Ecommerce Shipping BlogPodcastGet Ship Done Podcast Episode 2: Urban Native Era: Success Sewn from a Social Movement 

Get Ship Done Podcast Episode 2: Urban Native Era: Success Sewn from a Social Movement 

Posted on May 3, 2022 by

Urban Native Era was started by Joey Montoya (Lipan Apache) in 2012 as a social movement to increase visibility of Indigenous People through social media. When he started capturing the Idle No More protests, Montoya was able to expand the cause’s vision. When he launched UNE’s first line of tshirts in 2013 to broaden their audience, their business and the movement was able to soar. Now, you can find their shirts everywhere, on anyone, spreading the shared message “You’re on Native Land.” Urban Native Era helps remind us that a common purpose can drive social action and catch on. They are not only successful ecommerce merchants selling through their Shopify store, they also work with large brick-and-mortar chains like REI. Learn how Urban Native Era was able to build a movement into a purpose-driven success story.

Transcript of Urban Native Era: Success Sewn from a Social Movement

J.B. Hager :

Hey, really quick before we start the show. Did you know that we release a new episode of Get Ship Done on the first Tuesday of every month? If you haven’t yet subscribed to the series, don’t forget to hit that follow button wherever you get your podcasts.

J.B.H.:

Welcome back to the show. We appreciate you tuning in to get ship done. On today’s episode, we have Joey Montoya, founder and CEO of Urban Native Era with us. What started as a social movement on Facebook to bring awareness to protests for indigenous rights in 2012 is now a nationwide brand promoting the visibility of native people through purposeful apparel that communicates a simple but powerful message: “You’re on native land.” Joey Montoya is here on the show. How are you, man?

Joey Montoya:

I’m good. Good. I’m good. It’s bright and early over here in Los Angeles.

J.B.H.:

Yeah. Well, we appreciate you getting up to talk to us because your story is very, very cool. And it’s a business with purpose, which we will get into. This company started back in 2012, but it started as a social cause on Facebook. A young guy on Facebook. This must have been some a decade ago, right? But it started with your Native American roots and protests going on, which a lot of us probably recall. And you started activating Facebook just to get messaging out, correct?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. That’s correct. I’m Lipan Apache and we’re from Texas originally, but I grew up in San Francisco, California, and then I went to San Jose State University. And I was 19 at the time, 2012, freshman year of college. And I started-

J.B.H.:

You were just a kid when you started this.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

19 years old. Okay. Go on.

Joey Montoya:

And I was a freshman in college, and I started to talk with friends. I was visiting and looking for a native group on campus. There wasn’t any at the time. And it just dawned on me that a lot of people just don’t know about indigenous people. And with that, I started to follow different movements and become aware of these issues that were happening in the community. And there was one in particular that happened in 2012. It was called Idle No More. It’s a movement that started in Canada. And that reached me in San Jose, and I wanted people to know about this issue. And I wanted people and with them in Canada where their rights were being infringed upon. So I grabbed my DSLR camera. It was a Nikon. I shot a little bit of photography and video back in high school, but didn’t know too much. And then I started to go to these support rallies in support of folks in Canada.-

J.B.H.:

And that was happening on campus or?

Joey Montoya:

They were happening all over the place, but the ones around me, there was one in San Jose, San Francisco.

J.B.H.:

So you were traveling around it whenever it activated.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I was traveling around, taking photos and videos. And then I started to just post that on Facebook, and it gained a lot of traction. And for me, it really meant that people want to hear about these issues. They want to support. That’s how it really started. And then the business part came after where I realized I grew up surrounded by artists and designers and creators in San Francisco, in the Bay Area. My brother is an artist and that really came on to me where I started to learn a lot about art and design and did a little more of that in college as well. And I wanted to share all these issues through designs, through just a different outlet.

Joey Montoya:

And looking back at almost 10 years, right now, it’s just crazy to see that fashion has a huge influence in our society. Film has a huge influence in our society. And that’s how people learn. We all learned differently and in different ways. So I thought about taking this clothing aspect and not knowing too much about clothing. I remember picking up a sewing needle in eighth grade by a friend who was teaching people after class. And that was my introduction to fashion. And then later on just went with it.

J.B.H.:

Oh, that’s very cool. You mentioned you’re from Texas. Where in Texas?

Joey Montoya:

Our tribe is located in West Texas area.

