Calandra Etsitty goes big after going back home
Diné designer from Many Farms makes high end clothing and accessories
Fashion designer Calandra Etsitty grew up sporting baggy jeans and t-shirts in Many Farms, Ariz., but she now represents the epitome of Navajo fashion with her upscale clothing and accessory line, Winston Paul. She is featured in GoDaddy’s 2023 Gift Guide, with a select few other diverse entrepreneurs.
In grade school, Etsitty dreamt up the company, one that could be as timeless and classic as Chanel, Burberry and Dior: A brand made by Diné, but worn by all.
“Growing up in Many Farms, I was fortunate to have a community that was so rich in skilled artisans and craftspeople,” Etsitty said. “From a young age, I was surrounded by gorgeous, handcrafted jewelry and intricate designs, and it wasn’t long before I realized I wanted to be right there with the artisans, making my own designs for others to enjoy."
Etsitty went to the Institute of Phoenix to pursue the dream, but it wasn’t a straight shot. Her father became sick, and she could no longer afford school. She moved to Texas and started working retail, instantly disliking it.
“I was unhappy and trying to figure out what I was going to do. On February 2, 2017, I decided I would take all I had learned and start my brand,” Etsitty said. “I launched my website Feb. 14, 2017 and never looked back.”
She moved back to Many Farms, knowing much of her clientele would be local to the reservation, and is still there today. She started selling makeup bags with tribal patterns, then moved to clothing and Concho earrings.
“Each design, stitch, and element held a story — one that was woven through generations of Diné people and had many different meanings but came from the same traditions and heritage,” she said. “When I understood just how joyful this kind of storytelling and craftsmanship could be, I never turned back.”
Winston Paul blends the names of Etsitty’s little brother, Winston, and Cheí Paul. We talked to Etsitty about her personal evolution and how she was able to turn Winston Paul into the tradition-backed, creative-driven brand it is today.
How would you describe your style today?
Today, I consider my style chic, classy, and a little bit sassy! As a designer, it’s important to me that people can notice my fashion on the street or on my website and say, ‘I want to wear that,’ no matter their size. Confidence is so important, and when I learned how to personalize my style to fit my true identity, I found getting dressed to be a joyous daily activity rather than a begrudging labor. I’m creating because I appreciate that sense of joy within my customers, especially in how these pieces have become staple items of daily inspiration in their wardrobes. To put it simply, I learned at an early age that fashion is here to do good for you and with you — and that’s what I consistently aim to bring my customers.
How do you join street wear and traditional styles?
When it comes to blending traditional styles with streetwear, I’m focusing on how I can routinely honor my Navajo heritage while embracing contemporary fashion trends. I’m a firm believer that fashion, and all of its various expressions, should be a celebration of our culture, experiences, and identity. Through my designs, I hope to bridge the gap between trends and tradition through the beauty of Navajo craftsmanship.
It’s important to me that traditional Navajo elements, such as intricate beadwork, weaving techniques, and vibrant colors, take on a streetwear edge. By allowing our traditional designs and heritage to take modern approaches across silhouettes and styles, we’re able to create a unique fusion of old and new — fashion of tomorrow and today. It’s not just stylish; it’s deeply meaningful.
I want to tell a story with every piece that we create. There are so many stories to share and so many communities to touch, and we aim to incorporate traditional Navajo storytelling with contemporary streetwear aesthetics so that our community is truly brought to life within every project.
Everything at Winston Paul is made-to-order. What has been your most challenging project?
Creating custom pieces has truly been such an amazing and rewarding journey. It’s allowed our team to really get to know our customers and approach retail through a more bespoke, personalized lens that more accurately reflects the craftsmanship of the Navajo people.
Of course, every project comes with its own set of challenges, but one that stands out was making a godet style skirt and a collar blouse. This style of skirt was not a traditional three-tier skirt. With research I was able to get it done. It was not perfect because it was my first skirt in that style and the first blouse I made. But with trial and error I figured it out.
Is there anything that you can’t make?
