With a design culture going back over 60,000 years, Aboriginal fashion designers are now hitting their stride commercially. Finally, they are getting the attention they deserve. Meet some of the deadliest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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 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.
Amanda Healy – Kirrikin
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.
Briana Enoch – Jarawee
Hailing from Cairns, artist Briana Enoch has deftly moved into the world of fashion with Jarawee. It’s the language name given to Briana when she was born, and means “Pretty Little Bird.” Jarawee started out producing Briana’s rich artwork on fashion accessories provided by customers and has now expanded into her own fashion line with one of her designs currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum.
Cheryl Creed – Muurii Quu
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.
Website: Murrii Quu
Clair Helen Parker – Clair Helen
Clair Helen Parker is a visual artist, fashion designer and graphic designer. But most proudly, she’s a Tiwi Islander, born and raised in Darwin and now living in Perth. A reflection of her personal heritage and culture, her pieces feature unique textures and patterns in her Clair Helen label. As an indigenous designer, her garments tell a story, all the while promoting sustainable practices.
Website: Claire Helen
Clothing the Gaps – Laura Thompson & Sarah Sheridan
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.
Website: Clothing the Gaps
Colleen Tighe Johnson – Buluuy Mirrii
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’, has just presented at New York Fashion Week.
Website: Buluuy Mirrii
Denni Francisco – Ngali
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. Ngali has twice won the National Indigenous Designer Award!
Elverina Johnson – Yarrabah
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 beautiful pieces of wearable art. The chosen colours, patterns and materials used depict the abundant beauty of her homeland. Eleverina has released two of her exclusive designs in a collaboration with Taking Shape Australia, so that her beautiful patterns and designs are accessible to more women!
Grace Lillian Lee
One of the two creatives behind the rising Aboriginal fashion platform First Nations Fashion+ Design that took Australian Fashion Week by storm in 2021, Grace Lillian Lee is best known for her eye-catching cultural adornments.
Website: Grace Lillian Lee
If the Ikuntji Artists sound familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen some of their prints on the May 2022 cover of Vogue Australia. The group of artists from Haasts Bluff began utilising screen printing to translate their paintings onto textiles in 2016. The result was vibrant printed textiles depicting the artists’ personal Ngurra (Country) and Tjukurrpa (Dreaming). They’ve showcased their prints at the First Nations Fashion + Design show during AAFW in 2022 and debuted their solo show at the annual event this year.
Website: Ikuntji Artists
Julie Shaw – Maara Collective
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.
Website: Maara Collective
Kristy Dickinson – Haus of Dizzy
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. Website: Haus of Dizzy
Lauren Jarret & Melissa Greenwood – Miimi and Jiinda
Founded in 2018 by mother-daughter duo Lauren Jarrett and Melissa Greenwood, Miimi and Jiinda use fashion as a way to translate their hand-painted artworks into wearable stories. Using sustainable fabrics, their most recent collection Burraaba is all about their history and ancient myths of their culture.
Website: Miimi and Jiinda
Liandra Gayakamangu – Liandra
Sustainable swimwear brand, Liandra Swim’s fabrics are made from regenerated plastics and the packaging is made from completely bio-degradable cassava. We’re giving boonus points for the added value fo 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 it’s designer Liandra Gayakamangu.
Website: Liandra Swim
A Wiradjuri, Gangulu and Yorta Yorta multidisciplinary artist and fashion designer, Lillardia Briggs-Houston has been designing under her own name since 2019. She recently took out the gong for Fashion Designer of the Year at the fourth annual National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Darwin. Her designs have been in Darwin. Her designs have been adapted from traditional south-east Aboriginal cultural practices of carving, bush dyeing and weaving. Website: Lillardia Briggs-Houston
Lyn-al Young – Lyn-al
A proud Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta woman, Lyn-Al has been designing since she was eight years old. Still in her twenties, he 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 – Sown in Time
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.