J.B.H.:

When did you go, “All right. This is a clothing brand.” And by the way, you should look at the clothing, urbannativeera.com. But what seems to be just a popular seller has a very simple message. You are on native land. Whether it’s on a hat or shirt or anything, or your sweatpants, it’s a very simple concept with most of your clothing. That is the most popular thing. Yes?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. That’s our most popular item. And that came out in 2018. The clothing aspect didn’t come into light until May 2013. That was when I started to design more things. And they were not the best designs. They were just really not that good. So I had really had to just dive into my culture, dive into also just being aware of fashion. And then in the past, I felt like 2018, 2019, things started to pick up in the fashion realm where I started to create a little bit more outside of designs that were issue-based and more of creating pieces that necessarily didn’t have a specific… what people would consider an indigenous design or travel design. So you see it with our Hummingbird, not so much with you’re on native land, but that is a statement piece that’s really important to get that message out.

J.B.H.:

When did you sell your first piece of clothing online? Were you still on Facebook promoting? Was that your active means of promotion? When was that moment?

Joey Montoya:

Well, I created an online shop in 2013 and I think there was a few pieces that would sell. It sold right away. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I knew like, “Oh, people want to buy these things and they want to support.” And then I also set up at in-person events, whether that’s at powwows or on campus as well. So yeah. I always knew the brand itself would be really big. I remember in college, I just knew it was going to happen. It’s just a matter of time.

J.B.H.:

When was that moment where you were like, “Man, I got something here.” As a business, as a full-time, legitimate business. What was that moment?

Joey Montoya:

It was actually in 2018 where I at the time was doing the brand and I was also doing freelance video work, freelance photography.

J.B.H.:

That’s what I was wondering. How were you getting by until this became a thing?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. There’s a lot of intersections with where I was doing photography for the Indigenous Environmental Network. I went on the road with this photographer named Matika Wilbur. And a lot of things intersect with the line of work that I was doing at Urban Native Era. So all of it was helping in a way build the brand. But I remember in 2018, I was like, “I need to focus in on just the brand and not do any of these other things.”

J.B.H.:

Cut the cord, right?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Exactly.

J.B.H.:

How scary was that?

Joey Montoya:

It wasn’t too scary. I knew it was just a matter of just focusing in. But I had to tell myself like, “Stay put.” My biggest thing, I love to travel. And with all the things that I’ve been doing, for the past nine years, I’ve always been traveling. And the hard part was just staying put. After I graduated college in 2017, I hit the road immediately, literally packed up all my things. I was living in a fraternity at the time. I packed up everything in my car, drove to San Francisco, dropped off everything at my mom’s place, and then hit the road up to Seattle with a friend. That was the moment where I started just to travel for that year. And I realized I need to go back home. I need to focus in on my work. So I set out this huge routine of waking up at 4:00 in the morning, going to the gym by 5:00, getting to a coffee shop by 6:15, 6:30, working until 5:00 PM, get home, and then go to bed by 6:00 or 7:00 PM.

J.B.H.:

Whoa. So that is not how people in their early 20s live. That’s crazy. All your friends from college were still probably partying their butts off, right? You had a grind.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. There was many moments where I thought about like, “Oh, I wish…” Because I want to be able to experience being in college and all that. But I also remember thinking like, “That’s going to be there. I’ll be able to connect with my friends in a different way, but I really need to focus in on the bigger picture.” Not only about what I want to do, but really the bigger picture about visibility, about indigenous visibility overall. And I knew that I had to really focus in on all that. But yeah. Waking up that early, normally, people won’t be about it. And people know if you follow me on Instagram and all that, I am a morning person. I wake up really early. I enjoy to wake up early overall. So yeah. It’s definitely unusual.

J.B.H.:

I think that’s a common thread among true entrepreneurs is they can’t wait to get up and get at it.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. And during that time, there wasn’t a day that has gone by that I didn’t like what I was doing. I literally wanted to sleep so I could wake up in the morning and do this work and just keep at it.

J.B.H.:

All right. Now, describe for us, Joey, how, when things really started taking off, your messaging is out there, people are ordering your apparel from all over, and you’re like, what was that moment where you’re like, “Man, I’m pretty badass, but I can’t do all this anymore. I need help.” What was that moment like?

Joey Montoya:

It was actually literally after I moved back. I spent September to December 2018 focusing in, doing that whole routine, that morning routine. And then after that, I took a good two or three weeks of just resting and thinking and all that kind of stuff. And then I went to all these places just to travel around. And then I met someone who’s in our community, and he was the first person that I was like, “Oh, cool. This will be interesting if he would come on.” And it was interesting. He would come on because I think he’ll be a great asset to the team. And I remember at that time in 2019, I was just like, “I need other people. I need other people. If I want to grow not only as an individual but as a business, I need to bring on other people onto the team.”

