The inspiration behind a Saskatoon woman's Truth and Reconciliation day shirt design
Shelby Omani is Saskatoon’s latest t-shirt designer, and the product she helped to design has been flying off the shelves.
“It's crazy, like it's just a design I came up with and I thought it looked good,” said the 27-year-old. “It was sold out first day.”
Omani is a student at Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies in downtown Saskatoon, where the school’s Centre for Innovation partnered with Hardpressed in a contest where students would create designs for Orange Shirt Day.
“Essentially Hardpressed came in as a mentor; they would print the shirts, they would manage the sales of the T-shirts, and then we would be responsible for finding the student talent,” said Ryan Jimmy, project lead for the Centre for Innovation.
Omani says initially she had trouble coming up with ideas for a design.
“I asked my sister to see if she had any ideas, and she sent me a picture of my kokum,” she said. “Just all the ideas just started flowing in.”
Omani’s kokum, Irene “Stella” Peekeekoot, was a residential school survivor, attending St. Michaels Residential School in Duck Lake.
“She would tell stories of her abuse,” said Omani. “One of the stories I remember, she would have to kneel on cement floors for speaking Cree, and strapped by a yardstick on her hand for writing left-handed.”
Omani’s design features the silhouette of a woman, her Kokhum, with the smaller outline of a child. The words "every child matters" are centred over the child, with handprints along the outside of the design.
“I thought to put the little girl behind, and the hair is kind of wrapping around like protection, because the hair was chopped off when she was in residential school,” said Omani.
Jimmy says an elders advisory committee selected the winning design.
“I think what stood out for them was that this submission was celebrating a survivor, and their accomplishments of overcoming some of those traumas,” he said.
“We've purchased about 500 (blank) shirts from different vendors to send the T-shirts to the Regina and Saskatoon campus so that the students can learn how to create their own orange T-shirts using Shelby's design.”
Hardpressed says within the first 20 minutes of the shirts being available, 80 had sold, while 400 to 500 shirts were sold within the first hour and a half.
“It just kind of like whoa, like people cared about my design and like my stepmom and a few other people said they got emotional after seeing it, and for me, I can't believe it,” said Omani.
She says she’ll be proud to see people wearing the shirts inspired by her kokum on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Me and my sisters are thankful for her strength and love,” she said. “She chose a life of sobriety from drugs and alcohol and I also chose to live my life in that same way. She was my role model.”