Meet one of the winners of this year’s National Indigenous Fashion Awards


Denni Francisco can now add the 2021 National Indigenous Fashion Design Award to her already impressive resume.

After the resounding success of the inaugural award ceremony in 2020, the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA) returned this year to celebrate the innovation and creativity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and fashion designers. The event was presented by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) on Larrakia Country (Darwin) on Tuesday August 3.

The winners of the NIFA for 2021 include some of the most talented and diverse creatives in the country. From 31 nominees, six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and fashion designers were crowned across different categories.

Keep up to date with emerging, Australian brands over at our Fashion section.

Designer Denni Francisco, the founder of fashion label Ngali, received the 2021 Fashion Design Award, co-presented with Australian brand Country Road. This category recognises a commercial fashion label that has produced a minimum of two originally designed collections.

Chatting the afternoon following the award ceremony, Denni says she “hopes this shines a light on First Nations creativity for a wider audience”. She wants her award to be seen as a pathway for First Nations designers and artists who aspire to follow in her footsteps.   

As a proud Wiradjuri woman, Denni was inspired by what she could do through fashion to give back to First Nations people and celebrate their culture. Ngali was founded in 2018 on the concepts of collaboration, connectedness and togetherness. As Denni puts it, “we are all in this together”.

It’s clear that Ngali is a brand made for a broad demographic. Its customers range from ages 25 to 70, due to the versatility and relaxed nature of its pieces. The clothes aren’t trend related, rather, they are designed to be worn anywhere, anytime. Denni wants her customers to be “getting the wear out of things, not having to save them for special occasions”.  

She is a firm believer that “businesses have a responsibility to be a business for good,” and Ngali certainly fits the bill. Through its Buy 1 Give 1 initiative, Ngali assists in building IT and literacy skills for young people in remote communities. 

As part of her prize, Denni received a 12-month business mentorship with Country Road, which is designed to support First Nations designers in developing their emerging brands.

“I love continually learning about things,” says Denni. She sees this mentorship as the next opportunity for Ngali to benefit from learning more about the bigger business concepts involved in running a brand. 

Yuwaalaraay woman Julie Shaw of Maara Collective was the 2020 winner of the NIFA Fashion Design Award and the recipient of last year’s Country Road mentorship. “Winning the 2020 NIFA Fashion Design Award has really helped to put the brand on the radar of industry and media, which has led to a number of exciting opportunities,” she tells me.

Maara Collective draws inspiration from Country to create its resort and swimwear pieces in collaboration with Indigenous artists and creatives. The brand has continued to grow and develop following the award, citing the Country Road mentorship as a huge help.

“This level of support from an iconic national retailer has helped me to dream big, and think of ways to implement systems and processes within my own business,” says Julie. Since FJ spoke to Julie following last year’s awards, she has continued to find success in the fashion industry. 

Maara Collective unveiled its new collection, Tjukula, meaning waterholes, at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week this year and is now preparing to bring it to life. If the label’s journey over the past year is any indication, Ngali has exciting opportunities ahead to grow on its pre-existing success.

As for what’s next for Ngali? “We will be part of a capsule collection in David Jones in October,” says Denni. “And we are expanding the wholesale area for our scarves.” I have no doubt we will be seeing much more from both these brands in the coming years.

You can shop Ngali here and Maara Collective here.

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