And then I remember having a discussion with him about what he wanted to do. And he wanted to dive into fashion and all those types of things. And yeah. Later that year, I ended up actually moving down to Los Angeles where he lived and he was working at Sundance at the time. And then after that, he shortly came on in 2020. March 2020 is the first time he came on to the team.

J.B.H.:

Okay. That was your first hire.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Because it seems like with the messaging of your company, you probably get approached by people, young people who love it. And they’re like, “I want to be a part of this.” Does that happen?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. We do. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s my trust issues or something like that, but it’s so hard to find someone that’s willing to look past revenue and literally look at the vision, and Hud really immediately had that. And that’s why I was able to really trust him to be the first person to come on. It wasn’t easy for me. I had people who helped around and helped vend at shows and do all that. Even at the time, we had someone who was helping ship out of a garage in Silicon Valley for us as well.

J.B.H.:

Everybody works out of garages in the Silicon Valley. That’s so classic of that for Silicon Valley, right?

Joey Montoya:

It is. It was funny when that all happened, but yeah. So I was really able to trust him to be the first person to bring on. And he really had a lot of wearing a lot of hats. He was able to do social media. He was working on some of the clothing aspect as well. He was first time learning about clothing and how it all works, basically. So that was really an amazing first hire. Then after that, shortly, we grew a lot during the pandemic and brought on to be our warehouse manager, and then Lauren, and then a year after that, it was, and then also Matt, who was working out the garage. He wasn’t shipping out anymore out of the garage. When we shifted and moved down to Los Angeles, he then became our customer service. So this team just totally started to build and grow. So yeah. It’s definitely-

J.B.H.:

This is a baby company. It’s funny. I mean, a lot happened right after graduation. It’s mind-blowing. Joey, I’m curious about what it’s been like growing a business during the pandemic. What did you see? What did you learn from it? Maybe it’s we had people wear home and online more than ever. Also during COVID, social causes have been a big thing, especially summer, a year and a half ago, right? That was on everybody’s radar about equality. So what’s it been like during pandemic, during that movement? And what did you see? Did you see any trends that affected your company?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I remember when… It’s not too far off, but it feels a lifetime ago when the pandemic first started. And I remember thinking like, “It’s either going to help the business or not,” but I was planning of like, “Well, let’s cut down on expenses and costs,” because I was really scared for how people were going to be spending their money. And for me, I drew back. I was not going to spend too much money. I was just trying to save up. I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. But-

J.B.H.:

Are you going to have to lay off employees?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Exactly. We just brought on Hud. If we had to cut him off the first month or so, which it would’ve been insane, but-

J.B.H.:

Most people didn’t even know what the word furlough meant until March of 2020.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. And then it was wild because in March 2020, we were supposed to have this big event. It’s called the Urban Native Era Experience and we were going to have it in Los Angeles. So we had to turn that into a… We did a seven-hour live show. I was initially going to release our product because we had a drop coming the week that we were supposed to have the event. But I released it early because I was like, “Let’s put it out there,” because I didn’t know how sales were going to go. But a lot of people supported. And then literally after that, Hud and I were just putting out content.

So I think one of the things that helped not only me get through the pandemic was really helping the business was creating content. I remember talking with Hud and we told him we wanted to help people get through this in a different way, through a lighter way. So I remember we worked on creating a lot of content. We dropped a lot of collections and we started to see just our community overall… I think all the years that I’ve spent, literally building the brand has really came about during the pandemic where I saw our community really coming together. I want to support Urban Native Era. I want to support small businesses. So that’s where I think why we really to took off the past two years. I want to spend my money with the right people or the right brands.

J.B.H.:

Another thing that can happen often, I hear from many entrepreneurs, is it grows. It scales fast. Sounds like that happened to you. A lot happened very fast. And you never get to step back and just look at the big picture. Where are we going? What’s next? Because the orders are coming in, the grind is happening, you’re doing all kinds of stuff. How do you stop and just look, “Where are we going in 2022, 2023?” How do you do that?

Joey Montoya:

Honestly, it was super hard. And when I was in 2018, I literally couldn’t look too far on because I had to deal with the day-to-day. And when I brought on Hud, when I brought on Chantel, it helped ease the load of those tasks that I was doing. So I was able to really look at like, “Okay. Well what do we really want to do?

And I think, honestly, I’m still to this day, right now I’m focusing in on our next year, on two or three collections ahead and really what we want to bring. So I think right now, we’re at this point where I can actually breathe a little bit and not have to do this crazy entrepreneur type things, even though sometimes I love it. But I can actually look into the future and be able to really think about the bigger picture and set these stones in place. So I think that’s all happening right now. And Hud taught me a lot about all that as well, slowing down. And I have a lot of ideas. As a visionary, you have a lot of ideas, so it’s hard to stop and think about like, “Okay. Well, what’s in the future?”