As an entrepreneur, there have been many times when I thought that I was pushed to my brink and a project was beyond my skill sets. And yet, we kept moving forward and finding great success. At the end of the day, I think it all reflects to the resilience, creativity, and determination of my team, community, and customers. They are the lifeblood of our brand, pushing us forward and encouraging us to approach every opportunity to learn as an opportunity to grow — and I’m very grateful for that.
How do you balance personal life with business?
Being an Indigenous female entrepreneur, who values both professional ambition and personal boundaries, requires sincere personal resilience, a strong support system, and continuous determination and education. It’s easier said than done, but I think the key is in deciding your own definition of harmony. Knowing how harmony can be activated personally helps you carve the best route towards achieving this professionally. I’m far from perfect, and I’m sure many entrepreneurs also experience this, but achieving balance within my entangled personal and professional life is something I’m always aiming towards. It’s a daily practice.
I also know that my well-being not only has a personal impact, but also impacts my team, community, and the success of my business. Nurturing and tending to my mental and physical health make me a better leader and provider to my customers. I’m appreciative of partners like GoDaddy, who recognize exactly this and cater to the unique needs of entrepreneurs through their products, services, and support staff.
How do you go about finding Indigenous models for your high-end photoshoots?
We are mainly inspired by our people. We first start out with the concept/mood board. From there, we do a model call over our Instagram page or browse through our Instagram following contact the person directly. When choosing locations, it is fairly simple. Living on the reservation we often drive by beautiful mesa sand landscapes. We want to capture the beauty of our homelands. We share our clothing and our homelands within our brand.
Why is it important for consumers to shop authentically?
I believe that conscious consumerism isn’t just a preference; it’s a responsibility. And this is even further highlighted when it comes to Native-made art and craft.
Here’s the thing about authenticity — it respects, safeguards, and preserves the heritage of our indigenous communities, our stories, and our cultural heritage. And this is absolutely true for the Navajo people, places, and visualizations that continue to inspire Winston Paul today.
Education and awareness are key first steps in shopping from authentically Native sources. If you’re shopping Native, analyze and consider the significance of the culture and history, along with the craftsmanship and traditions associated with your purchases. It’s important to really understand the unique designs, techniques, and materials used to help accurately and effectively identify authentic pieces.
The beautiful thing about authentic, Native-made products is that they most often come with a story. The majority of legitimate artists and brands are transparent about their sources and will share with customers exactly how they are ideating and collaborating directly with Native artisans. This is key to recognize, as it can help ensure that our indigenous communities are receiving fair compensation and recognition for their work.
And really, a lot of it is in the details - Native-made craft will usually involve intricate techniques that are passed down through generations, so customers should try to identify signs of real quality craftsmanship. This might be traditional weaving patterns, natural dyeing methods, hand-stitched beadwork, and other techniques specific to the artisan and their tribe.
As a Native artisan myself, I stand firmly in promoting authentic Native-made art. I believe that communities and customers everywhere can further help us preserve our heritage while simultaneously supporting the livelihoods of Native artisans by shopping authentically. By shopping from true Native artists, you’re growing Native economies, propagating appreciation of our culture, deepening our own stories, and supporting the future of successful indigenous communities everywhere.
What does it mean to be part of the GoDaddy 2023 Gift Guide?
What I love so much about GoDaddy’s 2023 Gift Guide is that it’s not just representing us at Winston Paul — it’s truly mirroring a larger community of entrepreneurs and representing a larger commitment by GoDaddy to celebrate diverse entrepreneurial growth.
It’s always a pleasure to work with GoDaddy, but to be a part of how they’re not only providing small businesses with affordable, beautifully designed websites but actively uplifting these same businesses through marketing and holiday activations — especially during challenging economic conditions — is truly inspiring. And it doesn’t just stop during the holidays, as GoDaddy’s ongoing support is truly empowering, especially for us small business owners who so often bear the weight of rising inflation, changing consumer sentiment, and general commerce and market challenges.
As a Diné artisan, inclusion in such a project feels amazing. I love how they are allowing us as a company to represent our Diné people and values. We are often forgotten as indigenous peoples but with GoDaddy they have given us a platform to have our voices heard through our entrepreneurial journey, our fashion journey and representing our Diné people authentically. I am very thankful for the opportunity they have given our brand so far.