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A pop-up of entirely First Nations-owned brands and businesses has opened in Melbourne

WORDS BY OLIVIA WILLIAMS

A perspective from behind the counter. 

Fashion Journal is proud to continue an ongoing partnership with First Nations Fashion and Design, launched this NAIDOC Week. It follows past mistakes by Fashion Journal that caused hurt to the First Nations’ community (you can read our apology in full here), and we are proud to be moving forward collaboratively with such talented Australian creatives. 

Upon entering the First Nations Fashion and Design Pop-Up Shop in Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, my eyes excitedly raced from rack to rack, unsure where to look first.

Customers at the pop-up are spoilt for choice with the store full of items including handbags, accessories, clothing and prints from over 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives, artists and designers.


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A stunning artwork by Takaringa woman, Clair Helen, wraps the back wall and counter, and some couches and stools sit atop a beautiful Emro Design’s rug, offering a comfortable space to hang out and yarn.

From my perspective as the founder of Blak Business – an Instagram profile and website which brings together information, knowledge and resources to facilitate broader and learning discussion about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander topics – it was surreal to see products I had formerly only admired through the screen of my phone, now on beautiful, meaningfully-considered displays before me.

More than that, the significance of having an entirely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space within Melbourne Central Shopping Centre was not lost on me. It is not an uncommon experience for wider Australia to only encounter Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture behind glass and velvet rope at museums and galleries.

The First Nations Fashion and Design Pop-Up breaks down these barriers and provides an opportunity for customers to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the business and retail space. I believe this has a powerful impact, as people are challenged to consider the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are resilient, modern and present, as opposed to some far-off idea tucked away in the bush of the distant past.

Before the official opening of the pop-up, I had a quick yarn with Grace Lillian Lee, founder of First Nations Fashion and Design, about what the space means for her. Two reflections Grace offered resonated with me in the moment and were reaffirmed during the week: “It’s not just about the product, it’s about the people” and “Fashion can be used in the path to reconciliation. First Nations Fashion and Design is one step in that journey”.

Over the week following the opening, I had some powerful conversations which reinforced what Grace said. I spoke with people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – about topics such as Free The Flag, self-determination, Aboriginal success in business, allyship, national identity and education.

The First Nations Fashion and Design pop-up facilitates an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses to be showcased to a wider audience, while also providing a safe and supportive space to have meaningful conversations about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander topics. While customers’ immediate attention may be grabbed by the products on display, I believe that even those who do not engage in conversation, walk away with a prompt to learn more about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space. The power of this cannot be overlooked – as Grace said, it is not just about the product, spaces like this provide the grounds for reconciliation.

It was a real honour to be in this space. Like many customers, I too wish this were a permanent store, however, I have no doubt that before too long, such a wish will be a reality and seeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses in mainstream society will become commonplace.

Olivia Williams is a Wiradjuri woman and the founder of the Instagram page and website, Blak Business. The FNFD pop-up is running until April 4, head here for more details.

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