J.B.H.:

So as things escalated, also talk about how you got systems in place to fulfill all this. If that’s still your garage that I see on Instagram and TikTok, that’s a big-ass garage. So tell me about that and how you were able to get systems in place and just move quicker and stay on top of it because people order their stuff, they want it tomorrow, right? That’s the nature of human beings, right? Tell us about that and how you scaled all that.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. So in 2020, Matt was still shipping out in a garage. And then I was down in LA with Hud. And we were both working together down here, and then realized the garage thing is great, but a lot of packages that were going from LA to the garage were being lost in the whole system. So we had to figure out a different solution. So we ended up just looking for places in Los Angeles. We found a warehouse in the arts district and that’s where it all began. And that’s where all-

J.B.H.:

That’s the artist in you too. You only lived in the arts district, I bet.

Joey Montoya:

No. I’m all over the place. Yeah. We brought down the warehouse down to LA and then we just needed someone to run it because that’s a whole different ball game. And that’s where we brought on Chantel. And Chantel and I, we go back. We graduated in the same class from college and she was looking to just do a little bit more and just I think saw the vision, saw what we as a brand were doing, and she was down just to help. And at the time I was like, “Oh, maybe she’ll be customer service.” But then Hud was like, “Oh, well, maybe she would be good at warehouse manager and all that.” So she’s been really doing an amazing job, especially with the volume we’ve been doing lately. She’s mastered, I feel like, ShipStation, which for me at the time, I don’t think I gave ShipStation the time of day just to really fine-tune every single item. And then, yeah. She’s been doing great with this whole REI jump, figuring out new systems and all that. And that’s—

J.B.H.:

We’ll get to that. We’ll get to the REI thing.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. And then she was able to just really figure it all out. And honestly, she’s been on top of it. She’s managed the warehouse for about a year and a half now, I believe. And she’s just been on top of it. So we obviously use ShipStation and then Shopify has been honestly amazing move from Squarespace at the beginning. And then I went to WordPress and then I went back to Squarespace. Then I had to figure out… I know Squarespace isn’t cutting it for the business. So I knew I had to move somewhere else. So I jumped into Shopify and that’s been a huge, huge jump as well.

J.B.H.:

I’m sure people will find that interesting. We’ll let people discover a lot of that for self. I’m not going to break down the sales platforms there, but I know that ShipStation works seamlessly with all of those.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Yeah. Okay. You leaked it out there about REI. So you got into many, many REI stores, mostly West Coast, up and down the West Coast, which has to be huge. Direct-to-consumer’s great, but people stumbling across it in a brick and mortar is a cool thing too. How did that happen? What was the connection there and why do you think they picked it up?

Joey Montoya:

I don’t know. I feel like all these things are meant to be. It was interesting how it all happened. Hud and I have just came back from New York Fashion Week. And that week, REI reached out in the email and was like, “Hey, we want to have a discussion. We want to talk with you.” So we scheduled a meeting in about two weeks. So early- to mid-October we had a meeting and they pretty much talked to us and told us they want to bring us on and buy our product and all that. And the person who is in charge of their headwear was already following us, I think was about to buy a hat and was like, “Oh, well, this should be in REI.” So they initially reached out. And honestly, we just jumped on it. Chantel moved really quickly onto the onboarding, and that took about a month and a half, two months. And then we got product to them by the end of December. And it was in their stores by January 11th or 10th or something like that, officially.

J.B.H.:

How much of a percentage of growth for your company was that move, ballpark?

Joey Montoya:

It was honestly insane. It’s crazy how things align because we didn’t have our headwear manufacturer nailed down. In mid last year, in July, we didn’t have our headwear manufacturer nailed down to where they can produce the amount of volume that we’re doing now with REI. So literally it was a jump from selling probably 6,000, 7,000 hats a year to REI just picking up… I think it was 5,000 hats, the initial. And then from there, I anticipated that they would order more because I know our brand. I know our strong following. So I went ahead and ordered 50,000 more units, and they were literally ready to go ahead and buy once the initial drop happened because we did a huge push and numbers really blew up. And everybody in REI, I feel like have been talking about it, customers coming in looking for this specific product.

