Meet Victoria Kakuktinniq, the Canadian Inuk designer honouring the legacy of Inuit women and Canada’s North
Kakuktinniq spearheads Project Atigi's third installation inspired by her people, her land and her roots
Canadian lifestyle brand, Canada Goose, has been focused on uniting sustainability and values-based initiatives to “keep the planet cold and the people on it warm” through their HUMANATURE platform for a few years now. Rooted in HUMANATURE, Project Atigi—a collaborative undertaking aptly named with the Inuktitut word for parka—is back for the third year in a row. 2022’s installation of Project Atigi is especially exciting with the launch of the first-ever limited-edition women’s capsule created in collaboration with Canadian-Inuk designer, Victoria Kakuktinniq, honouring the legacy and traditions of Inuit design in Canada’s North.
This collection features three limited-edition outerwear styles—the Heavyweight Parka, Lightweight Down and Wind Jacket. Kakuktinniq drew inspiration from her past and present experiences, her community, and the land she calls home—from the Northern Lights and the snow covering the Tundra to the gold shimmer along the water in the spring.
We sat with Kakuktinniq to learn about her journey into fashion and how she’s keeping the traditions of the North alive.
You are an Inuk designer who has honoured the legacy of Inuit women in so much of your work. Now you’re working on the first-ever limited-edition women’s capsule for Project Atigi. How important is this moment for you, and how does it feel to see it all come to life?
To be honest, it feels a bit surreal. To be chosen among so many incredible Inuit seamstresses is such an honour. To me, it’s about what this moment represents: It shows the world that we Inuit can do anything and that we are resilient. Our history and traditions are not lost. They are ever-evolving. We are bringing forward a new generation of activism through fashion that showcases the importance of traditional techniques and fabrics in winter wear for warmth.
On that note, what does getting your designs on this global stage and this project mean to you?
This is such an empowering project for myself, my community and other Inuit women. Sewing traditional garments, a skill passed down from generation to generation, is an integral part of life in the North, especially for Inuit. We are artists, and we tell our stories through our products. It’s more than just our livelihood, it’s a way of life.
Bringing my designs to the global stage is essential because it celebrates, educates and inspires. I’m grateful for this opportunity, platform, and to be a voice for my culture and to give back in such a profound way.
When did you realize that you wanted to take these traditions further and be a designer?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to develop my sewing skills to preserve traditional techniques and materials. I was always so inspired by the line of strong Inuit women I was raised by. My mother, grandmother and sister all used their traditional sewing knowledge to handmake beautiful traditional garments for our family to help keep us warm. My grandmother, Lizzie Ittinuar, is a well-known seamstress who creates beautiful traditional beaded amautiit, among other traditional clothing, that can take up to a year to complete. Her hard work and dedication truly inspired me.
You’ve beautifully fused the traditional Inuit sewing and design techniques that you learned from elders in Iqaluit with your experience studying fashion at MC College in Winnipeg. How have your experiences in both life and as a designer contributed to your conceptualizing and executing this collection?
I have always really enjoyed fashion and artistic expression through fashion. But, living somewhere remote can somewhat isolate you from opportunities to be fashion-forward. Growing up in Rankin, Inlet—a remote northern Arctic community—traditional fabrics, furs and sewing styles are used in most of the clothes people wear on the land to keep them warm. So I spent a lot of my time on the land thinking about how I could innovate the classic parka designs, colours and fabrics to be ready to wear for the city and the land.
So it would be safe to say that your upbringing and roots in Kangiqliniq, Nunavut, are reflected in elements of this collection.
My upbringing has definitely inspired my collections. My most recent collection (pre-pandemic) was showcased at NYFW and was inspired by my grandmother’s captivating traditional beaded amautiit and arctic landscapes. I used thick Melton wool, leather, and lots of beadwork to honour my grandmother in that collection.
Similarly, my collection with Canada Goose is also inspired by my upbringing and tells my story in many different ways. Like my personal collections, the colour palette mirrors the Northern Lights—a tribute to the night sky from my hometown of Rankin Inlet—layered in through choiceful colour blocking, a detail I often include in my designs. The tattoo trim is not only my story but the story of my culture and heritage. Inuit have a long history of traditional tattooing, and these designs and their meanings vary between people and communities. This specific design represents memorable events in my life, my strength and is a tribute to my parents and daughter.
What has the design process been like working with a heritage brand like Canada Goose?
This has been such a special collaboration for me. Canada Goose initially reached out for their first Project Atigi in 2018, but I had my store in Iqaluit and couldn’t dedicate the right amount of time to the project. We stayed in touch, and when they reached back out for this third collection, I knew I had to take it.
I’ve always wanted to be a part of this project because it was developed to create social entrepreneurship opportunities for Inuit designers by leveraging Canada Goose’s global platform and showcasing Inuit craftsmanship and unique designs. In addition, all the proceeds will go to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), a national organization that advocates for the rights and interests of Inuit in Canada. Project Atigi really does celebrate my heritage, my community and my craft. It’s so inspiring and motivating.
The design process for this collection has taken about a year and a half. The process itself is a source of inspiration for me and allowed me to bind my creativity, ideas and background to design beautiful pieces that bring my stories to life.
If you had to choose, which piece is your favourite one from this collection and why?
My favourite item from the collection is the Kakuktinniq Parka. It follows a traditional silhouette and style that is my signature. I started my career making Parkas, so this piece’s cut, colour, and trim accents resonate with me. I feel very proud and excited about this piece.
What’s next? What are you looking most forward to once this collection launches?
My collection with Canada Goose launches at the end of January! I’ve spent the last year and a half working with the brand and am so excited to see it finally all come together and launch globally. It’s such an empowering project for myself, my community, and other Inuit women. I’m honoured to bring my designs and my culture to the world in such an impactful way.
Beyond the collaboration, I want to expand Victoria’s Arctic Fashion, my business. I am passionate and proud of the company I’ve built, so I want to expand my shop and hire more designers to produce more products and distribute my creations widely. There are so many places I want to take my brand, and I think in 2022, you will see us working to achieve these goals.
What advice do you have for younger generation designers?
Lean on your community. Know that who you are and where you come from. Know that how you were raised is your strength, not your weakness. Be proud, be proud to be Inuk, know what it means to live on the land, and have the skills of your ancestors running through you in everything you do. Do not let the past failings of our Government or the traumas of our past define your future. Take whatever inspires you and build upon it, and work within the community to support and build capacity in the things you are passionate about. This is how the future can be bright.
Click here to explore Victoria Kakuktinniq’s collection with Project Atigi.