Heart & Sole

One of the first things I purchased when I moved to Canada from England some twenty-five years ago was a pair of grey suede mukluks embellished with pompoms and tiny scarlet beads. It never crossed my mind to ask the salesperson where the mukluks were made or who would profit from my purchase. And I certainly didn’t consider that I might offend anyone as I zipped around my new hometown in them. 

Years later, when my husband came home from a conference in Quebec City with moccasins made by Bastien Industries, a family-founded, Indigenous-owned company that employs traditional techniques and materials, as well as dozens of Indigenous craftspeople, I knew I was stepping into very different shoes than the mass-produced fast fashion ones of my early 20s.

The surest way to make amends for past indiscretions is to educate ourselves so we don’t repeat them. An opportunity to talk to Bastien owner, and proud member of the Huron-Wendat Nation, Jason Picard-Binet was just that.

Jason Picard-Binet, owner of Bastien Industries

Jason Picard-Binet, owner of Bastien Industries

Jason wore Bastien moccasins on his feet before he could walk.

“About 70 percent of Wendat families have some connection to the factory,” he says.

It’s one of many reasons why the Wendake-born entrepreneur jumped at the opportunity to take over the 50-year-old family-founded business that dates as far back as the late 19th century. A national shift in awareness and respect for Indigenous-made goods was another.

“People want to take part in the reconciliation. They’re proud to be wearing a product that’s made in Canada by First Nations people.”

Moccasin is an Algonquin term that means, "to gather.”

Mainstream interest in moccasins, a style of shoe that traces back to his ancestors, is very motivating for Jason.

“I want everyone to wear them!”

Jason is grateful to Canadian companies such as Quebec City retailer, Simons for the work it does to bring Indigenous designers, such as Bastien, into the spotlight. 

But with no legislation in place that protects Indigenous arts and crafts in Canada, its community remains vulnerable to being exploited and robbed of revenue.

Countless knock-offs and fakes make it hard for consumers to know which brands to trust, says Jason.

“An embossed image of an Indian chief on the box doesn’t mean the moccasins are Indigenous-made.”

The road is long. Jason pours his efforts into making change where he can, one moccasin at a time. He’s deeply passionate about honouring the brand’s traditions and the traditions of his ancestors while championing the local community through employment opportunities and sourcing materials locally. Bastien also supports women reentering the workforce from the criminal justice system by hiring them in its factory. 

Last year, Jason spearheaded a partnership between Bastien and The New Pathways Foundation that supports First Nations youth in Quebec and encourages them to stay in school and obtain a high school diploma. One hundred percent of the profits from the vividly coloured Kwaweyih' moccasin –– Kwaweyih’ means “together” ––  were donated to the foundation. 

In the spring, Bastian will release a limited edition shoe created in collaboration with Osage Nation fashion designer, poet and artist, Dante Biss Grayson. Jason hopes to attract a wide audience of consumers who will appreciate the moccasin’s rich and layered history, as well as the brand’s considered, forward-thinking designs and collaborations. 

Needless to say, Jason is a busy man with big dreams –– he would love to partner with a luxury brand one day –– and his hand in every pocket of the business.

But does he know how to stitch a Moccasin?

“The sewing part is really hard,” he says with a boyish smile. “But when I need a mental break from everything else I jump on to the clicker and cut some fabric.” 

Watch: A Wendake Tradition

Athena Tsavliris

Athena Tsavliris is a lifestyle writer with a focus on decor, fashion, food and family life. She has written for Toronto Life, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Uppercase, House & Home, Chatelaine and Today's Parent. Pottery is a more recent passion, and you'll often find her running around Toronto covered in clay dust and blue glaze. Athena loves to swim, preferably in the sea. She lives with her husband and their three children in Toronto's south Annex.

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