So it’s honestly has been a huge jump. And it’s been great working with them and just seeing our community be able to go into an REI and pick up something that you would normally not see. And I think this is really… I’m getting chills just talking about it right now, but it’s literally we’re seeing this whole movement of indigenous visibility in real-time. And it’s all what our ancestors and our community and our older community has done and has been working towards. It’s literally able to be a part of this movement, be able to really grow and see our community be excited and happy. And there’s tears of joy of just being able to see our product out there. And it’s amazing to be a small part in this. And yeah. It’s insane.

J.B.H.:

Is it going to make its way east? Because I mean, you know when it gets to Florida, REI, you’re going to get some crazy sales. Is that going to happen? Are they testing it and moving east?

Joey Montoya:

So actually, the week after it launched, we basically scheduled a meeting with REI because I wanted to see the numbers and I wanted to just get it to every REI. So they immediately were like, “Okay. We’re going to do every single REI. Wow. So that should be actually be rolling out by the end of February. And so yeah. We were going to see all of it in all REIs.

J.B.H.:

That’s just cool.

Joey Montoya:

And more products on top of that. So more products besides that. So besides our headwear, we’re getting t-shirts, tote bags, stickers, pins, and then other variations of our headware as well like our Hummingbird design. So I’m really excited about all that and that shift.

J.B.H.:

That’s so cool. When you the orders come through… This is just a curious, curious question for me. Do you look at their surnames and wonder if these are some of your indigenous people or Anglos buying your stuff? Because especially going into REI, you’re probably getting more of a Anglo audience who’s like, “Hey, this is a cool…” My daughter would love this, right? She’s 20. She would go, “This is cool.” Your generation, my daughter’s generation are much more about the cause, the purpose of what they put on their body. Do you look at the names and are you reaching a broader audience than you ever imagined?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I think we are, for sure. And it’s a mix in between. We do get a good amount of indigenous people buying, but also non-native folks, which if you don’t follow the brand already, some of our TikToks always hint at when non-native folks ask if they can wear our product-

J.B.H.:

They don’t want to insult, right?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I get it to a certain degree as well. But we make our products for everybody to wear. We believe that the you’re on native land statement, everyone can wear that. And it’s really powerful when other people wear it as well. So non-native folks wearing it, I think it really helps spread that message to a really bigger audience. Yeah.

J.B.H.:

Later we will hear from Joey about how he and his team have used the power of humor and social media to foster awareness and a hardy conversation about some of the deepest wounds and discriminations that indigenous people face on a daily basis. We’ll be right back.

J.B.H.:

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J.B.H.:

All right. Let’s talk socials because you’re good at it. You started on Facebook because you were a kid and that was the platform of choice. And then you really did a great job with Instagram and have since moved to TikTok. But talk about how you’ve leveraged your socials. Tell us how you’ve leveraged that and the progression from Facebook, Instagram. And I imagine TikTok is where you’re most activated now that’s increasing sales. How do you use that?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I’ve gone away from Facebook. Not entirely. It’s there, but I don’t post as much as I used to when I first started. Honestly, Instagram has became our main staple where I remember being able to post something and then immediately getting sales. So I remember that moment in college and it was a cool moment. But then the past two years, in 2020, we started to really bring up our TikTok videos and really nailed down that. And I think it’s just a whole different… TikTok has a whole different audience. We could be more raw. We could different in that way. I feel like for Instagram, we can’t really do that too much. I feel like TikTok is just, we can be more ourselves and we can really reach our community and our audience there.

J.B.H.:

Which platforms you think generates more sales for you currently?

Joey Montoya:

I think Instagram. I’m still looking at the data analytics of TikTok, but I think TikTok is right up that alley. And I think the more videos we produced, that’s where more revenue will start to come to our website.

J.B.H.:

A few of your TikToks that jumped out at me that I want you to elaborate on is when you see somebody doing something that is so far inauthentic… or it is unauthentic, sorry… of portrayal of Native American. The one that made me laugh out loud was when all of you walked into an Airbnb and saw this crocheted, supposed faux Native American thing. And you’re all like, “What?” It was great. And then another one, you had on a green screen behind you a bad Village People type Halloween costume of a Native American. And another one… Oh, you had the inappropriate mascots of sports going behind you. Those three really jumped out at me. Tell me about more of your favorite TikToks and then those kind of things, when you see the really bad stuff that’s representing Native Americans and it’s just terrible.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Well, see, I feel like social media… And even when we first started, social media can really help increase in visibility, help educate people. And I feel that avenue of TikTok and these videos that you mentioned help with that. We make it in a way a funny thing. And I bet that’s happened to so many native people who’ve walked into Airbnbs and they’re just like, what is this? So it’s funny in that sense. And it brings out a lot of conversations. If you look at those videos, you see our community or people outside of our community really discussing and thinking about what’s wrong about it or they go in on it. We don’t even have to comment or reply. I love just our community being able to discuss these things and they come out with a solution or they come out with an idea of like, “Oh, well, this is wrong,” or, “We shouldn’t be appropriating indigenous culture.”

