Saturday, June 10, 2023

Top Aboriginal Fashion Designers


Indigenous Fashion 

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 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 creatives emerging in the competitive world of Australian fashion and design.

Amanda Healy – Kirrikin

Aboriginal Fashion Design by Amanda Healy, Kirrikin
Lucas Dawson Photography

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 Barton Arkie the Label

Arkie is bringing contemporary, vibrant and fun designs to the Australian fashion scene.  Designed by vibrant 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.

Briana Enoch – Jarawee

Melbourne Fashion Festival
Image: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

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

Aboriginal Model and rising star Perry Mooney
Image: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

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 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.

Clothing the Gaps Laura Thompson & Sarah Sheridan

Co-Founders Sarah Sheridan & Laura Thompson modelling Closing the Gaps clothing

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 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’, will soon scale to commence commercial production.

Denni Francisco Ngali

Melbourne Fashion Festival

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!

Ella Noah Bancroft YHI

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. See more about Ella here!

Elverina Johnson Yarrabah

Indigenous Fashion Design label Yarrabah, colourful blazers and a suit modelled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
Designs by Elverina Johnson, Yarrabah Designs

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. 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

Grace Lillian Lee Design
Luke Currie_ Richardson modelling Design by Grace Lillian Lee Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

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.

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. 

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.

Liandra Gayakamangu – Liandra

Indigenous Fashion Liandra Swimwear

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

Lyn-al Young – lyn-al

street style melbourne

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

Lynelle Flinders Sown in Time

Lynelle Flinders - CIAF 2020
Designs by 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.

Magpie GooseAmanda Hayman & Troy Casey

Magpie Goose designs

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.


Melbourne Fashion Festival

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.

Nancy Pattison – Indii Swimwear

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”.

Native Swimwear

Sustainable Swimwear

Natalie Cunningham made history when her collection was the first Aboriginal fashion label to feature at the New York Fashion Week in 2015. Her brand, Native Swimwear, combines sustainability and luxury in its range of resort wear featuring exclusive designs from Aboriginal artists, all designed to empower women to feel comfortable and confident at the beach or by the pool. 

North – Pirlangimpi, Milikapiti, Wurrumiyanga artists, Tiwi Islands

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.

Paul McCann

Felicia Fox - Aboriginal models
Felicia Foxx modelling Paul McCann wearable art. Image: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

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.

Shannon Brett – Lore

Indigenous Fashion

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.

Simone Arnol – Simone Arnol

Aboriginal model in Simone Arnol two piece strapless outfit

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.

Teagan Cowlishaw – AARLI

Melbourne Fashion Festival
@aarlifashion Image: David Mannah, First Nations model is Ane Faaui

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.

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.

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