“From an industry perspective, Indigenous textile and fashion design is so underrepresented in Australia, it’s a fraction of a fraction of a per cent,” said Dave Giles-Kaye, the Indigenous Fashion Projects lead at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation, who was previously CEO at the Australian Fashion Council.
“The industry itself has not really focused on understanding Indigenous culture, and Australian culture more broadly is not really engaged in Indigenous culture and all the amazing creativity that comes out of it.”
That is why Giles-Kaye is so excited to hold the first ever Country to Couture showcase outside of Darwin later this week.
Taking place at Collingwood Yards in Melbourne on Thursday, the event will give the local industry a chance to see the latest Country to Couture collections in person, since only 100 people could attend the event in Darwin last year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Some pieces will be featured in a short runway show, while others will be displayed around the venue.
A documentary film including interviews with the Indigenous artists behind the collaborations and scenes from the Darwin event will also be previewed at the event on Thursday, before debuting on NITV this Friday.
“It will raise the awareness down south for what we’re doing,” Giles-Kaye said.
Collaboration is just the beginning
One of the collections in the showcase is a collaboration between Melbourne-made denim brand Nobody Denim and Bima Wear, a clothing label started by a group of women in the Tiwi Islands in 1969.
The fabric in the seven-piece capsule collection was woven at Bruck Textiles, one of the last denim mills in Australia, and then printed with the ‘Tunga’ design created by Bima Wear’s Theresa (Tara) Munkanomeand at Nobody Denim’s factory in Melbourne. Tunga is the bark basket used in Tiwi ceremony.
“It was a privilege to be able to work with a print that has so much history,” said Lauren Samuel, Nobody Denim’s senior designer. “I was really grateful the Tiwi women were willing to share their design with us.”
The collection is a blend of the two brands’ aesthetics, with the colour and cut of the pieces diverging from Bima Wear’s more traditional offering. Nobody Denim’s design team worked closely with the Bima Wear women to ensure they were happy with the finished product.
The collection is just the start of a multi-year partnership between the businesses, which will see two Tiwi women interning with the design team at Nobody Denim’s factory in Melbourne to further develop their existing skills in clothing manufacturing and marketing.
The aim of the partnership is to help attract a new generation of women to the Bima Wear collective. Nobody Denim in turn will learn about the collective and Tiwi perspectives, design and culture.
Samuel said she’s looking forward to meeting some of the Bima Wear women face to face.
“We can be in a room together and talk about opportunities and ideas and how they feel about the [fashion] industry from a perspective that I’ve never thought of,” she explained.
Samuel believes the industry has a responsibility to help correct the underrepresentation of Indigenous fashion and design in Australia.
“I think the consumer wants more representation,” she said. “They want to see more buyers buying from Indigenous brands and more Indigenous models in mainstream campaigns. It’s the responsibility of the industry to be doing more of this and doing it better.”
In addition to the collaboration between Nobody Denim and Bima Wear, the other brands and artists in the 2020 Country to Couture showcase include:
- Liandra Swim by Liandra Gaykamangu: Liandra is a Yolngu woman from North-East Arnhem Land (Northern Territory). The collection ‘Interwoven’ from her label Liandra Swim presents a reversible range of swimwear featuring signature prints inspired by Indigenous Australian culture.
- Ikuntji Artists X Magpie Goose: Located in the Haasts Bluff community in Central Australia, Ikuntji Artists was the first Art Centre established for women of the Western Desert art movement. Ikuntji Artists are famous for bold colour choice, decisive brush strokes, and rich cultural storytelling. Their collaboration with social enterprise Magpie Goose translates their designs onto textiles, and shares their cultural stories through a new medium.
- Anindilyakwa Arts: Through a series of workshops at Umbakumba and Angurugu Art centres with Darwin artist and designer Anna Reynolds, the women artists from Anindilyakwa Arts, an Aboriginal-owned business on Groote Eylandt, have expanded their textile practices to refashioning, recycling, hand- and machine-sewing and digital design. Their latest collection – Yirradarringka-Langwa Akarwadiwada – Womens Work – embraces sustainable practices, repurposing old work shirts from the miners working on the Magnesium mine on the Island, making both social and environmental commentary.
- Lindsay Malay X Ngali: Translating to ‘we’ or ‘us’ in a number of eastern Australian Aboriginal languages, Ngali by Denni Francisco is creating the ‘us’ we’d like to see: a harmonious, sustainable and equitable union of people with Country and each other. Ngali presents the Malayarr Collection, a mutually respectful collaboration with Gija artist Lindsay Malay, based out of the Warmun Art Centre.
- Warlukurlangu Aboriginal Corporation X North Home Textiles: Down a long red road five hours north-west of Alice Springs, the artists of Yuendumu and Nyrippi communities share stories of their country through bold brush strokes and joyful colour. The Warlu Collection is a joyful collection of statement pieces – uniquely connected to the desert through its people, art and stories. Each artwork featured in this collection is of one of the artist’s Jukurrpa – often called a Dreaming Story.