Despite their design culture that goes back over 60,000 years, it’s been only around three years since indigenous fashion designers starting hitting their stride commercially. But finally they are getting the attention they deserve. Meet some of the deadliest Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal fashion designers, artists and labels getting noticed for their amazing creativity.
Meet the new generation of fashion designers with two things in common. First, their beautiful creativity and design talent and secondly – of equal importance – their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity. Indigenous fashion creatives frequently use traditional processes and ethical manufacturing, to share their culture and history.
Here are some of the deadly creative talent emerging in the competitive world of Australian fashion and design.
Kirrikin, an Aboriginal word that roughly translates to “Sunday’s best clothes”. It’s also the name of a luxury resortwear brand. Kirrikin’s exclusive designs are created by a team of contemporary Aboriginal artists whose unique work is displayed on scarves, jewellery, clothing and swimwear. Amanda Healy from the Wonnarua nation is the CEO and she’s passionate about addressing the shortage of authentic Aboriginal pieces available in Australia.
Arkie is bringing contemporary, vibrant and fun designs to the Australian fashion scene. Designed by 24 year old Kalkadunga woman Arkie Barton, each piece is made with hand drawn prints and splashes of bright colours. Arkie sees fashion as a way of introducing people to her community. Made and sold in Brisbane.
Cheryl is a direct descendant of the Gunggari, Pitta-Pitta, Bindal and Quandamooka People of Queensland. Her label Muurii Quu is explained as: “Murri” stands for the Aboriginal people of Queensland, with Quu deriving from “Queensland”. Muurii Quu’s distinctive black evening gowns are sustainable, with each garment created from discarded clothing that otherwise would go to landfill.
” I only design black evening gowns. The black is representative of my heritage as an Aboriginal woman. It’s classy, timeless and everyone can wear it” with accessories of a splash of colour if desired.
Clair Helen is a visual artist, fashion designer and graphic designer. But most proudly, she’s a Tiwi Islander. A reflection of her personal heritage and culture, her pieces feature unique textures and patterns. As an indigenous designer, her garments tell a story, all the while promoting sustainable practices.
Clothing the Gaps
Clothing the Gaps began in 2018, co-founded by Laura Thompson (R) and Sarah Sheridan (L), who had worked together at Victorian Aboriginal Health Services. In just 3 short years, their social enterprise became Australia’s largest Aboriginal-owned and operated clothing label. See more at: How Clothing the Gaps has Grown into Australia’s Largest Aboriginal-Owned Clothing Label.
Colleen Tighe Johnson
A Gomeroi woman from Northern New South Wales, Colleen Tighe Johnson has become one of the most sought after Aboriginal fashion designers. Her extraordinary, one-off creations are laced with dreamtime stories. Colleen works from home in country Tamworth. Her works are created in collaboration with many local Indigenous artists, many of whom are her relatives. Created in 2010, her label Buluuy Mirrii, meaning ‘black star’, will soon scale to commence commercial production.
Ngali is run by designer and founder Denni Francisco who collaborates with other Aboriginal artists, such as Lindsay Malay, to translate art into fashion. Their beautiful paintings, photography and other works are transferred onto dresses, coats, tops, pants, scarves and even homewares. purpose is simple: “to tell the story of our country”. Fittingly, in a number of Aboriginal languages, “ngali” translates to “we.” And that’s exactly the backbone of this Aboriginal owned fashion label.
Ella Noah Bancroft
Sustainable, upcycled and 100% Indigenous owned. Yhi, meaning sun goddess in Gamilaroi, is the passion project of Ella Noah Bancroft. As a one-woman team, Ella takes second-hand garments, mostly t-shirts, and repurposes them with powerful statements. On top of this, Yhi isn’t just a label. Ella aims to educate and inspire women through a series of workshops that she runs. Ella is currently Cocktail Revolution’s Revolutionary of the Month.
