Cohen Quash is 12 years old, which may make him the youngest fashion designer currently working in the Yukon. His business name is Mésdzįh Eskiye Designs. Quash lives in Watson Lake and is proud to be of Kaska, Tahltan, and Tlingit heritage. He’s best known for beautifully beaded owl pendants, which he’s been making for the past year. The one-of-a-kind pieces are distinctly Quash’s own concept and design.
“I really like owls because my Grandma Barbara [Morris] always found them fascinating,” Quash said. “I also really like them because of the owls in Harry Potter.”
Because he and his great-grandmother shared a love for owls, Quash is also named Mésdzįh Eskiye, which means Owl Boy in Kaska and Tahltan. His mother, also named Barbara Morris, tells me that Grandmother Morris passed away two years ago. The business name is Quash’s “way of honouring her, and making a name for himself and creating the artist that he is.”
The first owl pendants Quash ever sold were based on owls featured in Harry Potter. They sold at Whitehorse’s Unorthodox Yukon in under 24 hours. Quash names the store’s owner, Douma Alwarid, as one of his mentors.
“My mom … mentioned to me that there was a store called Unorthodox that sold beadwork, and I asked her if she thought my work could ever be sold there,” Quash said. “My mom told me she would fully support me and come with me to introduce myself, but that I would need to sell my own work and speak for myself. It was there I met my bestie, Douma. I showed her my owls I was working on and instantly, without any question, she said I could sell my first collection at her store. What I love about Douma is she believed in me from the very start.”
Another important person in Quash’s life is Sho Sho Esquiro, who he describes as “a First Nations designer who has brought her work to Paris.” Quash and Esquiro connected through a mutual friend and Esquiro offered to mentor the young designer. Quash accepted her invitation and gifted her with a pendant named Sho-Stopper. Morris says that Esquiro wore it once on CTV News—another proud moment for Quash.
The third mentor who contributed to Quash’s love for sewing and design is his great-grandmother, Pansy Forsberg. She taught him how to sew and is always there for advice. Other designers whose work inspires him include Dickson Designs, Kaylyn Baker Designs, Savage Rose Designs and Golden Eye Designs.
Quash has enjoyed a lot of mentorship and support. Still, much of the work he creates requires him to teach himself.
“Cohen’s grandma taught him to sew, but the owl pendants he’s selling now, it’s all self-taught,” said Morris. “Like, he works with lots of precious stones, semi-precious stones, and he had to teach himself to do the lanyards. So everything he’s doing now is self-taught, like sacrifice, making mistakes, learning to do it differently. What he does now is on his own.”
Quash said that for his Harry Potter owl collection, “I had to repeat the scarves, like, seven times to get it right.”
He also taught himself to tuft, this Christmas, by looking at photos of tufting work by other artists he admires.
His mom doesn’t sew, but she does help Quash out with managing the custom sales of his owl pendants. He works closely with his customers, every step of the way, to ensure they are happy with the final pieces.
“I usually ask customers what colours they want and they’ll sometimes pick up beads along the way,” Quash said. “If what I’m working on is not for a customer, I’ll pick a theme and choose colours based on a theme like my Ocean Owl.
“I have customers that let me do whatever I want with my own colours, and they trust me.”
Quash has a busy 2022 planned. He’ll complete another owl pendant collection. Similar to his first collection, the new one will be documented in a photo shoot in the summer. He also plans on “branching off,” but doesn’t want to give too much away.
“I have plans to continue to work on my business [that] I’m excited to share at a later date,” Quash said. “Some of the exciting things I have planned is [that] I want to create more and try new things.”
In the meantime, Quash has some custom owls to complete before starting his new collection. He’s had an amazing design journey, so far, and he’s had an enthusiastic response from customers and admirers.
“What makes me proud is seeing my customers happy with my owl pendants and seeing them post selfies of them wearing my work.”
As Quash goes into his second year of designing, he is quick to acknowledge all of the folks who have helped him on his creative journey so far.
“I’ve got a lot of love and support, and I appreciate it.”