Indigenous Designers Are Finally Getting The Recognition They Deserve At Australian Fashion Week

In a historic first, there were two dedicated Indigenous runways at Australian Fashion Week.

Indigenous Fashion Week

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After years of being slept on, Indigenous fashion was front and centre at this year’s Australian Fashion Week.

A record 13 Indigenous artists had their work shown across two days. On Wednesday, the First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) group amplified representation across the board through design, textiles, photographers, models, as well as hair and makeup artists, NITV reported. In the audience was singer Jessica Mauboy, model Nathan McGuire, rappers Barkaa and Dobby, and more.

“I think that the opportunity to come together, celebrate together, and show on the runway together is pretty awesome,” says Denni Francisco from Ngali collections, which showed on Thursday.

Indigenous Fashion Week


The second run of Indigenous fashion excellence coincided with the last day of Reconciliation Week, as well as Mabo Day. Thursday’s runway featured the Indigenous Fashion Projects (presented by David Jones) which showcased collections from six First Nations labels in swim, active, and resort wear.

Francisco’s line is framed by ‘Yindyamarra’, or the slow approach of respect and gentleness, which prioritises collaboration.

“Creating together is really at the heart of what we do and this has been the most exciting opportunity to do that,” she said to Junkee. “I feel really fortunate.”

A common thread shared between the designers is taking inspiration from, and keeping in mind, the natural environment.

It’s all about looking after country…

Birpi and Ngarabal woman Natalie Cunningham from Native Swimwear Australia, said to Junkee that fashion should prioritise sustainability and fair trade into its business model.

“It’s all about looking after country, all my stuff is 100 percent eco friendly, made from recycled junk from the ocean pretty much! It’s about giving back to community.”

Her prints, inspired by dreamtime stories, have planted Cunningham’s creations on the world stage. She was the first Aboriginal designer to show their work at New York Fashion Week in 2015, and says it’s exciting to see more commercial brands incorporating First Nations fashion.

“People are starting to work a lot more with Indigenous artists,” she said. “There are a lot of big names working with different artists which has been fantastic.”

Wonnarua designer Amanda Healy from Perth, told Junkee that sitting front row and watching models exhibit her clothing was an emotional experience for her, after all the time and hard work her team put in.

Racism has got to go. How our people are treated has to change.

Her line Kirrikin, inspired by wildflowers and split jack shrubs in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, depicts bounty and abundance. She says fashion is a form of storytelling that weaves in heritage and discourse.

“It’s really, really important we’re seeing a social shift about how things have got to change in our country. Racism has got to go. How our people are treated has to change.”

She points to Adam Goodes, looking sharp in a wool grey coat, standing behind her. “We all know what happened to him,” referring to the racist abuse he endured from crowds while playing for the Sydney Swans in 2015. “It’s past time — way past time, and nothing’s changed in that space.”

Indigenous Fashion Week

Credit: Jack Steel (@jacksteel_au)

“For me, fashion starts to push people to think differently about us. That’s what I want to achieve in doing this — a whole new view of Aboriginal culture.”

The Black Lives Matter last year drew attention to the lack of diversity, representation, and consideration of Indigenous and POC creatives in Australia’s fashion scene. From picking predominantly white models, to racial preferences for employees in brick-and-mortar stores, lack of knowledge on afro hairstyling, not carrying darker shades of makeup on set, as well as brands performative posting about BLM without reflecting on their own practices.

Indigenous Fashion Week

Credit: Angela Arlow (@angelaarlow)

In the twelve months since, a change is slowly tiding within Australia’s fashion scene and the commitment to showcasing Indigenous designers at the biggest week in fashion, is an honourable first step.

“At Australian Fashion Week, to have two First Nations runway shows is pretty epic,” Francisco says. “I think it’s time — we’ve always had incredible creativity within our culture, and now we’re able to shed more of a light on that.”