J.B.H.:

But you guys do it in a fun way.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Exactly.

J.B.H.:

It just impacts people in a different way than going online and doing a rant or a diatribe about how this angers me. You make it so fun. So do you guys have a weekly meeting about socials and plan like that?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. We actually do. So Lauren, she’s our warehouse assistant and content coordinator. So she would help formulate some ideas and just talk and see like, “Oh, well, this is doing really well. Maybe we’ll mimic this TikTok.” And then right now I’m actually in the midst of bringing on a social media marketing manager and a community manager as well. And so I’m excited to really build that because my background is advertising, and I majored in advertising and marketing so that my mind goes to there. So I’m excited to be able to bring on them to really work with the team. But yeah. TikTok is something that we’re going to continue to dive into and really make it in a, like you said, a funny way.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about a t-shirt design or something we post online is that we don’t want it to be attacking because we see that so much. And when I was starting off too, I used to get angry and frustrated. And sometimes I still do, but I think we can approach it in a different way, in a lighter way where people can receive it and think to themselves… We’re starting to see on this TV show called Rutherford Falls. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. It’s on Peacock. They really tackle certain things in a funny way. And that’s how our community is. We like to laugh about things, create jokes and all these types of things. So yeah. I agree. I think it’s a good way to engage people.

J.B.H.:

As we are sitting down and talking together, it’s fairly recent. I think it’s the Washington Redskins finally are changing their name to the Commanders. Now, when you saw that… I’m assuming you saw that news. What went through your head? Because that owner was pushing back for the last decade, at least.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I remember in 2014 where I first started to learn more about mascots and football teams that had indigenous or native folks as their mascot. But yeah, even early on, and I started to really see the issue around that and learn the people behind that work that really have been tackling this issue for so long, had friends who created a documentary about it, and other people that been on the protesting and front lines, and they don’t really… I feel like it was so hard for people to really see why it’s really problematic. And then there’s this organization called IllumiNative where they found the data behind why this is really bad for our community, why it really is harmful to our youth, our native youth who see this.

Joey Montoya:

So yeah. When that originally happened, I think it was actually in 2020 when there started to get a little bit pushback. And then slowly, they took off the name. It was just Washington. And now they just officially announced they’re-

J.B.H.:

The commanders.

Joey Montoya:

… the Commanders. Yeah. But honestly, it’s good to see. And I’m disappointed that it took this long because I think we’re better than that as human beings to really just think about other communities. And I’m excited to see the next wave of native mascots to go away because I know there’s a lot in the school system, and that’s where it’s so bad, the way it’s taught in a lot of ways of history from one perspective and not really talking about indigenous perspective.

J.B.H.:

Okay. Let’s talk about some of your designs. I was intrigued by the Sovereign collection. And I’m sure you have more on the horizon, but tell us about some of that because that’s a more subtle messaging. When you see the hat or a shirt says you are on native land, you can put two and two together very quickly. When you’re wearing this design that just says sovereign, do people just come up and go, “What’s that mean? What’s that about?” What is the story behind that?

Joey Montoya:

So when Hud initially was coming on, that’s one of the things I was talking to him about was we want to create apparel that doesn’t really have what people see as indigenous on it or a big statement that says you’re on native land. We want to create apparel just for the sake of creating apparel, whether that’s inspired by our culture or something like a blank t-shirt with our logo on the side. I think that in itself-

J.B.H.:

Your flannel shirt is very… Yeah.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Exactly. So this whole new collection, the Sovereign collection really came about of we wanted it to be a first of its kind in the brand where we’re creating flannels or just t-shirts, white and black t-shirts that don’t just have Urban Native Era on the side. And it’s nothing that is anything like what people see as native about it. So yeah. I was really excited about the collection. Hud really worked on that collection more hands-on, and the idea around sovereignty where that’s has been brought up a lot in indigenous community where every nation is a sovereign nation. And we wanted to take a different spin on it where we’re sovereign in ourself, in our identity. So we really brought that through the collection.

J.B.H.:

May be a big spoiler here, right? But people are listening. They want to know. What’s on the horizon collection-wise or collaborations or anything you can share with us?

