not only showcase her own work and business, but also to share the spotlight with others. 

She travelled to Italy with three Kaska models from Yukon who would wear her creations on the catwalk. Peter also collaborated with two Kaska elders whose art was included as part of her show — Dennis Shorty, and Penny Louie.

“It was awesome to collaborate with Natasha,” said Shorty, a visual artist and musician from Ross River. “I’m very grateful.”

Shorty’s partner, Jenny Shorty, said they’ve known Peter for a long time and are “superfans” of her work, and the way she honours her elders and ancestors through her creations.

“She is showing all the girls, like her little daughter and the other girls in the community — hey, you could do this. And we all are so proud of her,” said Jenny.

Showcasing the work of Dennis, and Penny Louie, in Milan is a powerful statement, Jenny said.

“It just shows what kind of a respectful, beautiful soul and being she is, that she includes her elders that are still alive and doing artwork, and creating those things, and never really been acknowledged before in their life — not on that big scale,” she said.

A warm reception and some fishy pizza

Peter, back home now in Whitehorse, said she had been really nervous before going to Milan, wondering if her creations would make the same impression on the catwalk as they did online. Turns out, she had nothing to worry about.

“Everybody was like coming at me and congratulating me and telling me how they loved my collection. And a lot of the other models, they were asking if I had any more pieces for them to model,” she recalled.

“And I couldn’t say yes — I really wanted to, but I couldn’t because I only had so much!” 

A rack of clothes inside a room, labelled with a sign reading, 'Kaska Dena.'
Some of the Kaska Dena Designs collection in Milan. Peter named the collection after the Dena name given to her grandmother, Tootsie Charlie — ‘Gu’Kine of the North.’    (Natasha Peter)

She also managed to take in some of the sights and flavours of Italy, including a visit to Lake Como where she wanted to have some real Italian pizza. It wasn’t quite what she expected.

“At first I kind of messed up on my order and I ended up ordering pizza with fish on top of it. And it was covered in cheese and I didn’t see it. Took a huge bite of it — oh, I don’t think I’ll do that again,” she said.

“It was different. I mean, I guess they like their pizza with fish.”



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