Australia

Indigenous women are leading the way at Melbourne Fashion Festival

A look from the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Source: Rachel Cary/SBS News

The Melbourne Fashion Festival has kicked off with a show inspired by the Kimberley region of Western Australia, featuring Indigenous designs and models.

An ongoing collaboration between designers and local artists called Design Within Country has been featured in the opening of this month’s Melbourne Fashion Festival. 

Melbourne-based fashion designer Lois McGruer-Fraser has been involved in the programme since 2017.

“I love it, it’s an incredible programme,” she told SBS News.

“Before this programme, I had never really gone out to like, I guess, rural Australia or had much to do with the Indigenous communities.”

Joycelyn McCarthy
Joycelyn McCarthy has been involved in the Design Within Country project for three years.
Rachel Cary/SBS News

Fast-forward to 2020, and McGruer-Fraser’s next collection, for her brand Lois Hazel, is inspired by a print created by artist Lee-Anne Williams who is based in Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia.  

The print is inspired by the cracked, dry pindan - the name given to the red-soil country of the south-western Kimberley region of WA.  

“It's a really nice way for [Williams] to see her work and us to work together and promote different ways to interact with Indigenous culture in Australia that isn't just a painting,” McGruer-Fraser said.

Lois McGruer-Fraser
Fashion designer Lois McGruer-Fraser.
Rachel Cary/SBS News

The Design Within Country programme has been running for five years. Designers like McGruer-Fraser are encouraged to visit Fitzroy Crossing annually and work with women from the Marnin Studio. ‘Marnin' means women in the Walmajarri language.

The studio was set up by the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing. Its CEO Emily Carter says the studio and Design Within Country is all about exposing local women to the opportunities that exist beyond the bush.

“This is all about showing our young people that they can have choices, that there are possibilities for them out there,” she said. 

Joycelyn McCarthy works at the Fitzroy Valley District High School but said art was her therapy. She has been involved in the Design Within Country programme for three years. 

“I love working with the ladies,” she said.

“We just share our culture, our knowledge, and they share their knowledge with dressmaking and printing”.

Kahlia Rogers
Kahlia Rogers walks in a show at the fashion festival.
Rachel Cary/SBS News

The result is a variety of unique textiles inspired by, and created in, the central Kimberley region. Those textiles are then turned into fashion items and showcased at the Melbourne Fashion Festival before being bought by consumers.

But the show provides even more opportunity beyond the creations. 

Kahlia Rogers, is from the Wangkatjungka community, 100km south-east of Fitzroy Crossing.

Its has a population of about 18.  

NITV: How Indigenous designers are challenging the fashion industry

The 20-year-old tried modelling for the first time last year and now she has moved to Melbourne and is walking in three shows during the fashion festival, starting with Design Within Country. 

“It's really good for getting out of my comfort zone and just putting all that shame and stuff behind, so it's really good,” she said. 

The Melbourne Fashion Festival runs until 14 March

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