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Once-in-a-lifetime discovery: Indigenous jacket more than a century old turns up in small U.K. town

By Daniele Hamamdjian, CTV National News London News Bureau Correspondent

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    DODWORTH, ENGLAND (CTV Network) — When 1990s suede fringe jackets started making a comeback last year, U.K.-based vintage clothing company Glass Onion Vintage decided to order four tonnes of suede from a supplier in the United States.

Along with that shipment came a once-in-a lifetime discovery.

The delivery was made to its warehouse, where a total of 3.5 million items of recycled clothing are found on any given day. Occasionally staff will unearth a gem some customers will pay good money for, but what staff member Sophie Upson found, Glass Onion Vintage refuses to sell.

Upson was tasked with going through those suede items to inspect the quality and determine which ones could be resold or redesigned.

It took her a week to get through it all and by then, and after 12 years mastering her skills, she knew exactly the texture she was looking for.

“That is old,” she said to herself when she pulled out what turned to be a Canadian Indigenous jacket. It’s too elaborate to be a stage prop, she thought, as she looked inside the pockets.

“When they’ve got this linen-y fabric inside, it could be 1950s, could be ’40s,” she explained to CTV News. But Upson was off by about century.

She told her boss, John Hickling, he had to come and see it.

“It’s beyond what I know,” Upson she remarked.

Whereas other historic items have been auctioned off, this jacket will have a different fate.

“I want to find out as much about it as I possibly can,” Hickling told CTV News. “We want to do the right thing by the piece of clothing.”

Alice Leadbetter, head of marketing, then took the lead. She uploaded a video to TikTok and woke up the next day to half a million views and a messages from Canadian experts asking specific question about the pattern of the bead work, the stitching and the feel of the suede: is it soft or dense?

After six months, they’ve pieced together this much: “We now feel very confident that the jacket is either Metis or Cree (…) most likely from Alberta or Manitoba,” she said.

Leadbetter was told that the olive green chain stitch on the pocket is a technique that was taught in schools in the Red River region in pre-1850s. She was also told this was a hunting jacket.

“Some museums have suggested this was created by an artist, potentially for a family member or a fur trader,” she added.

The jacket is handcrafted with astonishing detail, only adding to the historical significance.

“We’re still looking for answers to narrow down it even further in hopes of finding the community it came from,” said Leadbetter, who spends hours answering emails from experts asking for more pictures. Like millions of other items in this warehouse, the jacket would have been donated to a thrift store, discarded, and then sold to a recycling company in the United States. “From there it would have been baled to different parts of the world, so maybe Pakistan, maybe Thailand,” explained Hickling. Incredibly, it would have also made its way back to the U.S. to the vintage dealer that supplied this company, in a little English market town, with the suede it ordered. “The thought of the full journey, where it’s come from in history, the recycling process, the fact that’s it’s ended up in South Yorkshire, that our skilled sorters have found it,” Hickling said, “it added to its story.” Now it’s a question of completing the journey back to its original home.

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