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To Be Bold

Sweet Sage Woman Clothing and Accessories is a timeline of life experience

When she was a young girl, Yolanda GoodVoice’s father told her to jump on a horse and ride into town from their house outside of Pryor, Montana. There was a parade happening there, and the horse’s trainer would be waiting to receive the Appaloosa. Little Yolanda jumped on the horse and rode there, and when she met the trainer on the street, he looked at her, amused. “He was like, ‘You rode him over here?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’” She didn’t realize that it was a wild and strange thing to do, and that her father had her do it to teach her to be bold.

“I didn’t know,” she says, laughing. “It was like an ignorant fearlessness. “Oh man. My dad. He’d do stuff to me like that all the time.”

Yolanda is the owner of Sweet Sage Woman Clothing and Accessories, a company that features Native American designs that reflect Yolanda’s unique Apsaalooke (Crow Tribe) culture. How she got to where she is now—well—a lot of that has to do with that boldness she learned from those lessons her Dad taught her.

Sweet Sage Woman was featured in a runway show in Missoula last September 2021 at the Zootown Arts Community Center as part of a two-day Indigenous fashion and art event. On the stage, models wore her designs—leggings, dresses, and accessories with the colors and geometric shapes of Crow culture. The stunning designs look nothing like anything you see in stores or on mainstream clothing sites. Dynamic and vivid, they evoked Crow culture in a contemporary way. But they also have an origin story that begins in darkness.

Yolanda has told this story many times now, but it’s not easy. She was working for her tribe remotely, helping entrepreneurs, and she had just gotten her master’s degree at University of Montana in business administration. She had a passion for entrepreneurship, but also for art. She had dreams of starting her own business that combined the two. But when the tribe changed leadership, she lost that job. She was two months pregnant with three other children to take care of. When her son was born, she suffered from postpartum depression.

“I didn't realize how sad and depressed I was,” she recalls. “I had this beautiful, beautiful little boy, you know, and he was such a treasure. And he needed me, you know? And I just didn't want to be around. I was alone. It was just me for the most part that had to care for my children.”

Yolanda had a counselor and had started attending beading and quilting circles at the All Nations Health Center where she connected with a community of sisters. That support moved her forward with a realization: “I realized that I was the only one that was going to be able to pull myself out of my depression. I was responsible for how I survived, how I thrived, and how I grew.”

And she made a bold move: she started Sweet Sage Woman. She had long been intrigued by the contemporary versions of indigenous bolo ties and ribbon skirts she’d see at Native conferences and gatherings, and that lit a fire in her. Starting the business was about combining her artistic and business skills, but she also realized she had a message to share. She called her first clothing line, “I Am Fearless.” Though now it refers to a different fearlessness than the one she had as a young girl jumping on that horse.

“It’s a good motto to live by sometimes,” she says laughing, “but I think it’s more important that we are courageous—even if we are afraid.”

Her next line of clothing was called “I Love ME,” a reference to part of her revelation, coming out of the darkness of PPD, that self-love and self-compassion are vital—and so hard to have when self-criticism is what so many of us are taught. For that design she chose flowers—rose, bitterroot, sorrel—to represent that idea. The next line was called Centered—a more contemporary design of turquoise and red that allude to light and dark, with the idea of being in the present, “centered between who we were and who we are going to be.”

A Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women design came next—an acknowledgement of the national crisis of many young Native women disappearing and being sex trafficked or killed, with little investigation. Yolanda didn’t want to put her designs in the forefront.

“I want to leave space for the people who are really affected by it,” Yolanda says. But she made a donation to the MMIW campaign from her clothing sales. After MMIW she created a line called “Live,” featuring Crow-style geometric shapes. She had been thinking about her dad who taught her fearlessness but who died when she was 19. She remembered how much time he spent mourning his own dead parents, but she knew he would not want her to do the same. Our dead loved ones want us to live and be happy, she explained. “They want us to enjoy our lives.”

The pandemic was hard. Yolanda lost family and members of her tribe. Her materials for her clothing were delayed by supply chain issues. She started driving for DoorDash 70 to 80 hours a week. She almost gave up.

But of course, she didn’t.

Yolanda has a new line, which she launched early this year at the Double Tree Hotel for the Big Sky Indigenous Women in Fashion and Art Gala, a showcase of 2022 spring lines of wearable artwork. Her new line featured a butterfly, sweet peas, and the Trollius Laxus, also known as a globe flower.

She’s calling the line “Gratitude.”

“It’s important to see where you are and what’s good,” she says. “The process of creating these designs is a lot of contemplating, a lot of thinking, a lot of asking The Creator, ‘what do I need to focus on? What do I need to share?’ And gratitude has gotten me through some pretty low spots in my life. It’s really important to count what your blessings are.”