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This Indigenous artist made her beadwork into a thriving business

This story originally aired on Marketplace on Feb. 14.

Mikailah Thompson is an Indigenous beadwork artist based in Washington, D.C. When she was 10 years old, Thompson moved to the Nimiipuu reservation in North-Central Idaho where she lived with her grandmother, Chloe Halfmoon, who taught her how to bead.

Now, Thompson has made a business out of her beadwork. Thanks to the recent success of Beadwork by Mikailah, she was able to start a second business, Indigenous Creatives, a creative agency that works to spotlight Native American artists.

You can listen to her full story using the media player above or read a transcript of her story below:

My name is Mikailah Thompson, owner of Beadwork by Mikailah, LLC. I'm from the Nimiipuu reservation in Lapwai, Idaho. I currently reside in Washington, D.C.

I am a full-time artist, and I do an art form called beadwork. So it's a traditional art form — Native American art form — where you're basically tacking down a couple beads at a time, and you're making regalia, you’re making accessories.

I grew up on the East Coast, and I moved to Lapwai, Idaho, at the age of 10. When I did get there, I was living with my grandmother — my maternal grandmother, Chloe Halfmoon. And she had stacks and stacks of beads just in her closet. And so she basically just said, “Yeah, I'll teach you how to bead.” Ever since then, I've been beading.

I finally decided to kind of jump into going into business three years ago and haven't looked back since. It's been a great decision. When I first started pricing, I started pricing my hats, for example, at $500. And then I bumped it up a little bit more because I realized how quickly they were selling — they were still selling pretty quickly. [I] went to $800. $800 was a little bit of a steep stretch, because I realized some people weren't buying as quickly. So I decided to go back to $700; that became my price.

What a lot of people don't realize is, you know, what you're paying for isn't time. Like, I get that question a lot: “How long did this take?” You know, well, technically, it took all of my 30 years of life, because I hadn't had this experience. I had to see this in certain ways. So that's kind of been my journey with pricing.

Because of the success of my beadwork business — which is still growing, there's still the long-term goals — but I had the opportunity of starting a second business, called Indigenous Creatives, which is a creative agency. We focus on multimedia and events. And so the whole purpose of that is being able to showcase Native creatives and Black-Native creatives, just as myself, and being able to support those dreams and those goals of those artists.

So it all kind of comes from my journey of being an artist and realizing, “Hey, this is what I love to do. I'm representing my community. I'm representing my culture, and I don't have to rely on a 9-to-5 that I'm not passionate about. I can do what I love and still do all of those things.”

This series is part of Marketplace’s “My Economy” series, which tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy.

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