When Chickasaw Margaret Roach Wheeler sat down at a loom as an undergraduate in college, she felt an instant connection to her mother and grandmother, who taught her how to weave as a child. Although she began her college studies painting and sculpting, she knew she had to transfer to textiles, a career she has been following ever since.
After running a small shop called Mahota Handwovens (named for her great-great-great grandmother), Wheeler, an award-winning weaver, fashion designer, textile artist and fiber expert, decided it was time to expand. Enlisting the aid of Bethany McCord (business and development manager) and Taloa Underwood (design and operations coordinator) Wheeler launched Mahota Textiles, the nation’s first tribally owned textile company, based in Sulphur, Okla.
The trio went before leaders and fellow citizens of the Chickasaw Nation in a Shark Tank-styled competition to see if the product would have viability, and it was selected for funding from the tribe. After a test run, Mahota Textiles launched in October 2018 and now has more than 30 locations across 10 states.
As the first textile business owned by a tribe, it also gives credence to the Chickasaw Nation, which owns and operates several other business ventures, including a line of gourmet chocolates and a hotel. Mahota has been tapped to renovate a handful of suites at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center. “Southeastern Tribal designs have not had much recognition in the United States up to this point,” notes Wheeler, “and it is our mission to incorporate them into our products to tell the stories of our culture.”