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Award-winning Yuwaalaraay designer Julie Shaw explains the “many hands” behind her label

WORDS BY GEORGIE KIBEL

And what it felt like to win a third of the categories at the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards. 

Sydney-based fashion designer Julie Shaw began her luxury resort wear line Maara Collective with the intention of showcasing the talent of Indigenous creatives.

Julie, who is a Yuwaalaraay woman originally from Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales, was awarded this year at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs) for achieving exactly what she set out to do. She won across two categories at the inaugural ceremony held on August 5, taking out both the Community Collaboration Award, as well as the Fashion Design Award. 

The NIFAs were broadcast live on social media and saw 33 Indigenous fashion creatives nominated for contributions and achievement in the following categories: cultural adornment and wearable art; textile design; community collaboration; environmental and social contribution; special recognition, and fashion design.

Winning two out of the six categories, she was awarded with a mentorship opportunity from Australian label Country Road, a one-year membership to the Australian Fashion Council, a travel allowance of $5000 as well as an editorial in a major fashion publication.

I spoke to Julie about the creative process behind her award-winning label and what we can expect from her in the future. 

Why did you start Maara Collective? 

Maara Collective is my way of endorsing and illuminating the talents of our Indigenous artists, weavers and textile designers in a meaningful and appropriate way. I have worked in the fashion industry for a number of years, in both large and small labels, as a designer and product developer, and across different platforms. Maraa is different to my prior work because I wanted to create a brand that was uniquely Australian in both its style and story.

I also felt as though I wanted to start a brand that meant something, rather than just churning out ‘clothing ranges’ season after season. Maraa is my way of slowing down and adding something carefully curated and designed into the industry. 

Congratulations on your two awards at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards! What was it like being recognised at this inaugural event?

Thank you! It was a great privilege to be recognised alongside so many talented artists and designers, and an incredible honour to have won both the Fashion Design Award and Community Collaboration Award with Yolngu artists Mary Dhapalany, Margaret Malibirr and Evonne Munuyngu of Bula’bula Art Centre.

The entire involvement in the NIFAs has brought such great recognition and visibility to all of the nominees and finalists involved, right from the beginning with the nomination announcements through to the awards night. We have had so many mainstream media publications and outlets covering and supporting our stories, which has been amazing to see. 

 

You won the Community Collaboration Award through Maara’s collaboration with the Bula’bula Art Centre. Could you share a bit more about the collective effort involved in your label?

Collaboration is really at the essence of the brand, and that shines through in our name. The word ‘maara’ refers to ‘hands’ in the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaroi language groups, of where I’m from. ‘Maara Collective’ is about acknowledging and honouring the ‘many hands’ involved in the creative and collaborative process. 

With each collaboration comes a different relationship. Some are new introductions to art centres, some are long-held connections from my own community and others are more recently established connections through artists and designers. I work with independent artists and art centres to license or commission artworks that are digitally printed onto fabrics and translated into garment form. I also work with weavers and jewellery makers to co-design accessories to work in with the fashion and lifestyle collections. 

Maraa Collective was also recognised for giving back to the community. How do you do this?

We are involved in the Giving Back Program. When you purchase products online from Maara Collective, you are giving back to the Indigenous community. Through our partnership with B1G1 (Buy1 Give1), for each order we receive, we support training initiatives in remote Aboriginal communities. This is only the start of our giving back journey, and we will build on this throughout the evolution of the business to support more Indigenous causes and initiatives. 

What can we expect from you and Maara Collective in the near future? 

This October, we are releasing our new Resort 2021 Collection Dhinawan for the Australian summer, which includes the launch of our swim range and features prints designed exclusively by Yuwaalaraay artist Lucy Simpson of Gaawa Miyay. The name of the collection ‘dhinawan’ is the Gamilaraay or Kamilaroi word for ’emu’, however, I won’t spoil too much more. 

We are also really excited to release the Maara Collective X Gillawarra Arts jewellery collaboration which has been co-designed with Worimi jewellery artist Krystal Hurst. Coinciding with the release of Resort 2021, the accessories explore the use of emu feathers, freshwater pearls and banded kelp shells, translated into a contemporary range of earring, necklace and anklet styles. 

Moving forward, Maara Collective will continue to build relationships with more artists and art centres to develop our creative collaborations. We also have our 12-month mentorship with Country Road coming up as part of our Fashion Design Award through the NIFAs, and I can’t wait to get started on that!  

You can shop Maara Collective’s new resort 2021 collection ‘Dhinawan’ and jewellery collaboration with Gillawarra Arts at maaracollective.com and gillawarraarts.com from October onward. 

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