Joey Montoya:

We’re definitely creating more collections. We are going to come out with something similar to the Sovereign collection and we’re really focusing in on the detail of garments and just overall… Yeah, working on those items. And then one of the biggest things actually is our 10-year. Our 10 years starts at the end of this year. So we’re working on planning a lot of events in the 10th year. But yeah. We’re going to start to see a lot of collection. Honestly, not too many collaborate… Collaborations are hard sometimes, but I do want to collaborate with other brands that I’ve noticed and seen. I’m dying for a collab with New Balance one day. I think that’ll be really dope.

J.B.H.:

All right. Why New Balance?

Joey Montoya:

I don’t know. I feel New Balance is doing these really dope collaborations with all these other smaller brands, and I really love it. And I started to really become fond of their shoes as well. So I really 

J.B.H.:

We’re putting it out there right now. This might come together. I’m feeling it. I might even make a couple of calls. I got connections, Joey. I got connections. Has any celebrity ever reached out to you because of your messaging?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. So the first celebrities that wore our items was back in 2016. It’s a crazy story overall, but I was in college, and a friend gives me a call, and she’s like, “Hey, we have some Bernie Sanders delegates that are going to be coming through San Jose. They want to meet with the indigenous community. They want to meet with indigenous students.” And I was like, “Oh, cool.” I don’t know why I thought Bernie Sanders was coming, but we had less than 24 hours to plan it. So we reached out to all our native friends from the Bay Area, like SF State to Stanford, to UC Santa Cruz. And then we gathered them in San Jose at actually the church where Cesar Chavez, where he met with farm workers in this church in San Jose, the Guadalupe Church.

And we met with Rosario Dawson, Kendrick Sampson, Shailene Woodley. And that was an interesting moment. We gathered there and it was really powerful. We just shared what was happening in our community to them in light of them just remembering what we’re talking about, bringing that maybe initiative to Bernie Sanders, stuff like that. And they really liked that whole conversation. So they asked my friend, and myself to organize that again down in LA in the next two weeks. So we packed up all of our things and went down to LA, stayed there for a week and all. So they were the first. And then Mark Ruffalo, I remember, wore our stuff surrounding the whole Standing Rock situation. But I guess most we recently, Diane Guerrero, the hairstylist reached out to us as well to see if we can style her for her movie that passed. It’s called Encanato.

J.B.H.:

So Joey, when you started all this and it was about the movement and you were leveraging Facebook as much as you could, could you elaborate a little more on what it meant to you and what it was all about and what you were trying to accomplish?

Joey Montoya:

Sometimes what I’ve realized a lot lately is that to listen to my intuition. And with that, I know that more than ever right now. It’s like, if I have an idea or I have something that needs to move forward, I know there’s a purpose for that. And when I started Urban Native Era, I knew it was going to be something that would change lives, that would move people in a whole different direction, and it would overall increase the visibility of indigenous people. And I think we’re at this really pivotal time, especially when I started it, because there’s a reason why there’s the era part in Urban Native Era, is because I knew at that time that we’re starting to see this whole visibility of indigenous people in this whole different way, in the social media way. So the era part is for me, it’s a never-ending era. So I knew I had to include that part to it.

I mean, yeah. We’re starting to see representation in many forms now and I’m glad early on, I think we’re a handful of indigenous-owned brands at the time that started back in 2011 or 2013. And yeah. To be a part of this wave, to be a part of this era of indigenous visibility is amazing.

J.B.H.:

One of the articles I looked up, it was 13 Indigenous People Brands You Need to Know About. Did that open the door? Do you have any relationship with any of these other brands? Do you support each other? Do you brainstorm together? Have you made a friendship? Has anything happened from another brand like that?

Joey Montoya:

It’s been cool. It’s been really nice to over the years meet everyone in the indigenous brand space. Like I said at the beginning, it was small, but now you start to see a lot more people. And if the indigenous community is really small, so we all know each other and we all support each other. And people ask us from time to time, “Is there competition and all that?” But we don’t see it that way. We want to support each other. We want to see each other really move forward. And we’re all doing different types of design and work in this creative space, whether that’s… We have the Yellowtail to Section 35 to Thunder Voice Hat Co who are making really dope hats. And so we’re really starting to see a really bigger movement through this fashion industry. So yeah.

I’ve met all of them throughout my years. And it’s been great connecting with them early on, seeing how they’re doing now. And we’re all really pushing and creating and moving forward and also just helping each other out. I reach out to Beth Yellowtail every now and then to ask about manufacturing advice and stuff like that which has helped a lot for me because I don’t have the initial school design field sense of learning.

J.B.H.:

Cool. All right. I like that. Even as young as you are, you’re a thought leader. I don’t know if anyone’s told you that. But what advice would you give to people starting a new business this that’s whether it’s purpose-driven or money-driven, it doesn’t matter. But what have you learned through this process that you could pass on to people who might be listening here?

