In a collective sense, Australian Indigenous Fashion is bursting with intense palates of bold colours; earth tones to splashes of intense colour — contemporary flair with designs and symbols of tribal and traditional significance. It showcases our connection to Country.
First Nations Australian-owned labels are cropping up left, right and centre on a national scale.
These vary from 100 per cent Aboriginal owned and operated labels like Lore by Gurang Gurang designer Shannon Brett and Aarli based in Western Australia, to high-end international labels such as Jimmy Choo working with Indigenous Australian designers and visual artists.
In 2017, the Malaysian-born fashion icon worked with Noongar artist Peter Farmer to apply one of the artists’ paintings to his world-renowned shoes. And in the same year, a domestic partnership saw the family of the late Minnie Pwerle of Utopia, one of the most sought-after Aboriginal female artists of all time, collaborate with Australian label Aje.
Generally, well-known or high-end brands who work with Aboriginal Australian artists are put through the correct protocols and permissions when using these designs, although it continues to remain a convoluted area. As we know, Aboriginal artworks which hold sacred stories and tribe-specific information have a number of cultural sensitives. As well as the lack of consultancy poses cultural appropriation risks.
But it is the raw and real potential for First Nations artists and designers to make their mark within this industry, on both a national and international scale, that inspired Dunghutti/Anaiwan woman and senior communications consultant Yatu Widders-Hunt to develop and curate a ground-breaking Instagram account aptly named Australian Indigenous Fashion – @ausindigenousfashion.
Within the beauty, creativity and unrivalled uniqueness of First Nations Australian art, designs and our stories is a now growing and lucrative industry and Yatu Widders-Hunt is the creative director and editor behind the account that boasts an 11K following, accrued within a year. Accompanying the hugely popular account is a website that’s currently being further constructed and a Facebook page with over 3,000 followers.
Australian Indigenous Fashion is "a curated account showcasing Australia’s thriving Indigenous Fashion community”.
“I used to work as a journalist; including on NITV’s Around the Traps program, and I covered a lot of stories about Indigenous fashion designers,” Widders-Hunt explained.
“I also curated the [annual] Tjungu Fashion show at Uluru for [several] years and I was always blown away by all the talent and achievement [that I saw]!”
The account is both professional and eclectic, showcasing the breadth of Australian Indigenous designed fashion with specifically chosen images and descriptions of designers, designs, Aboriginal-owned labels and First Nations Australian models.
“To be honest I was inspired to start this account as I was a little frustrated that our Indigenous artists and designers weren’t very well-known within the broader fashion industry,” Widders-Hunt told NITV.
“We have Indigenous fashion designers showing in New York, London and Miami and collaborating with some big-name brands. Many people would always say to me … ‘oh I never hear about that’ … so I thought why not create an account to share all these beautiful stories and designs?
Many people would always say to me … ‘oh I never hear about that’ … so I thought why not create an account to share all these beautiful stories and designs.
“I want to present a picture of what Indigenous culture and identity looks like in a contemporary context and this [Instagram account], for me, was the perfect way to do it,” she said.
In this age of technology and intense digital connection and globalisation we have seen new and emerging ways of encapsulating and engaging with our culture and our traditional stories. Many are connecting to culture pertaining to language, ceremony, dance, creation stories and pedagogies through fashion and art. Whilst the forms of creativity change, our creations are never-ending and consistently build on stories of old; ‘a continuation of a 60,000-year-old story.’
Widders-Hunt researched and designed the bare bones of the account whilst she was on holiday toward the end of 2017.
“I began to dream and plan for what it could be and within a few weeks of returning (to her home in Sydney) it was live,” she explained.
“I promote a mix of labels, with most being Indigenous-owned businesses. I do also celebrate the many Aboriginal artists, curators and designers who collaborate with other brands … so this is definitely a place to showcase their work too.
“There are some wonderful non-Indigenous labels like Albertini that are respectfully collaborating or partnering with art centres and artists. I actually get excited by seeing mainstream labels engaging with Aboriginal culture as it’s often through these partnerships and projects that we can reach new audiences and draw on collective design expertise to create incredible works,” Widders-Hunt said.
Widders-Hunt says she’s enjoying being hands-on and creating this online community and watching it grow. Her over-arching message she aims to communicate to the account’s followers is that the Indigenous Fashion sector is a thriving and growing industry, and one that “represents a beautiful continuation of culture and story.”
“I think people are surprised to see that our labels cover everything from high-end couture to surf wear and amazing accessories,” she said.
“I love to connect with my identity and community through fashion and art, and I think it’s a really powerful and accessible way for people to learn more about and celebrate our cultures. I really just wanted to raise awareness and get people thinking and talking about the potential [this industry] presents [for our people]."