Louie Gong | Eighth Generation

“It wasn’t all about spirituality, all about mother nature or charity. It was  ‘I’m a Native person, here are my values and I’m going to kick ass.’ It was a much more three-dimensional view of who Native people are.”

Who could get Natives to buy fewer Pendleton blankets and instead buy blankets created by Natives? Louie Gong.

Louie Gong is creating his own energy right now, and I’m digging it. Louie is Nooksack, and grew up both in Canada and the U.S. He also runs Eighth Generation, a company that makes blankets, jewelry, phone cases and more. His stuff is fresh and more importantly, Native designed and owned! The journey to business owner and cutting-edge designer was not a straight path. Louie lived on his own in high school. Like a previous NextGen Native, he used this independence to hone his grind and hustle. Rather than falling through the cracks, he played sports, but then had to find ways to get home, pay rent, etc. His grades did suffer, however. Louie admitted that he did not like learning the way the school was trying to teach him, resulting in his poor GPA.

Despite the high school grades, Louie decided he wanted to attend college. College counselors and others did not support his zeal. Only one teacher helped him apply for colleges. Louie remembers this vividly, and it called out his inner fight and determination. Years later, Louie would attend the school no one thought he would, and got his Masters degree to become a guidance counselor. To this day, he visits the teacher who believed in him.

He continued his personal growth by traveling abroad for the first time, teaching English in Korea. Completely on his own in Korea, he learned how to put himself out in the world and take more risks. This would be crucial for his eventual life as an entrepreneur.

Louie started to hone his artistic skills working for the University of Washington. But it was while working for the Muckleshoot tribe where he started to find his calling. He helped paint drums for a giveaway to coincide with the tribe’s hosting of Canoe Journey. Eventually, he turned his passion for Northwest coast Salish art into a sustainable business that while based on his art, is not dependent on galleries.

Most people probably know Louie’s work from the blankets he recently has launched. The demand is through the roof. Eighth Generation blankets have some beautiful designs and more importantly are authentically Native.

I’m inspired by Louie’s work at Eighth Generation. Not that he is a business owner, or fashion designer, per se, but because he’s been able to create in his own image-being both traditional and modern, not limiting himself to any segment of a market or playing to someone else’s notion of who he is as a Native person. We should all work to be even a bit more like Louie.

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