Remarkable would be the simplest way to describe the last two months for Ay Lelum.
Snuneymuxw sisters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good went from figuring out what to do next after a fire destroyed nearly all their clothing stock, to walking down a runway at their own show in New York—all in the span of two weeks.
Ay Lelum – The Good House of Design describes themselves as “wearable art garments that embrace diversity, and [are] committed to sharing Traditional Coast Salish art and culture for all people to enjoy.” The garments can range from dresses to rain jackets to masks. The brand prides itself on its designs based on family artwork, music, and historical information.
The two sisters grew up in an artistic household. Their parents, Sandra Moorhouse-Good and William Good, had a successful Coast Salish clothing line in the 1990s called Ay Ay Mut which means “beautiful” in Hul’q’umi’num.
“We grew up in fashion shows, putting on fashion shows, going to shows, running the store, all aspects of our parents’ business we worked in, and we grew up in an art studio. That started at very, very young ages,” Boyd-Good said.
It was their parent’s brand that inspired them to pursue their own.
“In 2015, when I was graduating with my English degree from VIU, we had put together a 35-year collaborative show at the Nanaimo Museum about our parents’ collaborative works and in doing that, we went into the community and had to borrow art pieces from people to put on display. We went into people’s homes and found that [they] had our parents’ works in their home still, and they were like 20 years old or older. They had clothing in their closet, they had pottery in their homes, they had paintings and carvings,” Boyd-Good said.
“We saw the impact that they had on their community, and how much people cherish the work that they had done, and that was a big inspiration,” she said. “We thought, ‘Oh, we should make some clothes again,’ and we did with our mother. And that’s when we decided, hey, this is something that we can do, and we can do it together.”
And so, in 2016, Ay Lelum was born.
Ay Lelum (pronounced similar to ‘aigh(t) lay-lum’) translates to “Good House” in Hul’q’umi’num. Boyd-Good said that having a Hul’q’umi’num name was very important as their parents had one, and integrating and revitalizing the language is integral for the sisters.
Storytelling and showcasing Coast Salish artwork is also a large aspect of their work.
“It’s a foundational aspect of what we do. It’s important that we are accurate and thorough, that we carry on that legacy, and that we do it in a way that follows the protocols that our dad has set out for us. We’re really conscious of that and follow them really strictly,” Boyd-Good said.
Their father William Good is a Cultural Historian and Master Coast Salish Artist in the Snuneymuxw region and is a huge inspiration to how the daughters wanted to share their designs.
“Our dad is one of the handful of artists that have revived the Coast Salish art form and now it’s important for us to take on this next step of Coast Salish art revitalization. It’s important that we keep it moving and we keep it documented, and that we share it.”
But fashion isn’t the only medium the sisters use to share their stories.
The two sisters and their brother, Joel Good, grew up in a very musical household and were surrounded by art and music throughout their lives. In 2018, when they booked their first-ever fashion show at Vancouver Fashion Week, they found out they needed to have all-original music and scrambled to figure out how they were going to prepare.
“I sat down with Joel, my brother, and I was like, ‘What are we going to do?’” Boyd-Good said. “‘We need original music. We have some songs, but what are we going to do?’ And he just looked at me and said, ‘We’ll go see [music producer] Rob the Viking, he’s back in town,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, okay,’ and the rest is history.”
So from there, Ay Lelum started producing their own music using traditional and non-conventional instruments such as the sounds of carving wood and spinning wool incorporated in the beats of the music.
“It’s a whole industry in and of itself [along with the fashion line]. There’s quite a learning curve with it, but it’s just become what it is, and that’s part of [what] the organic artistic process is, allowing something like that to become what it is organically.”
For their latest showcase in New York City, their first song was all in Hul’q’umi’num, starting off with a story by their father in English.
“If you look traditionally at Hul’q’umi’num art and culture, history is passed on through visual arts and orally, so we took that combination of the visual arts and the oral language and put that together on the runway,” Boyd-Good said. “Our approach was very traditional, in a very modern setting.”
For many people in the audience, it may have been the first time they’d heard Hul’q’umi’num or any Indigenous language being spoken or sung. Boyd-Good said that they got very good feedback about the use of the language for their showcase.
