Medium: Sealskin and bone
Location: Iqaluit, Nunavut
Inuk fashion designer and owner of Iqaluit-based ENB Artisan, Nicole Camphaug is working to help transform the seal product industry of Nunavut through her contemporary designs. Born in Rankin Inlet, Camphaug comes from a line of Inuit seamstresses and is well-known for her line of modern sealskin footwear. With her husband, she also showcases the beauty and versatility of other traditional Inuit materials.
Your designs and use of sealskin are innovative and unconventional, combining modern with traditional. What sparked the idea of creating your first sealskin stiletto heels?
There were several factors when I created the first pair of stilettos: number one is the love of seal fur. As an Inuk woman, I adore seal fur, not only for its beauty and versatility, but because historically, it was what allowed Inuit to thrive in one of the harshest climates on the planet. As we move forward, the use of fur is still important to Inuit, but we can also use it for fashion now, to display how important it is to our culture. As seal is a principal source of nutrition to Inuit families, I wanted to be able to show its versatility by using it on shoes. I find that Inuit are always looking for ways to celebrate our love of seal, when I thought about pairing seal fur with shoes, it was a new way to show our love of the beloved seal.
Could you walk us through your process of designing and crafting your footwear creations?
I am inspired by shoes, mostly…I see lovely footwear and I envision how a person would look wearing it and how proud they would feel. Or it could be someone with their own vision, that I bring to life for them. Once I have a vision in mind, I make a pattern of the whole shoe and then go from there.
Besides your sealskin footwear, you've also designed items such as bags, hats, pens, furniture, and jewellery using materials like fish leather and caribou antlers. How do you see your practice and business continuing to grow?
As artists, we constantly have new ideas for products as we are inspired by our materials. But we like to be practical, and therefore, try to think of practical items to create. We love the opportunities to celebrate our culture and it’s uniqueness. I would love to have a dedicated space to be able to create larger items to show the versatility of seal fur and provide unique items to those looking for quality items made in Nunavut.
Tell us about a favourite piece you’ve created and why it’s so memorable.
There are so many pieces that we are proud of because every time we create a unique piece, it’s a favorite. So, it’s hard to choose just one piece. But if I had to pick one piece of jewellery, it would have to be the polar bear K9 teeth ulu studs. The K9 teeth are merged with brass to join the handle and blade together, as well as walrus tusk ivory to stabilize them. They are rare and beautiful. We had only enough material to make three sets and I’ve kept two for my own collection. And the seal fur item which is my favorite must be the modern chair that we recently did. I love it because it shows the versatility of seal fur and the absolute beauty of the materials that are by-products of our communities’ livelihood and nourishment. It shows how we love and celebrate our culture and resources.
How do you hope Nunavut's seal product industry evolves in the coming years?
I can only hope that our seal product industry is restored to the greatness that it once was. Our hunters and seamstress should be able to make a living from the way of life they know. Being able to be paid equitably to other markets would be amazing. I would love the world to see the benefits of our sealing industry.
Pay it forward -- tell us about something or someone our readers should know about.
Everyone who is interested in knowing more about the sealing culture, sealing industry and how it has affected our culture should watch Angry Inuk – a 2016 documentary by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. There are also webpages dedicated to providing accurate facts on our sealing industry in Canada, such as canadiansealproducts.com. Sealing is important to our culture as Indigenous peoples across the world.