When Annette's granddaughter discovered her beading talents, she posted a photo of her work on Instagram. She instantly went viral.
The internet can be a beautiful thing. For Annette Bilagody, a 96-year-old Navajo woman who has been weaving and beading her whole life, it has been a platform for her to show off her incredible talents and set up her own business. She picked up the skills while growing up in the 1930s in the Navajo Nation. When her granddaughter Attiya Bennett more recently took notice of her work, she decided to help the jewelry maker set up her own business. Using Instagram and other social media, Annette quickly became a viral online sensation, Indian Country Today reports.
Annette was born and raised in Preston Mesa, Arizona. This area is one of the highest points of the reservation and rests near the Colorado border. In her early childhood, her job in the family was repairing broken necklaces. In this manner, she was first introduced to the art of beading. When she got older, Annette got a job as a weaver. To make a living, she would weave carpets with two grey-hills designs. This was a popular design at the time. It used a central diamond shape. After she completed some of her creations, she would travel all the way Gallup, New Mexico - a commercial hub for Navajo art - and sell them to the local stores in the region.
As she got older, however, the loom became more and more difficult for Annette to use. Therefore, the master weaver decided to take up beading again. Following her husband Jessie Bilagody's death in 2008, she moved in with her youngest daughter Lucita Bennett and her family. Now, they live in Phoenix together. She would work at her own pace, finishing a necklace here and there. Eventually, her granddaughter Attiya took notice of her masterpieces. She shared in an interview, "Every time I would visit my grandma, I saw she had bundles of necklaces piling up." As a beader herself, Attiya couldn't help but share her grandmother's creations with the world.
In November last year, she finally asked Annette if she could take some photos of her earrings and necklaces. "On Instagram, you have to post a photo once a day to keep up with your followers," the granddaughter said. "On that particular day, I didn’t have anything to post. So I thought, ‘Let me post grandma and see if people might be interested in her work.’" They definitely were. In about 30 minutes, all her work had sold out. Attiya stated, "There were at least 30 or 40 transactions. We created invoices for all of them and then hand-wrote every single address before shipping everything." Orders had come in from all over the country - and even Canada.
Soon enough, the beader had a second sale. This time, she was able to make over $1,000 by selling her beautiful creations. Annette said this was the most money she had ever made in her life. "Usually I get a little bit of money from one sale here and another there," she said. "Thank you to whoever bought my jewelry, and may it make them strong." The first thing she bought with her earnings was a bucket of chicken from KFC, her family revealed. The rest went into savings. For Attiya, helping her grandma set up an online business has been a way to connect with her and her culture. She explained, "I see many comments on my posts because grandmas are important to all of us. People also love that I speak Navajo with my grandma on my videos. She was the one who taught me how to speak."
It's also been a way for her to share Navajo culture with others. Attiya said, "My favorite part is that we share our grams with other people and we don't mind at all." According to Amanda Smith, the President of the Native American Business Association, e-commerce has opened up several opportunities for Navajo artists in the digital age. "E-commerce has definitely created new ways and opportunities for independent artists to showcase, share and sell their work and extend their reach worldwide," she stated. "It is great to see how the generations have come together to find a way to bridge the generational gap as well as connect art, history, and culture through technology."