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Black Activism, Traditional Weaving Feted at Australia’s National Indigenous Fashion Awards

·3-min read

SYDNEY — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives were celebrated at the third annual National Indigenous Fashion Awards, which were announced in Darwin, Northern Territory on Wednesday. 

Staged at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair — Australia’s largest First Nations visual art event, which showcases work from more than 75 Indigenous art centers — the awards recognize and showcase excellence across the categories of fashion and textile design, business, traditional adornment, wearable art and community collaboration.  

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Melbourne-based Wiradjuri woman Denni Francisco took the Fashion Designer Award for the second consecutive year, earning her back-to-back 12-month business mentorships with Australian retail chain Country Road.

The Business Achievement Award went to Laura Thompson, the Gunditjmara cofounder of Melbourne-based Clothing the Gaps, an Aboriginal social enterprise and certified B Corp, which specializes in streetwear emblazoned with activist slogans like “Aboriginal Land — Tread Lightly” and “Always Was, Always Will Be,” a key slogan of the Australian Indigenous land rights movement. The brand name is a play on Closing the Gap, an Australian federal government health initiative to help close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Models in looks from NIFA Business Achievement Award winner Clothing the Gaps, during the First Nations Fashion and Design group showcase at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week on May 13. - Credit: Mark Metcalfe
Models in looks from NIFA Business Achievement Award winner Clothing the Gaps, during the First Nations Fashion and Design group showcase at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week on May 13. - Credit: Mark Metcalfe

Mark Metcalfe

Esther Yarllarlla, a Kunibidji artist who works with the Bábbara Women’s Centre in Maningrida, Northern Territory, won the Traditional Adornment Award for her women’s Mókko, a traditional skirt made from hand-knotted “bush rope,” while the Community Collaboration Award went to Yankunytjatjara artist Linda Puna of the Mimili Maku Arts collective located on the APY Lands (Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, a local government area for Aboriginal people), and Melbourne-based vegan brand Unreal Fur, for their collaboration collection of puffer jackets and coats featuring Puna’s work.

The Textile Design Award went to Gunggandji and Kuku Yalanji master weaver Philomena Yeatman, for her “Yulu Dreaming” linen print that features images of stingrays and was incorporated into a pair of trousers and a top made by seamstresses at the Yarrabah Arts & Cultural Precinct in Far North Queensland, where Yeatman is based. Better known for her baskets and place mats, which are woven from pandanus leaves and can take anywhere from a fortnight to six months to produce, Yeatman created some mini basket earrings to accompany the look.

Esther Yarllarlla (second from right), winner of the Traditional Adornment Award, accompanied by fellow artists from the Bábbara Women’s Centre, at the 2022 National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Darwin, Australia. - Credit: Dylan Buckee
Esther Yarllarlla (second from right), winner of the Traditional Adornment Award, accompanied by fellow artists from the Bábbara Women’s Centre, at the 2022 National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Darwin, Australia. - Credit: Dylan Buckee

Dylan Buckee

Narrandera, New South Wales-based textile artist and designer Lillardia Briggs-Houston, a Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gangulu woman, won the Wearable Art Award, for her hand-painted merino wool knit bodysuit that is embellished with two-meter river reeds that are hand-stitched onto the neckline, a hand-painted and -dyed skirt with a matching printed head veil. 

The judging panel was comprised of Yatu Widders-Hunt, a Dunghutti and Anaiwan woman who is a director at Sydney-based specialist Indigenous communications agency Cox Inall Ridgeway; NIFA creative director and head stylist Perina Drummond, a Meriam Mer woman who is also the founder of Australia’s first Indigenous modeling agency Jira Models; the Australian Fashion Council’s head of marketing and communications, Prue-Ellen Thomas, and Country Road’s design manager of womenswear Jacklyn Rivera. 

”[NIFA] has really shone a light on the diversity of practice that exists within the First Nations fashion community and people working in remote areas” Widders-Hunt said. “It celebrates things that I think are really important to the industry, such as collaborations, wearable art, respectful storytelling, sustainability. It’s not just about the craft.” 

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