When Kelly Holmes, founder of Native Max magazine, moved from the Cheyenne River Reservation to Denver as a teenager, she found that many of her peers "didn't know Native Americans still existed," she told BuzzFeed News.
"People looked at me like a zoo animal," Holmes, now 24, said about her teenage years.
She started to channel her frustration into creative outlets like fashion design, jewelry making, and web design, she said.
"I collected fashion magazines since I was little," Holmes said. "At 16 I started wondering if a magazine could exist that had Native American stories and models, makeup tutorials that matched our skin tone."
She began to save up all her plans for her future magazine in notebooks. Instead of going to college, she shadowed magazine publishers and photographers, took seminars on business and journalism, and taught herself the skills needed to run a magazine through videos and books.
It wasn't easy to accomplish, Holmes said. "When I tried getting into fashion in Denver, people would often say things like, 'What do Native Americans know about fashion, or even the world?'"
Many of the people she proposed her idea to, Native and non–Native American alike, laughed at her and told her Native Americans were too "closed-minded for fashion because of the reservations," she said.
Holmes decided to take matters into her own hands and, along with a small staff, designed, wrote, and published Native Max's first issue in 2012 when she was 20 years old.
The magazine and blog feature profiles of Native American artists, designers, activists, and "fashion icons," as well as sports, culture, entertainment, and fashion news.
Holmes, on top of being editor-in-chief, creative director, publicist, model, stylist, and mother of a 4-year-old and an infant, is also one of the main writers. She writes pieces about topics ranging from "Savages, Settlers, and Slaves: Red, White, and Black Symbolism of Oklahoma Sooners Football" to "Native Women in Film & Television."
The magazine's staff works from all over the country and hails from scores of different tribes.
Holmes is of the Lakota tribe and is based out of Denver, while her managing partner Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. Other staff members are Navajo, Arapaho, Cherokee, Taos Pueblo, Yup'ik, Apache, and many other tribes. "We really feel like a family," Holmes said.
One of the main focuses of the bimonthly magazine is tackling fashion's relationship to Native American culture, particularly in recent years with the increasing popularity of "tribal trends."
"Many of these designers take from the culture but don't give back in any real way, or even acknowledge the native people their designs are based on," said Holmes of the common "misappropriation" of Native culture in fashion.
"We are trying to educate the mainstream fashion industry," Holmes explained.
"It's great if they want to honor our culture ... but it would be better if they brought on a Native designer who knows the real designs and can guide them."
It'd be "a way to give back to Native culture," she said.
Holmes also considers the historic implications of these misappropriations important. To her, mainstream American fashion adopting the cultural property of Native Americans without giving them any real credit feels a little too reminiscent of their history with colonialism.
The magazine has received international attention and has helped to connect fashion lines with Native American designers, models, and photographers, Holmes said.
She's also considering expanding to countries with other Native populations, like Australia.
In spite of their success, Holmes said the existence of the magazine is often met with disbelief and even disparagement. One Facebook comment, which prompted Native Max to disable commenting, reportedly said, "Wow, this girl is staying out of the bars people, she actually has a business!"
"One of the things I love most about this magazine is putting together articles and photo shoots of Native models, artists, or designers," Holmes said. "To us it's the every day, but to them and their families it's the highlight of their year."
Holmes added that she tries to use as many up-and-coming models and photographers as possible, instead of exclusively established ones.
"Native Max's ultimate goal is to promote Native talent, stories, and inspirational individuals," she said, to expose their talents to the "mainstream industry" and to inspire other Native American aspiring artists and designers.