Website: Sown in Time
Maddy Hodgetts – Yapa Mali
Yapa Mali is a wearable art label established by Ngiyampaa, Wangaaypuwan and Wiradjuri woman Maddy Hodgetts. Hodgetts has been an artist since she was 11 years old and continues to exhibit and sell her artworks across New South Wales. She launched her brand in 2022. Each garment tells a story of Country and is intended to be a teaching movement for the wearer.
Website: Yapa Mali
Magpie Goose – Amanda Hayman & Troy Casey
Now wholly owned by Brisbane based Aboriginal designers Amanda Hayman and Troy Casey, Magpie Goose started their design life with non-indigenous co-founders Maggie McGowan and Laura Egan. The duo partnered 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.
Website: Magpie Goose
Kalkadoon artist Glenda McCulloch started Cungelella Art in 2019, and in the following months expanded to begin working with her sisters Cheryl, Jaunita, and Dale. As of last year, the four sisters founded the label Myrrdah – named after their great great grandmother – to design ethically made clothing pieces featuring art representative of the Kalkadoon landscape.
Naomi Collings & Kirsty Parnell – Kamara Swimwear
Another family-run label, Kamara Swim was established by sisters Kirsty and Naomi when the latter was diagnosed with melanoma. The Gugu Badhun and Kutjala sisters began the brand to create awareness around sun protection. Their Brisbane based brand has become known for it’s vibrant, colourful floral prints or brightly coloured monograms.
Website: Kamara Australia
Since designing Felicia Foxx’s gown worn in her show stopping runway strut at the 2021 Australian Fashion Week, Paul McCann has wasted no time garnering attention for his signature painted pieces and expressive runway pieces.
With the Marrithiyel artist having just closed the Melbourne Fashion Festival, he is attracting much attention in fashion as well as art and there is absolutely no doubt Paul McCann is one to watch.
Instagram: Paul McCann Art
Shannon Brett – Lore
Producing one of a kind eye-catching fabrics, clothing and accessories of wearable art is Shannon Brett’s speciality. Connection to country is front and centre in her label Lore. Their original bespoke clothing and print designs are available in sizes up to 4 XL, so that almost anyone can wear them.
Website: Lore Fabrics and Fashion
Shaun Edwards – House of Darwin
A fashion label and social enterprise, House of Darwin was founded by former AFL player Shaun Edwards when he realised there was a need in his community. Profits are reinvested back into social programs in remote Indigenous communities, such as basketball team Darwin Dingoes and skate label Pass Port. The brand is known for it’s whimsical imagery, inspired by the Northern Territory, emblazoned across t-shirts and hats. You might catch their brand name but also Uluru, some salty plums and even a kangaroo on one of their t-shirts.
Website: House of Darwin
Simone Arnol – Simone Arnol
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.
Instagram: Simone Arnol
Teagan Cowlishaw – AARLI
Co-founder of First Nations Fashion + Design, Teagan Cowlishaw is one of the finalists in the 2022 Australian Fashion Laureate Indigenous Designer of the Year Awards. Her label AARLI upcycles remnants and deadstock in limited editions. Previously, AARLI has partnered with Nobody Denim to reconstruct their mens jeans into women’s streetwear and produced a small range upcycling organic tees by Aussie Tshirt label OCC.
Instagram: Aarli Fashion
Yarrabah Art Centre
The Yarrabah Arts& Cultural Precinct is hitting its stride with some of its most striking designs being showcased at the SA Fashion Weekend, The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and Country to Couture in the Darwin Art Fair. For something so special that you won’t find anywhere else, the outfits they are producing are quite unique and truly eye catching. Instagram: Yarrabah Arts & Culture
Website: Yarrabah Arts Centre
FEATURED IMAGE: @simon_arnol
Tap the link to see more amazing indigenous fashion by 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 Aboriginal models.
To see more about Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Fashion Designers check out ourQ&A with Yattu Widders Hunt.