We recently spoke with Indigenous Fashion Projects manager Dave Giles-Kaye about the program, the highlights so far, and what’s next in this space.
Inside Retail: Can you tell me about the Pathways Program and how it supports Indigenous fashion designers?
Dave Giles-Kaye: The program was created to support new and emerging fashion designers that are in the market already. They’re already established, but are still at a very early stage. We looked at what they needed and the overwhelming feedback was networking into the industry and mentorships where they could learn how other labels have developed their businesses. So we put together a program with David Jones and eight Australian designer labels. It’s been going for one year now with six Indigenous labels — some are more established than others. Ngali and Maara Collective are probably more late-stage emerging, while Indii Swim for example is still in a pretty early stage. They’ve had one-to-one mentoring with some great Australian labels like P.E Nation and Bassike for the last 12 months, and we’ve had five or six workshops on different topics around the industry like how to develop collections, how to run your marketing, how to manage a critical path, all that kind of stuff.
To bring it all together, we also formed a partnership with IMG and Australian Fashion Week to bring those six labels to the runway. The Indigenous Fashion Projects runway was focused on showcasing the collections as steeped in culture, but also very commercial and very fashion. Collections that can really stand their ground at Fashion Week. It really brought everything together as Fashion Week does, from a business point of view, but also from a marketing and styling point of view, there was just a huge amount of learning from that.
The program is ongoing — we’re still working with those same labels, but we’re swapping around mentors [so they can] experience different mentors. We’ve got a new series of workshops, and we’re working towards doing more runways and other things next year. It’s really about helping them to learn how to grow their fashion business. They’re great designers, they’ve got incredible stories behind the collections, and it’s just about helping them to integrate into the industry in the way that they want to.
We’re looking at doing a new intake for the program next year, but there’s still plenty to be done with these guys.
IR: Looking back at the first year, what are the key highlights or lessons learned?
DGK: The labels are doing a pop-up in David Jones at the Pacific Fair shopping centre [on the Gold Coast] right now, and that has been an incredible learning for them. They basically had to go through integrating into David Jones like any other label, which is an incredible learning for any fashion label — to learn how to supply a company like David Jones. From a business development point of view, it’s just a perfect example of what this program aims to do — provide opportunities for [Indigenous brands] to not only sell their product but develop their capability to be able to sell into a major retailer.
Some of the other key outcomes have been for the non-Indigenous participants — the people who were part of the program at David Jones and the mentors. The whole program was set up to be two-way learning. We did that through cultural education — we did a lot of connecting and talking about culture –and then the one-to-one mentoring. There were examples like Nancy Pattinson from Indii Swim, who was mentored by Pip [Edwards] and Claire [Tregoning] from P.E Nation — she brought in an elder from the local community, and they did a welcome to country at P.E Nation. It’s not just about the First Nations fashion labels learning, it’s about them helping everybody else learn as well.
The other thing I’d say is that this cohort is breaking through a whole bunch of barriers for Indigneous designers — going to Fashion Week, all the relationships they’re developing, really they’re paving the way for future Indigenous designers to come through. They are going to be mentors themselves to future labels. There have been other Indigenous labels, but it’s been a hard slog, and they often haven’t had a lot of longevity. By helping connect these [designers] into the industry, they’ll be able to provide a pathway for others to do the same — and inspiration as well.
IR: It sounds like you’re pretty optimistic about the future of Indigenous fashion.
DGK: The general Australian interest in connecting to First Nations people and culture is at an all-time high at the moment, and it’s about time. And there is so much more support around First Nations designers than there has been in the past, and it’s going to keep growing. There are organisations like Kinaway in Melbourne, the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, which has a program to support emerging fashion labels. There’s First Nations Fashion + Design, and there’s Indigenous Fashion Projects, of course. And there are people like Denni Francisco from Ngali and Julie Shaw from Maara Collective, who are in a position to support other people, which I don’t think we’ve had before. Coupled with consumer interest as well, it feels like there’s a lot of momentum. Indigenous fashion is no longer seen as a novelty. That’s what the labels wanted [to do] with the runway, they didn’t want to be seen as a novelty. These are fully fledged fashion labels. That’s a good thing for the future.
IR: What else is Indigneous Fashion Projects working on at the moment?
DGK: We have an approach that we call Best Practice, which is about supporting Indigenous textile designers and fashion designers at art centres and artisan communities around their collaborations with [non-Indigenous businesses] — like what Gorman did with Mangkaja. What are the issues involved with that? How do you connect to a fashion label? What kind of agreements do you need to put in place? How does the fashion label engage with culture? How do you manage intellectual property?
We’re working with different organisations to develop a toolbox of resources for Indigenous designers and artists and also for the fashion industry. That’s a big program for us and it’s a foundation project for the industry. Without [these resources], collaborations aren’t happening enough, or they fall over. We can have Indigneous fashion designers go through the Pathways Program, but where are the resources for them to manage contracts and protect their IP? That’s what we’re developing.
Another one is around supporting art centre capability. There’s an incredible amount of creativity in art centres, with artists, designers, and weavers, but most of them are in really remote locations, so how do we help them develop that capability? We’ve got a program that we’re looking [to launch] to support everything from how to promote and tell stories, to how to develop a range of textile-related artisan products and connect with manufacturers and other people who can improve their making capabilities.
This development work is where we need support to keep them going. This is where our future Ngalis and Maara Collectives come from. Maybe not necessarily the designers themselves, but the inspiration and the collaborations come out of [the communities]. It’s just so underdeveloped. It’s growing, but it needs a lot of help. Getting these things in place and getting it right [is important] because in the communities where they get it right, artists and textile designers are some of the biggest contributors, economically and socially, to communities.
IR: You recently put a call out for donors to support Indigenous Fashion Projects. What will you use the funds for?
DGK: Pretty much all the money that we raise will go back into development within the communities. It costs money to engage communities. There are more than 250 nations around Australia, and there’s not one solution [that works for all of them]. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make these programs relevant for everybody. With Best Practice, for example, we need to develop resources that are in language for different language groups. A lot of the resources are not necessarily written down, they are videos of people from the community talking in language about how to manage your IP and why you need to do it. Developing resources in different formats and disseminating them through digital platforms [is where the money will go].