12-year-old launches sewing business focused on Native representation

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many of us picked up a new hobby during the pandemic – whether that is making bread, writing or, in the case of one 12-year-old girl, sewing.

Angelina Panana, 12, started sixteen80connection, a full-blown sewing business aimed at boosting Native Americans representation. Panana started sewing by making masks after watching her mom and offering to help.

“Eventually I got better and, for my birthday, they got me a sewing machine and then I just kept sewing,” Angelina said. “I went from masks to now the dresses and even more stuff.”

Dresses, because Panana has two American Girl dolls and noticed something about them.

“There are times I would look up, like ‘Jemez traditional clothing’ for dolls, and there wasn’t anything,” she explained. “All you would see is the Pocahontas, Plains Native clothing.”

This inspired Angelina to take out her sewing machine and make her own.

“I wanted to make clothing that looks like me for the traditional events that we do,” she said, “and I wanted my doll to look like me when I dress up for that.”

Made with fabrics Angelina picked out herself and some inspiration from other Native artists, the finished products finally came together – and now the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is selling them too.

“Right away, they were like, ‘Let’s put them in the shop!’ So we put them in the shop and it sounds like it’s going real good too,” she said.

Angelina is not only inspired by other Native artists but she has also collaborated with them too. The belts on the dolls are hand-woven and are made by a Zuni Pueblo artist who weaves the traditional sash.

“There’s a lack of representation for the Pueblos out there and I want it to represent the culture where I’m from, which is Jemez and Zia,” she said. “And I want it to do it in this unique way and fun way for the dolls too.”

While there are a lot of things Angelina wants to do when she gets older, she hopes that this project will keep growing and help bring attention to more representation in her community.