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These are the emerging Indigenous designers to watch, according to Yatu Widders Hunt

Image via Maara Collective
Words by Tori Mathison

In celebration of heritage, culture and place.

This week we welcome a guest editor to Fashion Journal, Rona Glynn-McDonald. Rona is the founder of Common Ground, a not-for-profit organisation educating Australians on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Rona is joining us for Reconciliation Week, which runs from May 27 to June 3. Read more about Common Ground and Rona’s work here.

We’re currently experiencing a serious shift in the Australian fashion industry. In light of our growing awareness and concern for our climate, as consumers, we are becoming more interested in the production practices of our favourite brands. This has also meant that we’re beginning to think more locally in the way that we source our threads.

Writer Yatu Widders Hunt began her online fashion curatorial Instagram @ausindigenousfashion because she observed an absence of media attention surrounding emerging Indigenous creatives. 

“I didn’t think that they had enough visibility in the mainstream press. So, I wanted to make a platform that really showcased what was going on in a sector that I didn’t think many people knew much about. But also, to really showcase the diversity of what was going on in Indigenous arts and fashion.” 

Using Instagram as a fun, engaging and accessible platform, Yatu has garnered a following that currently sits at 29,500 and counting. Recognising that many emerging Indigenous designers share their content via social media, Yatu uses her Instagram to create direct exposure for businesses, the overarching goal being to educate people about the Australian story through visual expression. 

“In terms of the barriers that exist for Indigenous Australians in the fashion industry, to be honest, I think the main thing is visibility. I don’t think that we shine enough of a light on what’s going on in the Indigenous fashion sector, and these are stories that are just waiting to be told.”

Yatu emphasises that sustainability and consideration for the land is traditionally part of Indigenous creative practices. “We have very, very, very strong cultural protocols around caring for country, and caring for others, and a lot of our beautiful labels are very sustainable,” she says.

The core difference between contemporary mass-market production and Indigenous design practices comes down to sustainability – the consideration paid to the land and preservation translates into garment making. Indigenous and Torres Strait Island peoples have produced and created in this way for more than 80,000 years.

“We’re at a time in our country’s history that we can really reflect on the fact that Indigenous history and stories are really part of who we are as a collective, and they can be shared and celebrated by everyone. I think fashion and design are very fun and accessible ways to tell those stories and keep culture alive.” 

“I also think the [Indigenous Australian] styles and designs are probably ones that haven’t been seen very much in Australia, or internationally. I think it’s something that we should all be very proud of in Australia, that we are creating unique and beautiful work that is linked to a very ancient tradition.”

Here is a line-up of some of Yatu’s favourite brands, so you can get informed and give these exciting emerging Indigenous Australian designers the support they deserve.

Ngali

Ngali is a Melbourne-based fashion label, incorporating the artwork of Indigenous artist Lindsay Malay across silks and other textiles. The brand also prides itself on its work collaborating with First Nations’ identities.

“I think it’s a label that really stands out, because I think when we think of Aboriginal art, a lot of the images that we see regularly have very bright colours and dot paintings. But I think Ngali actually helps to show the breadth and diversity of the styles of Aboriginal art.”

ngali.com.au

Mara Swim

Another favourite is Mara Swim,  a luxury swimwear brand that is recognised for its one-pieces, designed to protect wearers from the harsh Australian sun. “Perfect to just throw on and head down to the beach,” says Yatu.

“I think what I love most about it, is that it is a luxury swimwear brand, but it still feels really really accessible… something you could just pop shorts over and just wear down the street as well.”

maraswim.com.au

Gammin Threads

Gammin Threads is run by Tahnee Edwards, a proud descendant of the Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti nations. Her philosophy for the brand is rooted in her love of typography, language and her heritage. Tahnee’s T-shirts, accessories and hoodies feature Aboriginal slang in fun typography to celebrate the colloquial Aboriginal language and culture.

“What I love about Gammin Threads, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s very very cheeky, it makes fun of itself, and I think it also speaks to the fact that we as a culture and as [a] people are also very, very funny. That’s something a lot of people might not know about Aboriginal communities, but we use humour a lot.” 

gamminthreads.com.au

Ginny’s Girl Gang

Ginny’s Girl Gang is a brand known for it’s faux-leather and denim jackets boasting slogans of empowerment. Owned and operated by Regina Jones, the brand spreads messages of strength, pride and resilience. By combining her passion for painting, fashion and her culture, she creates jackets that are wearable pieces of art.

“The best thing about this label is that you can actually order your own custom-made denim jacket with a slogan on it. And the label has commitment not to use the same slogan twice, so you know that it is genuinely yours,” says Yatu.

ginnysgirlgang.com.au

North

North is an organisation and clothing label working to provide more exposure to textiles designed by Indigenous artists in Australia. Its site functions as a directory that celebrates and informs consumers of Indigenous artistic practices and artists. By working in collaboration with remote communities to develop high-quality fabrics, North fosters growth and create opportunities for individual artists, as well as their communities. 

“One of my favourite recent collections would have to be the Tiwi strong women’s collection. Beautiful jumpsuits, two-piece [sets], pants, cute tops and lovely dresses for the spring, with beautiful fabric belts.”

northhome.com.au

Liandra

“The thing that I really love most about this label, is that they carry a bit of story with them. Each design is named after an Aboriginal woman who is very strong and empowered, and who I guess shares the philosophy of the brand,” says Yatu.

Liandra is another swimwear label with a strong aesthetic, featuring the figurative work of Indigenous illustrations through a cooler and often monochromatic palette. The designs are contemporary yet versatile and enduring.

The label is also committed to sustainable practices, something that Yatu reminds me is inherently rooted in the traditional design practices of Indigenous communities. 

liandraswim.com.au

Maara Collective

Founded by celebrated Indigenous Australian fashion designer, Julie Shaw, Maara Collective is a label renowned for its beautiful, high-end resort wear pieces. 

“It has a really subtle aesthetic that connects to country. The colours of the earth are really beautifully reflected in the work, but it’s also a label that collaborates and celebrates different art forms and the artwork of other Aboriginal artists.”

Having also showcased at Miami Swim, the brand is displaying Indigenous imagery on the international stage.

maaracollective.com.au

Lyn Al Young

Another exciting up-and-coming designer is Lyn Al Young. She’s recognised for her silk scarves that she designs and makes herself, but has also worked with David Jones in the past on collaborative projects. 

“What I love most about the label is how involved she is in every single part of the process. And how the works actually celebrate her personal story, and her country.” 

lynalyoung.com.au

Anindilyakwa Arts

Anindilyakwa Arts is an artist collective based in Groote Island that creates woven homewares, clothing, jewellery and accessories, employing traditional techniques and natural dyes. 

“I love that it is a way for us to support and connect with remote communities in Australia, who are also developing fashion enterprises and building labels. I think when we think of the fashion industry we automatically think of the big Melbourne and Sydney brands, so I love that this community of artists is challenging the way we perceive the fashion industry.” 

anindilyakwaarts.com.au

Bush Magic Metal 

Bush Magic Metal is a jewellery label distinguished by its unique sterling silver pieces.  The designs celebrate aspects of Australia’s rich flora, and feature details connoting native plants and materials, often incorporating Australian stones and opals.

“These pieces are so stunning that they wouldn’t look out of place on the red carpet, or at a black tie event, but they look uniquely Australian. So you can look at it straight away and know that they’re Australian opals, or that it’s representing a certain part of a tree, or a native flower and I think that’s something that is really special. Something that makes you look twice, but is also a reminder of home.”

bushmagicmetal.com.au

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