Elverina Johnson isn’t only in fashion. She is a Gurugulu and Indinji Gimuy woman from Yarrabah in far north Queensland who is also a singer, songwriter, playwright, actor, photographer and artist. As an Aboriginal fashion designer, Eleverina’s pieces are essentially wearable art. The chosen colours, patterns and materials used depict the abundant beauty of her homeland.
The designer behind Maara Collective and the winner of the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards, Julie Shaw had extensive experience in fashion before starting her resort label. Julie is a Yuwaalaraay woman and Maara means “hands” in the Yuwaalaraay language. Past collections have been made in collaboration with the Bula’bula Art Centre of North East Arnhem Land for which Julie has been recognised with a Community Collaboration Collaboration Award.
You might have seen her bold and playful earrings, or her slogans shining light on political, indigenous, environmental and feminist issues. Wiradjuri woman Kristy Dickinson started Haus of Dizzy back in 2015 and since then, her business has skyrocketed with a large online following. People just can’t get enough of her glittery, fun and equality-seeking ear candy.
Sustainable swimwear brand, Liandra Swim’s fabrics are made from regenerated plastics and the packaging is made from completely bio-degradable cassava. There are bonus points with added value for shoppers of the Contrast Collection. Each swimsuit is actually two as they are completely reversible with a different print on each side. Every piece is named after a groundbreaking indigenous woman by its designer Liandra Gaykamangu
A proud Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta woman, Lyn-Al has been designing since she was eight years old. Now 23, she heads her own label known for their one-off, bespoke pieces of wearable art. As an Aboriginal fashion designer, Lyn-Al notes that every one of her designs are based on cultural values, particularly protection and peace. Lyn-al was also featured as a Cocktail Revolution’s Revolutionary of the Month and you can read more here.Lynelle Flinders
Lynelle Flinders, a Dharrba Warra descendant, produces collections of hand printed indigenous patterned textiles which have gained media attention over the last three years and regularly features in the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Festival. Her label, Sown in Time also featured on the runway at Australian Fashion Week 2021 in Sydney as part of the show-stopping First Nations Fashion + Design runway. Her hand painted silk pieces are imbued with the handywork of artists from the Bana Yirriji Art Centre in far North Queensland, with whom she collaborates. designing hand painted silks.
Now wholly owned by Aboriginal designers themselves, Magpie Goose started their design life with non-indigenous co-founders Maggie McGowan and Laura Egan partnering with Aboriginal fashion designers, artists, photographers and textile designers from across Australia. Vivid and striking designs are then ethically made into wearable styles. Think A-line shifts, three quarter pants and comfy jumpsuits. Creating economic opportunities with Aboriginal people as well as working hard to promote and celebrate Aboriginal culture and art, Magpie Goose also ranks highly in our list of clothing with a conscience.
Behind the laid back beachy swimwear brand Indii Swimwear is a talented Dunghutti woman from New South Wales, Nancy Pattison. Aboriginal fashion designers are increasingly entering the swimwear space and Nancy has taken to it with open arms. Her gorgeous designs also aim to empower young Aboriginal women and girls which is also done through modelling opportunities and annual surfing programs. And for Nancy, giving back to the community that raised her feels like it’s what she’s “meant to be doing”.
For North, it’s simply about sharing Australian made pieces featuring hand-screen printed fabrics and prints from artists from Pirlangimpi, Milikapiti and Wurrumiyanga, of the Tiwi Islands. Produced entirely in the Tiwi Islands, it’s there that Torres Strait Islander fashion designers and artists come together to share their stories and connection to country. A not-for-profit label, their aim is to proudly preserve Aboriginal art.
One of the leading lights of the fashion “runway” at the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Simone Arnol has been designing since 2015. A talented artist, photographer, art curator and seamstress, Simone is also the manager of the Yarrabah Arts & Cultural Precinct and collaborates regularly with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers.
Tap the link to see the winners of the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards, announced on August 5 2020.
To see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders killing it in the fashion game, check out these deadly models.
To see more about Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Fashion Designers check out ourQ&A with Yattu Widders Hunt.