Local Indigenous Business Spotlight: wolfwmnbeads

wolfwmnbeads is a local Indigenous-owned beading business run on Instagram by Raechel Bonomo.

Before National Indigenous History Month comes to a close, our team will continue to provide informative and interesting articles highlighting the Indigenous history, and showcasing Indigenous talent. Today I wanted to take a moment to highlight one of my personal favourite local Indigenous-owned businesses and artists – Raechel Bonomo, owner of wolfwmnbeads. I began following Raechel’s Instagram account when I first started The Sustainable Switch, seeing her beautiful pieces and finding a kindred spirit. Both Raechel and I have chosen to found and run our businesses with certain values and ideals at the forefront, including our mutual love for the land and its inhabitants. As such, I wanted to take the time to share with you her beautiful art and some information about the woman who creates it.

Who is Raechel Bonomo?

Raechel is a mixed Kanien’kehá:ka woman currently residing in Tkaronto, Ontario. Her mother’s family is from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, and her father’s family is from Northern Italy and immigrated to Toronto in the early 1960s. Her traditional name is Mein-gun Kwe, meaning wolf woman, which was bestowed to her by an Ojibway Elder. This is where the business’ name originates. Having grown up in Oshawa, Ontario, about 45 minutes east of Toronto, Raechel connects to her Haudenosaunee culture through her beadwork and spending time on the land. She is passionate about helping Indigenous youth connect to their culture through land-based teachings, nature conservation, beadwork, and food.

Figures 1, 2, 3 & 4 – wolfwmnbeads work

Raechel started her business in October 2020, never imagining she would be selling her beadwork, especially as she hadn’t been beading for very long at that point. Her beading journey actually began as a New Year’s resolution in January 2020. However, always having been a creative person, before she started beading, Raechel studied art and spent time buying and selling upcycled vintage clothing and jewelry. Fashion and sustainability have always been important to her, so she felt like beadwork was just a natural extension of that.

Raechel was kind enough to carry out a Q&A session with me, answering a number of questions about her business, its processes, and how she incorporates her values and culture into her pieces. Read below to find out more!

Q & A With Raechel Bonomo (wolfwmnbeads)

Q: How and when did you learn how to do beadwork and make jewelry?

A: I coincidentally started my beading journey just before a time where everyone started new hobbies: during the pandemic. I am largely self-taught, but have learned so much from my kin. Whether it is how to use materials in a way that honours the animal (like tufting with good intentions, or using quills while thinking of and thanking the porcupine they’re from), experimenting with edging, trying different colour ways or stepping out of my comfort zone, my growth can be attributed to all the powerful, talented Indigenous artists I’m lucky to know. 

Q: What kinds of materials do you use in your work? Where do you source them?

A: I largely use upcycled, vintage and harvest components in my work. It’s important to me that my work has minimal impact on the environment, so I try to avoid buying brand new materials made from non-recycled materials like plastic. Most, if not all, of the “extras” in my work have been thrifted or saved from other pieces (such as tassels, charms, etc.). Antler is a prominent material throughout my work, as is caribou fur, leather and porcupine quills. These gifts from the land are instrumental in how my work comes together. Not only do they last long, they hopefully help the wearer feel more connected to the natural world and all she provides for us (see figure 5).

Figure 5 – Vintage & Fur Dangles

Note: This earring set was made with smoked hide, upcycled vintage centres, dyed caribou fur, backed with deer hide, & finished with a gold chain & 22k gold fish hooks.

Q: What is your favourite piece you’ve ever made?

A: My favourite piece I’ve ever made is a large landscape I made for a lovely human in the U.S., largely inspired by buffalo lands (see figures 6 & 7). It took me nearly 60 hours to create and incorporates dyed quills, natural and dyed caribou fur, a mix of vintage, seed and Japanese beads. It was such a labour of love. I’m so used to creating smaller pieces like earrings and necklaces, so to see my work in such a large scale was so rewarding and almost daunting. It made me reflect on how far I’ve come as a beadworker and the magic that can come from this work. When Indigenous creators say beading is medicine, they mean it. Every bead, quill and tuft in that landscape was therapeutic in some way. It challenged me in ways I never thought beadwork could. 

Q: Is wolfwmnbeads your full-time job? Part-time? If it is part-time, what do you do when you’re not beading?

A: My beading business is my part-time business. I do everything that goes into creating, running and growing a small business: from social media to concept design to creating to packaging. By day, I work in Indigenous and internal communications for a nature conservation organization. I love my job in communications, and my beadwork is an extension of my passion for protecting and conserving the land and waters Indigenous Peoples have lived on for millennia. I consider myself very lucky to tell stories about the land through two mediums: words and beads. 

Q: In your Instagram bio it says that your business is sustainable; I would love to hear a bit about what you do to ensure sustainability in your business.

A: I ensure sustainability in a few ways when creating and packaging my beadwork. As mentioned above, I try to use as many recycled, natural and vintage materials in my work. From vintage charms to naturally-shed antler to leather hide scraps, my work is often contingent on what I can find and is inspired by saved pieces that are often thrifted or recycled in some way. When packing my work, I try to use as many reused or recyclable materials as I can. This includes paper cards, boxed and wrapping and avoiding plastic or bubble wrap. I just ordered compostable mailers, too.

Q: What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration for your pieces? Anything you do or anywhere you go?

A: The land is at the foundation of my work, both in the design and the materials I use. I find so much creative energy in nature. Many of my collections are centred on elements and themes from the natural world, including plants, animals and water. 

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