Arlene Fairbanks and Jessica Travis have been friends for eight years. Their interest in sewing and regalia-making brought them together. They met through the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee at their children’s school and the district’s regalia-making classes. Last February, they opened Fire Mountain Fabrics and Supply in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Colorful bolts of fabric line the shelves, and items not easily found in one store—appliqué pieces, ribbons in every color and width, jingle for jingle dresses, fringe for shawls, and a rainbow of thread—are readily available.
“She was the pro. I was coming in not knowing how to even thread my machine, but I was determined to make regalia,” said Travis when asked about her friend. Fairbanks learned to sew from her mother and grandmother, and finished her first hand-sewn quilt when she was 10.
Their inspiration for opening a one-stop shop for regalia-making was to provide materials needed for this practice in an accessible and convenient way as well as have a place to sew and create for themselves.
Regalia is clothing and adornments made by or for pow-wow dancers that express their identity and culture. Regalia-making is often a family activity, and sometimes pieces in regalia carry stories or familial themes.
In less than six months, Fairbanks and Travis have seen orders from all over the state as well as the country. The duo work full-time jobs in addition to running the store—Fairbanks is a registered nurse and Travis is a finance manager—so the hours for the store are different each week. But the growing online following of Fire Mountain Fabrics and Supply has helped widened their reach. Fairbanks said that they hear customers say, “We’re so thankful you’re here!” on a daily basis.
ARLENE FAIRBANKS, CO-OWNER OF FIRE MOUNTAIN FABRIC AND SUPPLY
“No more putting life on hold.”
In the summer of 2022, she was diagnosed stage 4 ovarian cancer. Travis shared that after the diagnosis “there was this urgency almost [to open the store together], like, ‘what are we waiting for?’” Fairbanks had her second round of treatment on a Thursday and by the weekend they had filed for all the paperwork.
She was able to recognize the pattern of her good days during treatment and that’s when they put work into opening their store. Fairbanks shared, “I knew I get one [good] day after chemo and after that I couldn’t do anything. So that’s why I did chemo on Thursday, so I could work on Friday then recover over the weekend.” Now after treatment, she says there are no visible signs of cancer in her body.
“It [the store] gave us something else to focus on instead of the dread of cancer. That was heavy. It gave us something to look forward to, to talk about, to enjoy, and that was healing in itself,” said Travis. “Getting the business going and watching it grow was a positive thing for us to experience together.” Fairbanks still has routine check–ups, and Travis joins her for almost every appointment.
Their families play a big role in supporting Fire Mountain Fabrics and Supply, and have grown even closer over the last few years.
“Initially when we got the store, it was like ‘how are we going to fill it out’ and now it’s like ‘oh my gosh, we don’t have enough room,’” said Travis. Their store opening announcement going viral on the internet led to an increase in their online following, and now the pair are trying their hand at TikTok with the help of their teenagers.
“It’s been a lot bigger than we anticipated,” said Fairbanks as she reflected on the past few months. Recently at her day job, she was recognized as the “Fabric Lady” and the co-owner of Fire Mountain Fabric and Supply.