ASU alumnus incorporates Native American heritage into fashion design

Former Sun Devil Loren Aragon connects his education to the world of fashion

ASU alumnus. Mechanical engineer. Fashion designer. 

Loren Aragon competed as an emerging designer in Phoenix Fashion Week (PHXFW) 2017 and represents not only his fellow  Sun Devils in his work, but also his Native American heritage as an Acoma Pueblo tribe member. 

Aragon was exposed to the ideals of creativity and matrilineality growing up as an Acoma in New Mexico. He says he personally connects to his designs by ensuring his heritage is pronounced in each of them.

“My style is authentically inspired by my Native American culture,” says Aragon. “It’s based off of the idea of empowerment of women, which is really what our culture believes in.” 

He stumbled into the world of fashion “accidentally.” Although he grew up watching his mother and aunts be seamstresses, he says his wife was the one who pushed him to get his foot in the door of this industry. 

Valentina Aragon, his wife, says Loren is a “master of the arts” with skills ranging from jewelry making to silversmithing to woodburning. She encouraged him to venture into fashion as it is a medium she believed he would excel in.

“He happened to come upon fashion and decided that was going to be the next thing he did. It was just second-nature to him,” says Valentina.  

The name of Loren’s fashion line, ACONAV, was coined by him and his wife. He says it is a cohesion and both of his cultures, Acoma Pueblo and Navajo

“We wanted equal representation of two different things and it seemed to fit,” says Loren. “The designs are Acoma, but the ideas behind them are driven by Navajo beliefs.”

Prior to fashion, ACONAV was a greeting card company the couple founded while in college. Although the cards were initially made on the side for family, they combined their talents of graphic design and scrapbooking to pay the bills. 

Loren says most would be surprised to know that fashion was not always his passion. He studied mechanical engineering throughout his time at ASU and stuck with it for several years after graduation.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, wow! What a big change from that to this,’” says Loren. 

He says the transition from the engineering field to fashion was not as big of a leap as people would think. His education and career allowed him to figure out how objects are created and why they function the way they do.

“With mechanical engineering, there was always a curiosity factor to figure out how things work,” says Loren. “I think with fashion, it’s the same way.”

Fashion fell into place when he discovered he could be original down to the design of an outfit all the way up to the prints and final product. He says he likes to see things from “cradle to grave.”

His knack for creativity is nothing new, according to his mother, Hilda Pedro. She says her son has been an artist since he was young and could always be found drawing in his sketchbook. 

“He would always show me such detailed things,” says Pedro. “He was very good at constructing things, such as complicated puzzles.” 

Valentina says Loren’s mother was his first art teacher and bestowed many of his creative skills upon him, such as sewing. 

Although Pedro was surprised that her son became a fashion designer, she says she is proud of his progress and dedication to their heritage.

“It is a process, beginning to end, that is just beautiful,” says Pedro. “He surprised me in the beginning with what he made... I was amazed with the designs he showed me. Everything related back to our tradition.”

He was introduced to Phoenix Fashion Week when he attended a show back in 2014. Loren says he was “mind-blown” by the skills of the designers and inspired to see his pieces on the stage someday too.

Loren says Phoenix Fashion Week is far more than a runway show; it gave him an education about what it means to be a designer and a support system to launch his line.

“Phoenix Fashion Week really helped me in establishing an identity to ACONAV,
says Loren. “Before, I had a brand name and that was it. Being a part of this gave me more of a focus.”

The program helped him create the brand tagline, “cultural designs embodied in timeless elegance.” He decided he wanted all of his looks to evoke the concept of female empowerment.

The underlying quality of his designs is the tie they have to his Native American ancestry. Several of his looks incorporate a red sash along the waistline, which is a symbol of power among women. He is also inspired by the Acoma’s adoration of pottery-making as is seen in his use of monochrome prints.

Key characteristics can be identified in each of Loren’s pieces; however, he says his PHWFW collection this year is quite different than his previous one. 

“Last year’s collection was really an introduction into what ACONAV is all about and where we come from,” says Loren. “We wanted to present the cultural connection.”

He says the concept of broken pottery was dominant in his 2016 collection called “Shattered.” Broken pottery symbolizes new beginnings or regeneration in his culture. He expressed this through geometric designs and original patterns.

Although his current collection still holds similar ideals, it focuses more on the idea of emergence as he believes everything emerges, or is born, from the earth.

“That same idea goes in line with me emerging as a designer and stepping forward from not being as recognized as before,” says Loren.

He says he wanted his designs to have more artistic value this time around, which is why he incorporated new materials, such as metal. He had the opportunity to utilize his engineering skills by making a connection between these soft and hard elements.

Although the 2017 Phoenix Fashion Week is quickly approaching, his says his fashion journey is far from over. He wants to continue spreading the word about his culture and get more people to “celebrate the strength and empowerment” of women. 

“People are starting to realize what we are really about — we are not just a fashion brand,” says Loren. “We have a story we are trying to tell about us and who we are as people. We want to give them more of that.”

Editor's note: The reporter, Emily Taylor, is currently the president of ASU's Fashion Journalism Club. She chose to write about Loren exclusively for State Press Magazine. (A previous version of this story said Taylor was in the Fashion Journalist Club, but it is the Fashion Journalism Club. It has been updated to the correct title.)


Reach the reporter at eataylo3@asu.edu or follow @emily_a_taylor on Twitter.

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