“Everybody really loved it. I don’t know if they knew what it was, but I know that it was appealing to them, and I think that’s a testament to the beauty of it, and it was extremely well received,” she said.
These past couple of months, Ay Lelum has been able to showcase their work and the Snuneymuxw culture to a global audience.
On September 11, Ay Lelum had an incredible opportunity to have their work walk down the runway in New York City during New York Fashion Week, one of the biggest fashion events in the world. They were able to attend with the Global Fashion Collective (GFC), the same collective that helped put on their first show in 2018 at the Vancouver Fashion Week.
GFC is an expansion of Vancouver Fashion Week that specialises in supporting emerging designers by establishing their presence around the world and building a more inclusive and diverse industry.
Jia Sung, the Project Manager and Event Specialist for GFC, said that the collective focuses on diversity not just for body size inclusivity but also for cultural and ethnic diversity.
“We want to include everything and … because we’re working with such international brands, we want to showcase the diversity of it,” Sung said.
Attending New York Fashion Week was a goal of Ay Lelum and something Boyd-Good said was one of her biggest accomplishments.
“We were really excited, but again, in this time of uncertainty, not knowing what was going to happen. We booked it so far ahead, you can really only be so excited for it until it’s happening,” Boyd-Good said.
“It was hard to be excited to go because things were so devastating at home. So, it wasn’t until we actually landed, and we got off the plane to the baggage check and then we’re like, ‘Okay, we’re here. This is happening.’”
New York was an extremely exciting time, but just two weeks before, a fire broke out in their warehouse on August 27 and almost all their stock was destroyed. Luckily the fire was contained, and everyone was unharmed.
“I think we were in a lot of shock, and it was our mom who really kicked into gear and made sure that our collection kept moving,” Boyd-Good said. “We had a lot to deal with—to do with the fire—and it was just really devastating because we had put so many years of hard work into what we built up with our collections and all our stock, and then just to see it gone that quickly was really devastating. We were also extremely thankful that no one had been hurt in it.”
The sisters were forced to shut down their website for a short period of time while they planned how they’d come back after the fire. Their website, at the time, had been ready to hit the US market for their American campaign.
Fortunately, their New York showcase garments were safe, since they’d been kept at their home studio. The Good sisters were still able to witness their garments being walked down the runway.
“My favourite part is always watching your collection, on the runway to the music and having it land the way you want it to land and having it happen the way you planned it because you’ve put so many months into it,” Boyd-Good said. “It’s hard to explain the feelings that we have because we’re in the back and we’re watching it on a screen. We’re having the models go out and we’re right there and just to experience it and have it happening is the most exciting thing.”
Being in New York allowed the sisters to meet many Indigenous and BIPOC fashion brands and designers. They attended an event with Edgar Villanueva, activist and author of the award-winning book Decolonizing Wealth. They also met author Julian Brave Noisecat and the team from the Los Angeles-based Indigenous fashion brand Urban Native Era.
Boyd-Good’s biggest takeaway from the event is that “anything’s possible,” she said. “We had huge adversity and we surrounded ourselves with people who really cared and an amazing team.”
After the warehouse fire, many members of the community came together to make sure Ay Lelum could keep going. The Canadian not-for-profit organization Indigenous LIFT Collective, which supports Indigenous businesses and communities, put on a fundraiser for Ay Lelum and gave the sisters support when they needed it.
“When you have a fire like that, it’s really devastating and shocking, and you’re not really sure what to do when you really need some help,” Boyd-Good said. “And we’re not wanting to ask for help, it’s not really in our nature. So, to have people that were like, ‘It’s okay to ask for help, and we’re here to help you’ was really important. I think there’s something to be said for that and that experience of accepting help if you need it, and then pulling yourself out of it and doing what you need to do.”
Now Boyd-Good and Seward-Good are back home as they regroup and work hard to restock.
Rest does not seem to be in the near future for them as they prepare to hit the runway later this month for the 2021 Vancouver Fashion Week that will run from October 22–24.
Currently, Ay Lelum is selling limited items on their website and have preorders for several others. Some of their collection can also be found in BC Ferries gift shops on select routes.
You can find out more about Ay Lelum on their website and social media: @aylelum on Instagram and Ay Lelum – The Good House of Design on Facebook. Their music is available under Ay Lelum on all music streaming platforms.