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  • Perth based fashion designer Rebecca Rickard. (SBS Rachel Cary)Source: SBS Rachel Cary
Showcasing Indigenous art worldwide was a lifechanging experience for Perth-based designer Rebecca Rickard. Her denim jackets recently shot to global fame during New York’s prestigious fashion week, watched online by millions during the pandemic.
By
Sandra Fulloon

1 Apr - 8:11 AM 

Rebecca Rickard is busy sewing upcycled clothing in a vintage caravan, parked outside her Perth home. The Ballardong Whadjuk woman from the Nyungar nation is creating denim jackets, incorporating Indigenous artwork.

She recently achieved a goal that most designers can only dream of. Her Deadly Denim collection screened worldwide at New York’s Fashion Week,  featuring designs by four other Indigenous artists from around Australia.

“Showcasing [Indigenous art] anywhere you can outside of Australia is really important, to shine a light on the amazing diversity we have amongst our First Nations people here,” Rebecca says.  

“Being the world's oldest living culture, I get such goosebumps and pride from that.”

Rebecca was among 10 international designers chosen to be part of Flying Solo at New York Fashion Week held in February this year.

“It was amazing, I felt really proud. And proud of the artists as well.”

Rebecca raised the $4,000 entry fee through crowdfunding, after a late call up to the glamorous fashion show.

“The label has such a following of wonderful supporters. And that made me realize that that's just as important as any money that you make from a business.”

Despite her recent success, COVID-19 restrictions have taken a toll and during the slowdown, Rebecca turned to Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) for support.

“Actually IBA was my savior. I had some financial mentoring, which helped me to restructure.

 

“I was able to do Zoom classes, and social media training. And I had all that going on during COVID-19 when business was quiet.

IBA was established to develop the economic sustainability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Rebecca was part of IBA’s Strong Women, Strong Business (SWSB) Initiative and her bags will be distributed at the Kimberley Jiyigas West Kimberley Women in Business and Leadership Forum in April.

Although the SWSB conference was cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions, IBA honored the contract with Deadly Denim and now these bags will be shared with the Kimberley Jiyigas.

“I am really appreciative of that,” Rebecca says.

“What Rebecca has done is phenomenal, and she is an amazing woman,” says Nini Mills, IBA’s Regional Manager of Business Development.

“So it’s important for us to showcase stories like Beck’s, because she is so inspirational for others.”

 “She comes from a strong Aboriginal culture and background, and as a single mother she has been able to intertwine her responsibilities for her family and the broader community.

Since Rebecca started Deadly Denim in 2018, she has collaborated with a range of artists and Indigenous designers, many working outside the mainstream fashion industry.

“When I first started, I was studying midwifery and it's very woman centered, very much about women supporting women.

“And that has become quite a theme, that's just naturally come into the business as all of the artists have been women.”

Rebecca is also working to make her label sustainable, reusing old jeans for shopping bags and repurposing denim jackets with artworks.

According to the Bureau of Statistics (ABS), on average each Australian dumps 23 kilograms of textiles into landfill each year.  

“When I started looking into the fashion industry, I didn't even know it was the second highest under the oil industry for pollution.

“So then I became a bit more aware of how important recycling is,  and I ‘ve kept that spirit for the business right down to [re-using] scraps.

“Plus I give my offcuts to different community projects.”

Rickard donates to the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund, which supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to qualify in midwifery and keep working in the profession.

Her circle of collaborators includes Indigenous elder Kerry-Ann Winmar, and nieces Paige and Perelle Pryor.

Rebecca later married and had two more children. But a divorce four years ago forced Rebecca to found her own business as part of ‘starting over’.

It’s not the first time Rebecca has parented solo.   

“I had a daughter when I was 18, and that was really beautiful becoming a young mum.”

However, giving birth in a hospital left Rebecca feeling ‘quite traumatised’ and she later joined a midwifery group hoping to offer women different choices. During her studies, Rebecca learned more about the experience of Aboriginal women and maternal health statistics.

“And so birthing on country, and respecting cultural practices really came to the forefront for me of my passion as well when I was studying.”

“I really want to give back,” Rebecca says. “It’s more of a social enterprise really. I do some workshops for non-profit groups too.

“People bring their own jackets along and they really love it.” 

For more information contact Indigenous Business Australia iba.gov.au/business/