Joey Montoya:

I always say this when I get asked this question, but for me it’s passion. I feel like passion… I mean, we hear it all the time and I’m sure you’ve heard it with many other people you’ve interviewed for the podcast. Passion is honestly what fuels me. And it can be passion for what you want to do or passion for what our community wants. Passion has really helped me get up and wake up and want to do this at 3:00 in the morning. Or you spend long days or long hours just working. It’s passion that really fuels my energy. And I know I need passion wherever I go and no matter what I’m doing. So if I’m not really passionate about something, I know that’s a flag to be like, “Okay. Well, let’s change something up. Let me include things that I am passionate about like photography or design or video or film, all these things.” So passion has really helped fuel a lot of things.

And there’s always going to be moments where people are not going to see your vision or not initially want to help, but it’s to be open-minded to them and just continue to create. One of the biggest things that this past two years have really taught me is to reflect on all that. So as an entrepreneur and as a creative being able to reflect on all these things. So reflecting on what fuels you, reflecting on your passions to what really you want to bring to society, into your community.

J.B.H.:

When you talk about reflecting, you ever have a moment where you’re just like, “Okay. I want to quit.” And have you had a moment like that and then you reflect and remember why you started all this?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. There’s been a few moments. You wake up the next day. I usually think about those moments. If there’s really long days and you’re just tired and exhausted, you just like, “You know what? I need to go to bed.” And the next day is a new day. And every day, I’m fueled and energized. And I know if a lot of entrepreneurs are listening in, there’s this book called When, and that’s been… I’m not finished with it. I’m really bad at reading books. I don’t read books often, but I try to. But there’s this book called When. It helps you really think about when you should do things.

So what it talks about, like I’m reading right now, it is talking about breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. It’s lunch. And maybe I shouldn’t make big in the afternoon. And then it talks about like, if you’re a early bird or a morning person or a night owl, and how that really can help guide you into your every day. I wish I read that six or seven years ago because you’re able to really formulate that into your day-to-day as an entrepreneur.

J.B.H.:

Dude, that’s great stuff. And by the way, When is written by Daniel Pink, I love that guy.

Joey Montoya:

J.B.H.:

A Whole New Mind and Drive… Whole New Mind was 20 years ago, but Drive is another really good read. Daniel Pink.

Joey Montoya:

Drive is still on my bookshelf. Like I said, I don’t read books-

J.B.H.:

That’s a good one.

Joey Montoya:

… but I’m telling myself on every flight, I’m going to read a book. That’s my goal.

J.B.H.:

Oh yeah. We’re all on page one on a flight, aren’t we?

Joey Montoya:

Yeah.

J.B.H.:

I can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished this fast. So the recognition’s coming. It’s coming. More and more of that. What has been your proudest moment in this journey with Urban Native Era?

Joey Montoya:

I was thinking about this. I was like, I think there’s been a lot of little, proud moments, but I think the biggest is really growing my team and being able to bring on people because I think at that point, at this point right now, I’m able to just breathe a little bit. So it’s a moment of like, I actually get to work with the team. And I remember just so many nights just working by myself. And I remember I’ve always wanted a team. And I think this point-

J.B.H.:

Says the control freak.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. I know. I know. As much as it’s hard to trust people, now I’m able to trust the team and actually have that trust. But yeah. I think bringing on my team was really a moment, and I’m excited. I tweeted earlier today. I feel like… what’s it called… Nick Fury in the Avengers of bringing together this team at Urban Native Era. It’s a cool moment. It’s really a moment that I can feel good about

J.B.H.:

Very cool. Man, it’s been a pleasure visiting with you. I think people will be… They’ll learn things. They’re going to be inspired. It’s a cool story. It’s a cool company. Go check it out, urbannativeera.com. If people want to reach out to you, what’s the best way?

Joey Montoya:

Just social media at Joey, J-O-E-Y-Y Montoya. So two Ys. And then Urban Native Era.

J.B.H.:

And give Urban Native Era a follow on Instagram and TikTok because what they’re doing is working and it’s entertaining. You guys are great. So again, Joey, thanks for your time.

Joey Montoya:

Yeah. Thanks, J.B.

J.B.H.:

Thanks so much for listening. Join us next month for another episode to Get Ship Done, where we have a very special episode for you and celebration of Pride Month. We will be sitting down with the founder of Pride Socks, Rachel Smith, who in looking for supplemental income to support her teaching career stumbled into creating an apparel brand that is founded on the mission of giving everyone a voice and instilling pride in whoever they choose to be.

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