This weekend, Native-designed lifestyle brand Eighth Generation opens its highly anticipated flagship retail store in Pike Place Market.
Though the Eighth Generation team may be a newcomers to the Market, they have been in operation since 2008, steadily building a diverse following and robust product line—custom sneakers, hats, jewelry, smartphone cases, wool blankets and more—which, until now, has only been available online. In addition to beautiful retail displays, Eighth Generation’s new home includes a multipurpose room, providing a hub for community meetings, workshops and a rotating Artist-in-Residence program.
Founder Louie Gong (Nooksack/Chinese/French/Scottish) comes from a nonprofit leadership and education background, and is on a mission to flip the narrative on how cultural art is perceived while creating sustainably pathways for fellow Native artists. We talked with Louie to learn more about Eighth Generation’s new storefront, their "Inspired Natives" business model and the brand’s future goals.
Q&A with Louie Gong of Eighth Generation
Welcome to Pike Place Market! How did you choose this location for Eighth Generation’s flagship store?
Louie Gong: Of all the places in the world to open up a retail store, Pike Place Market was my first choice. The Market matches the different aspects of our business and aligns with Eighth Generation’s mission. We are a for-profit enterprise and want to be able to reach as many people as possible, but we also have an educational component where we help craft the narrative about Native people for folks that encounter us. Pike Place Market is the perfect location for us to challenge stereotypes of who Native people are. Here, we get an opportunity to reach the 10 million plus people—locals and visitors from all over the world—that frequent the Market.
How is Eighth Generation’s business model unique?
Louie Gong: We’re trying to do something different here, and we’re asking for a paradigm shift from our own community. Eighth Generation is not at gallery – it is more like a lifestyle brand with a focus on creating pathways to sustainability for artists and arts entrepreneurs rather than perpetuating the gallery model, because we know it’s not a sustainable path to success for artists. Instead of seeing Native art next to dinosaur bones and other artifacts, we offer Native art on products right next to Native people kicking ass.
I look at art as a natural resource. If you keep taking from it and taking from it without nurturing the people that created it in the first place it will suffer. So in our business model we give back. We embrace additional educational components, so the art doesn’t go the way of the tiki, or worse, the buffalo. And while it’s important to be outraged and call out cultural appropriation when it happens, it’s more important to focus on bringing creative, Native-owned alternatives to the marketplace.
Who are the creators of the Eighth Generation’s original artwork and designs?
Louie Gong: We’re all Native artists as well as entrepreneurs. I’m Nooksack myself, but we partner with Native artists throughout North America—Navajo, Hawaiian, Anishinaabe. Our artists are people I encounter organically and through the community. If I get the sense that their art matches the direction that Eighth Generation wants to go next, and that their spirit is a good match for our spirit, then we start. We look at the artists as partners and collaborators. We’re not simply licensing their art, we’re developing a partnership. They’re able to develop their own business infrastructure and control the direction of their art, which has a bigger impact than simply selling their design. Therefore, our company’s successes are the Native community’s successes.
And you recently launched a line of wool blankets?
Louie Gong: We’re the very first Native-owned company to ever offer wool blankets. That’s surprising to people because the aesthetic of wool blankets is Native. Up to now, non-Native companies have dominated the industry, but Eighth Generation is on the forefront of a renaissance in Native communities where we’re starting to take back a small piece of the market for products featuring cultural art. By offering blankets, we’re constantly sparking important conversations and shedding light on cultural appropriation. Soon we’re introducing a Chief Seattle blanket, created by permission from the Duwamish, with a portion of profits benefiting Chief Seattle Club.
What do you want customers to gain from their experience visiting Eighth Generation?
Louie Gong: My goal is always to plant seeds. We want to entice people in here with the art, but we want them to leave with little seeds of information about who Native people are and what role we might play in their community moving forward. Indigenous people not just symbols of ancient history or the natural environment. We’re real, hardworking professionals who are going to play a key role not just in this community but all over the world.
We partner with Evergreen State College to host an Artist-in-Residence program focusing on artists from the Northwest. We’ll host approximately one artist per month for the rest of the year. The artists set up in our community meeting space and we take zero commission of their sales. We hope their presence brings additional attention to our joint mission.
Eighth Generation is located on the lower level the Economy Market Building’s Atrium (1433 1st Avenue). Look for the giant, eye-catching Northwest Native-style mural of a guardian lion peering out above their storefront. Visit eighthgeneration.com for more information.