Six Aboriginal artists from across the country haven taken out top prizes at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs), with a popular Australian fashion label hoping to release collaborated pieces with one winner.
NIFA creative director Nina Fitzgerald said the awards — produced by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair — recognise the exceptional work Indigenous artists are creating for the fashion market.
“There’s a huge appetite for it … and there’s a huge calibre of excellence in this space,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“Mainstream fashion isn’t exactly known for its diversity, so the challenge is to really elevate and celebrate the stories that are coming out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Australia through their fashion design.”
Julie Shaw, a Yuwaalaraay woman from NSW, won the Fashion Design Award for her luxury resort line Maara.
Ms Shaw has been offered a 12-month internship with the popular Australian lifestyle fashion brand Country Road, which she said could be her break into the industry.
“They’ve got such a presence in the Australian market and that’s a real positive,” Ms Shaw said.
She said more Australian companies needed to offer young designers opportunities and make an effort to increase workplace diversity.
“It can be hard getting a start because people want to see a developed portfolio or they want to see your experience, where you’ve worked before.
“So more pathways into businesses and into design rooms of large fashion companies would help. There could be more internships within Australia; I feel like there more opportunities internationally.”
Country Road managing director Elle Roseby said she hoped the mentorship program could lead to a collaborative fashion collection with Ms Shaw and potentially more artists in the future.
“With the designs that I’ve seen and with the talent we’ve also seen, there’s no reason why there can’t be collaborations past that [mentorship program],” Ms Roseby said.
“When we thought about the brand being an iconic Australian brand we really felt that we want to support Indigenous fashion and textiles.
“I would love to see that it’s embedded … [that] it becomes a real part of how we do our business.”
Indigenous artists’ unique offering to fashion industry
Ms Fitzgerald said Indigenous fashion designs have much to give the Australian market, drawing on historical stories that connected the artists to the land.
“The workers are so vibrant and so fun and it’s presenting these ancient stories in a really contemporary manner, which everyone can connect to,” she said.
Kieren Karritpul, a 26-year-old from Daly River in the Northern Territory, won the Textile Design Award and said his designs were inspired by the stories and life taught to him through his elders.
“When I was a kid, I used to go out with my mother, grandmother, great grandmother out in the bush, hunting, fishing or collecting weaving materials with them,” he said.
“I used to sit and watch them do every little weave, every little hole, and I thought to myself ‘they were weaving fish net to show me to be humble and patient’.
“My mother raised me in a good way and that’s like a fish net: you do every little hole slowly and I thought to myself ‘she was weaving me’ — and that’s how I became who I am today.”
Mr Karritpul said sometimes he sees people wearing his designs in big cities and that makes him proud of what he’s accomplished.
“See someone wearing it makes me think that I am in the design,” he said.