First Nation fashion is about more than clothing.
- The National Indigenous Fashion Awards were held in Darwin last night to recognize First Nation innovations in a fast-growing industry.
- Bibaya Women’s Center in Arnhem Land and Maningrida artist Esther Yarlala were recognized at the awards.
- The indigenous fashion industry creates opportunities for economic development and cultural awareness, say artists and organizers
According to one of the people behind the National Indigenous Fashion Awards, the fast-growing industry is a gateway to wider recognition of First Nations peoples and culture.
“When we come together as Australians to make decisions about things like this [Indigenous] A vote for parliament…people will have a better understanding,” said Darwin Aboriginal Art Federation Chair Francesca Cubillo.
Because you had those conversations with first-class people, bought those textiles, or saw those paintings or fashions.
The third annual NIFAs – where Indigenous designers and artists from across the country are recognized for their work – were held in Darwin last night.
“It’s amazing that First Nations people from all over Australia are coming to Larakia country,” said Ms Cubillo – a Larakia, Bardi, Wardaman and Yanua woman.
She said the award, for the first time, created a platform for artists to showcase their work to a wider audience and created economic opportunities for indigenous communities.
“It’s a black emission, it’s incredibly energizing and it’s expensive…there’s an incredible economic return as well,” Ms Cubillo said.
“It means our First Nations creatives have really clear pathways to participate in what is Australia’s fashion industry, a $27 billion industry.
“Our beauty is ancient and in the making for tens of thousands of years, but at the same time it is very good … so we are seeing it on the catwalks … in Milan, London and Europe, Asia.”
Arnhem Land artists at the forefront of fashion
Kunibji artist Esther Yarlarla won the traditional decoration award for her moko (bark skirt) made using traditional weaving and knotting techniques.
From the Arnhem Land community of Manningrida, her work is part of the cultural practice she learned from her mother and now passes on to the next generation.
“I started when I was 10, I was right back,” she said.
“Now I’m teaching my grandchildren. I’m telling them stories.”
She brought all the artists from the BBbara Women’s Center – the art center where she works – on stage to accept her award.
“I was excited but I was shaking – it was my first time coming. [to the awards],” she said.
“We’ll go together,” I told them.
Originally established as a women’s refuge in 1983, the centre’s textile manufacturing arm has been recognized at the awards for its innovative designs as well as being one of the oldest indigenous textile enterprises in Australia.
The center’s artists presented their designs at an exhibition in Paris.
“We’ve had such an amazing audience through social media and the BABARA Designs side of our business has given our artists such amazing opportunities for travel and financial freedom,” said Zian Carey, Assistant Manager of the Bibi Women’s Center.
“It’s giving our artists a platform to tell their story, tell their culture.”
Industry is expected to grow, becoming ‘standard’ with indigenous art.
Wiradjuri designer and founder of Melbourne-based fashion company Ngali, Denny Francisco, won the Fashion Designer Award for her collection in collaboration with Gija artist Lindsey Malay.
This is the second year that Ms. Francisco has won the award, her win last year allowed her to receive mentoring in the country.
She said that in recent years there has been a high “rise” of first-class fashion.
“It’s not that it wasn’t there before, but it’s more visible now,” she said.
“With that visibility comes more motivation.”
The future of indigenous fashion is bright for Ms Cubillo.
“We find more and more First Nations designs and fashion appearing in the front windows of David Jones and Myer and in major department stores,” she said.
“First Nations textile design and fashion will be the same industry as Indigenous art.”