Identity, empowerment stitched right in Métis Superstar Designs creates one-of-a-kind ribbon skirts to reflect Indigenous pride and resilience

SELKIRK — Marlena Muir knew it was customary for women to wear a ribbon skirt to sweat lodge ceremonies, when she attended her first sweat at age 18, but, lacking one of her own, she arrived sporting a grey tank top and black maxi-skirt, instead.

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SELKIRK — Marlena Muir knew it was customary for women to wear a ribbon skirt to sweat lodge ceremonies, when she attended her first sweat at age 18, but, lacking one of her own, she arrived sporting a grey tank top and black maxi-skirt, instead.

Ahead of entering the lodge, Muir was pulled aside by a friend who whispered, “here, put this on,” as she handed over a patterned garment adorned with strips of brightly coloured silk.

“Slipping into it, I felt so… included. I’d never worn a ribbon skirt before, and it made me feel like I was being seen as an Indigenous woman, in a way I’d never experienced before,” Muir says, noting she also received her spirit name, Osâwi-Pinêsiw Iskwew (Yellow Thunderbird Woman), that day.


Marlena Muir, founder of Métis Superstar Designs, makes contemporary ribbon skirts in Selkirk.

Close to a decade later, Muir, 27, is the proud owner of Métis Superstar Designs, a home-based venture that turns out contemporary versions of ribbon skirts, an article of clothing oft-described as being a symbol of identity and survival for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. Online reviews for her handiwork are glowing; her funky, functional pieces have been called, “beautiful,” “gorgeous” and, in the case of one done with pumpkin-orange jacquard fabric, “dedli.” (We think they mean “deadly.”)

“I’ve made skirts for girls as young as two and women as old as 74, and for sure, one of my favourite things is when they send me a picture of themselves, when they try it on for the first time,” Muir says, seated in a coffee shop in Selkirk, where she was born and raised, and where she presently lives with her husband and their two boys, ages four and two.

“Wearing that first skirt was when my identity as an Indigenous woman began to take shape. Whenever somebody says something similar about a skirt I made, it fills me with so much joy, I can’t even describe it.”

Muir was 12 years old when her mother and aunt, who weren’t introduced to their biological father, a First Nations man, until they were adults themselves, informed her they are of Anishinaabe, Cree and Métis descent. Muir, who prior to that believed she was of French heritage, wasn’t overly surprised at the news. She’d long had trouble fitting in at school, where she was “too brown for the white kids, and too white for the brown kids.”

Weeks after she attended the aforementioned sweat ceremony, which was held near Lac du Bonnet, Muir registered for a symposium hosted by Dr. Myra Laramee, a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation who has worked in the education field for close to 40 years.

Part of Laramee’s presentation revolved around ribbon skirts; not only what they represent, but also, how to make one, from start to finish. Muir was already comfortable working with a needle and thread, thanks to a Grade 12 human ecology course she aced at Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive School, her alma mater. On her way out of the lecture hall, she promised herself she would put Laramee’s lesson to proper use, by sewing her own ribbon skirt, in the coming days.


Ribbon skirts are often described as a symbol of identity and survival for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

(Muir laughs when probed about clothing items she made prior to that, specifically recalling a scarlet-red, zip-up hoodie she sewed as a class assignment, the head portion of which was adorned with dinosaur-type spikes stuffed with Poly-Fil. As “horrendous” as that may sound, she wore it proudly, she says.)

While that first skirt took her “ages” to complete, it struck a chord with everybody she modelled it for. Before too long, friends and family members were reaching out, to ask if she could whip up a ribbon skirt for them, as well.

By the fall of 2020, Muir, who continually challenged herself, by adding pockets, ruffles and hand-cut appliqués of turtles, bears or moon phases to her designs, had grown confident enough in her abilities that she began tossing around the idea of a business of her own. But because time was tight — after all, she was working full-time at a Selkirk apparel shop that remained open during COVID-19, plus she had a young one at home, and another on the way — she elected to start small, by offering baby moss bags, circle-drum covers, beaded caps and kids’ skirts, only.

Then came the day when she was due to go on maternity leave, for her second-born. Reaching for a writing utensil, she took a deep breath before checking a box on the form marked, “not returning.” What’s that saying, she muses, about how when one door closes, another one opens? That was definitely the case with her; with the stroke of a pen, she suddenly had the freedom she felt she needed to concentrate fully on making ribbon skirts for women of all ages.

Thus far, Muir, who accepts custom orders on top of supplying skirts to the Cozy Fox, a new, retail store in Selkirk fully stocked with made-in-Manitoba products, has shipped skirts as far east as Ontario, and as far west as British Columbia.


Muir has shipped skirts as far east as Ontario, and as far west as British Columbia.

Marlee Poole, who lives in Vancouver, twigged into what Muir was up to two years ago. Although the skirt Poole ended up ordering wasn’t originally meant for her — Muir tailors each one so the ribbons perfectly match an individual’s spirit colours — she fell in love with it, when she spotted a version posted on Muir’s Instagram page.

“I asked if it was possible to have it mailed to Vancouver and after she adjusted the sizing to fit me, it found its new home here,” Poole says, when reached in B.C. “I love that it’s made with satin, as my other (ribbon) skirts are mostly cotton. I also love the Métis appliqué (a horizontal infinity figure that appears on the Métis flag) and the sparkling extension on the bottom.”

Although Muir rarely leaves the house without a ribbon skirt, Poole prefers to save hers for special occasions, such as Indigenous ceremonies or formal work events. To her, ribbon skirts are “medicine,” and when she dons one, she can “feel the love… in every stitch.”

“Growing up, I always knew I was Métis, but didn’t have very strong cultural or community connections,” Poole says. “Now being part of the urban Indigenous community in Vancouver, Marlena’s skirt supports my visibility and pride as a Métis person, and I wear it to honour who we are, and where we came from.”

In addition to sewing skirts, Muir also teaches the craft in association with Selkirk and Winnipeg school divisions. It doesn’t matter a whit if 90 per cent of the students staring out at her are non-Indigenous; the teachings associated with ribbon skirts are universal, she says, bringing up the case of a 10-year-old, Indigenous girl in Saskatchewan, who was sent home from school in 2020 for wearing a ribbon skirt to her class’s scheduled “formal day.”

“Ribbon skirts are all about empowerment; some people refer to them as their battle gear or armour,” she goes on, getting out of her chair to fully display a black-and-white number she put the finishing touches on, the night before. “Dr. Laramee put it beautifully when she said that a ribbon skirt is a way to introduce yourself to Mother Earth when you walk on Her… how She recognizes and sees you through your colours. There’s something in those words that everybody can relate to, I feel.”


Muir accepts custom orders

Muir, who only works on skirts when she’s in a “good way,” mentally, and recites a prayer upon each one’s completion, smiles when the topic of seller’s remorse is raised. Given every skirt she makes is totally unique, does she ever find one to be so eye-catching, that she can’t bear to part with it?

“That actually occurred not too long ago, with a thunderbird one I did,” she says, holding out her phone to show off a multi-striped skirt bearing an image of the legendary creature, emblazoned over eight strands of ribbon.

“I knew I was going to fall in love with it from the get-go, so I purposely made it too small to fit me. Otherwise I definitely would have been, ‘Nah, forget it, this one’s mine.’”

For more information, go to Muir’s Instagram account.


Muir tailors each skirt so the ribbons perfectly match an individual’s spirit colours


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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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