Celebrating Australian & New Zealand Indigenous designed fashion for International Women’s Day 2018

by Olivia Burton 2 weeks ago
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On Thursday this week, it’s International Women’s Day. The theme for this year is ‘Push for Progress’. We thought we’d shine a spotlight on a group of incredible women close to home that we are so proud to celebrate – Australian & New Zealand Indigenous women designing fashion.

A significant way of continuing storytelling traditions, and keeping culture alive is through handcrafted fashion by women in the community.

This tradition has thankfully carried on to modern day, with contemporary Australian brands weaving Indigenous culture and heritage into the fabric of their products.

We spoke to five inspiring designers that are using their platform to change the fashion industry for good, empowering females in indigenous communities and promoting ethical and sustainable fashion.

Yatu Widders Hunt has been supporting and promoting Indigenous fashion for some time and believes the Indigenous fashion sector is thriving and integral in keeping cultural traditions alive…

Fashion is an exciting way that we can continue our storytelling traditions and increase engagement and understanding of the world’s oldest surviving culture. From Kristy Dickinson from Haus of Dizzy sharing profound political statements through incredibly fun, handmade jewellery and social enterprises like Magpie Goose providing a platform for textile art to be transformed into accessible, wearable pieces.”

Embracing culture & identity

Indigenous fashion is anchored in story and tradition. All of the designers we spoke with highlighted the importance of storytelling in their designs.

Clair Parker, a young Indigenous designer, grew up in Darwin and on the Tiwi Islands, seeing her mother and aunties wear their Tiwi printed clothing inspired her to go into fashion. She now works directly with Tiwi textile producers at Bima Wear to incorporate authentic Tiwi culture into her designs. Bima Wear is a not for profit organisation that supports the welfare and development of women and girls of the Aboriginal community at Bathurst Island.

“I wanted people to feel beautiful in a dress made with meaning…I wanted a more emotional connection so people are able to feel the Aboriginal story telling while they are wearing it. “

Designer, Clair Parker

Artisans hand printing fabric, image from Bima Wear

The brand Magpie Goose also highlights the importance of culture and storytelling in fashion, working with remote Aboriginal communities that have been printing and designing since the 1960s. Magpie Goose co-founder and previous Aboriginal Justice Lawyer, Maggie McGowan explained that the brand’s aim is primarily to share and celebrate Aboriginal art, stories and culture through fashion, but also creating economic and enterprise learning opportunities for Aboriginal people in remote Australia.

“…these communities are all so diverse – with so many incredible artists – who have unique stories to tell. We want Indigenous women to have access to the fashion world, so that they can achieve their aspirations – whether it be to tell stories through textiles, through film or photography, through employment in retail or as a model.”

Artisan Margaret Duncan who designs textiles for Magpie Goose

Political statements

“My favourite part about working with sustainable brands is that they promote Indigenous cultural values and raise awareness of a much bigger issue, which is how we care for and tread mindfully on the planet.”

Yatu Widders Hunt

Haus of Dizzy is a unique jewellery brand started by Queen of Bling Kristy Dickinson. She personally designs, laser cuts, hand paints and assembles all of her own pieces in her studio in Melbourne. Her designs highlight a wide range of political statements, from the Aboriginal flag with #changethedate, to GIRL POWER.I design my jewellery to send strong girl power messages and keep my customers feeling confident and happy.”

Images of Haus of Dizzy earrings ‘Deadly’ & ‘Women Power Gold Records’

The first slow fashion model

Sustainability is an intrinsic part of Indigenous culture, with strong connections to nature and land.

Sustainability is being brought to the forefront of the mainstream fashion industry which is fantastic but for me, it’s also a beautiful reminder that (slow fashion) is not a new idea or a ‘current fad’, but something that we built our way of living on for over 60,000 years.”

Yatu Widders Hunt, Curator of Australian Indigenous Fashion

Julie Shaw set up fashion and lifestyle brand MAYRAH, meaning ‘spirit of springtime’ in her local Yuwaallaraay language, in Australia and has since showcased at Miami Swim Week in the US. Indigenous artisans use traditional techniques, including embroideries and weaving to produce MAYRAH’s garments. Julie is really passionate about showcasing artists and utilising community centres from remote and regional communities in Australia. “I work with high-end garment makers that utilise hand-crafted techniques such as embroideries and weaving. You’ll find that most Indigenous designers are incredibly conscious of the principles of sustainability and ethics, as this is part of our long-standing belief system.

Designer Julie Shaw

Maori artist and designer Nichola Te Kiri also embraces her traditional heritage, making unique handcrafted pieces at home, from jewellery to homewares. She weaves echoes of Maori mythology and the natural environment into her contemporary products.

I am inspired by my Whakapapa (bloodlines), my culture (Maori), being a Wahine (woman), our Whenua (land) and my journey through life.”

Maori artist and designer Nichola Te Kiri

Looking to the future

Indigenous women in fashion need to be celebrated in Australia and New Zealand and recognized in mainstream design. As Yatu expresses, ‘I am excited to see how we can further amplify the work of our incredible Indigenous designers’.

Empowering Indigenous communities, mostly in remote areas is a key focus for the brands we spoke to. Co-founder of Magpie Goose, Laura Egan is also CEO of Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), an organisation that foster and support enterprise opportunities in partnership remote Aboriginal communities. Magpie Goose is currently collaborating with ELP to help develop skills, knowledge and confidence among those involved. “Magpie Goose has a series of workshops planned for 2018, in collaboration with ELP, which will cover a range of themes including product development, branding, money story, sales and marketing, media/communications and more. We aim to tailor the workshops to achieve the desired enterprise learning outcomes.”

 “I believe that Indigenous women bring a dynamic edge to the industry where our creative and cultural endeavours are enriched with story, meaning and purpose that in turn enriches the tapestry of Australian design.”

Julie Shaw from MAYRAH


In the spirit of Fashion Revolution Day growing from a day to a week, we will be sharing the stories of Indigenous fashion businesses each day this week for International Women’s Day. Learn more @fash_rev_ausnz


Hero image: Bima Wear staff: Josie Tipungwuti, Agnes Mary Portaminni and Noella Babui.

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