Award-winning Native American fashion brand and designer, Aconav, makes masks
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Native American small businesses have had to adapt to survive economically during this pandemic and Aconav, an award-winning Native American fashion brand and designer, has done precisely that.
Aconav has changed from focusing on fashion to making Native American designed masks, which continually sell out.
Loren Aragon, who owns the business along with his wife Valentina, said Aconav’s masks meet CDC standards and are also washable and reusable.
Aragon has a background in engineering and has been applying the engineering toward the masks. He said the Aconav masks are wider than most masks and are more comfortable than because of that design.
“We designed our own prints,” Aragon said.
Aragon said the idea of the masks is to protect each other, but also to bring unity among everybody.
“We jumped on that message. We want unity among everyone,” he said.
The sales of his Native American fashion clothing and jewelry are down because a lot of events where people would wear the fashions have been cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic. But some people who are buying the masks are getting clothing to match.
“People are sharing their look with us (on social media),” Aragon said. “We did not see the demand for the masks until we did it in early April.”
Aragon said the sales of the masks are keeping their business alive while their supplying a necessity to the community.
“Some people couldn’t get masks early on, especially for our native Navajo and Acoma communities,” he said.
Aragon is Acoma and Valentina is Navajo so they came up with the name Aconav for those two tribal communities.
Aconav has made dresses for Disney and the red carpet Tony Awards. They also support the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement.
Aragon said Aconav is working on a better print that would last longer on its masks.
“We’re getting feedback on what customers like and what they think we can improve,” he said.
The mask sales have been to everywhere from Canada to Maine to military overseas. Each time they have a run of masks they make 150-200 masks and they sell out quickly. The masks are also priced at $10 each so they are affordable.
Aconav has also donated some of the masks to hard hit communities, including the Navajo Nation.
Aragon said mask making is important to them because it shows the business cares about everybody.
“We were brought up traditionally to take care of one another,” he said. “We are putting action to our prayers. We want to give back to the community, especially protecting the elders. We need to protect our people with our small communities. If we lose our elders, we lose our culture.”
Aragon said people love their masks.
“We set out to do a handful. We had an informational announcement on our website and people wanted it. They were appreciative of what we are doing,” he said.
It is a three person operation with Aragon’s mother, seamstress Hilda Pedro, working with the couple.
“It’s helping us keep the lights on,” he said.
Aragon said the majority of the masks have been going to Navajo, but he adds they also want to help Hopi.
Aragon said when the coronavirus hit it was scary because everything was shutdown.
“In March, we lost a lot of business because travel shows were shutdown. People were also scared to spend because of the COVID,” he said. “We just had to restructure and see what we were capable of doing.”
Aragon said the masks are important because they provide protection for the person wearing the mask and others.
“Social distancing is also important. We promote that in every package we send out,” he said. “I hope people understand that message. There is no cure so respect others and respect yourself. If you care of yourself, you care for others.”
Like most families dealing with the coronavirus, Aragon said his family is “hanging in there.”
“We are taking all the safety measures and finding new ways to disinfect everything. We are doing everything we can. Unfortunately, we cannot visit family,” he said.
Aragon, who lives in Phoenix, said his hometown of Acoma is locked down because of the coronavirus.
“We have everything we need and we’re depending on the delivery system and drive ups,” he said.
For now, Aconav will continue to make masks as long as needed and donate when they can.
“People are looking forward to getting back to events where they can dress up,” he said.
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