When iconic Australian band Midnight Oil performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics closing ceremony with the word ‘Sorry’ emblazoned across their suits, it made a big impact. In a time when the then Prime Minister John Howard refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian Government, it was a hugely public criticism with literally hundreds of millions watching.
Midnight Oil’s visual protest was not new, as fashion has long been a platform for sharing important social messages, a powerful form of political protest.
First Nations fashion is now playing an even more critical role in sharing and celebrating our communities and culture.
With so much happening across our country politically — especially with January 26 fast approaching — there has never been a more important time to voice beliefs, showcase strength and honour identity through the clothes we wear.
Whether it be a cheeky slogan on a t-shirt, a powerful statement on a tote bag or an inspiring quote on a keychain, there are so many ways to ‘wear’ our messages.
We have rounded up our five favourite First Nations labels who successfully weave together strong messages with style.
Gammin Threads describes itself as a label that offers ‘deadly chill wear and accessories for people who believe in living colourfully, paying respect and empowering women’.
Founder Tahnee, a descendant of the Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti nations, first created the label as a side hustle, inspired by her love of language and black pride.
Gammin Threads have now made a name for themselves across the country for cute and empowering tees, with slogans like ‘You Lubly,’ ‘Skinny Ankles’ and ‘Big Aunty Energy.’ Award-winning actor, Miranda Tapsell, has even been spotted in their adorable ‘Young Aunty’s Club’ print.
This fun and colourful label also offers a range of stickers, keychains and tote bags with their signature slogans. If you are new to the concept of wearing strong messages, the brand also has a ‘Looks’ page where you can get style inspiration for how to put these superb pieces together.
Ginny’s Girl Gang
Ginny’s Girl Gang creates custom denim jackets with a voice! The beauty of this label is that you can not only buy direct from Ginny’s Royalty Collection, but you can also commission your own, unique piece.
Created by proud Goomaroi woman, Regina “Ginny” Orcher only six months ago, the label is fast becoming a favourite on the fashion scene. It also has the power to truly go global, with Ginny now living between Atlanta, Georgia in the United States and her home base in Brisbane.
The idea for the business originally came about when Ginny created a custom denim jacket for a friend’s birthday present and was inspired by the idea of creating something special and meaningful, with a slogan that represented Indigenous pride.
Working exclusively with denim as the fabric base- which aligns with Ginny’s personal style preference for comfortable, everyday streetwear — each jacket has a powerful message featured on the back, with empowering energy like ‘Queen Crowned in Curls’ or ‘Royalty inside my DNA.’
And if you want to create something just for you, Ginny never uses the same slogan twice, so each piece will be genuinely unique. Ginny believes that everyone comes with a story so the best part of the creative process, is yarning, talking and coming up with something that reflects an individual and what they want to say.
Only establishing her label in 2019 Ginny’s popularity has skyrocketed in a short space of time. Just in these past few weeks, Marlee Silva, co-founder of Aboriginal women’s empowerment platform ‘Tiddas 4 Tiddas’, has commissioned a jacket to promote her incredible social media platform.
Created by artist, activist and Bundjalung woman, Ella Noah Bancroft, “YHI” means ‘sun goddess’ — something that resonates with its founder as she wanted to name her label after the ‘thing that truly gives her life and keeps her bright.’
As the daughter of well-known Indigenous artist Bronwyn Bancroft, Ella has been inspired by her mother’s work in her own creative journey and credits her with helping her to dream and see colour in the world.
Described by Ascension Magazine as “culturally innovative”, YHI Creations are best known for their ‘Decolonise to Survive’ tees, which are regularly worn by a number of community leaders including mental health advocate Joe Williams and actor Rarriwuy Hick.
In line with their commitment to sustainability, YHI have also released a range with the simple message, ‘Less Racists, More Trees’ but perhaps their most powerful and timely piece simply says ‘Custodian.’
Following her brand’s ethos, Ella also extends her work to include women’s immersion workshops aimed at retracting ancestral steps and reconnecting with Country.
Dark and Disturbing
Dark + Disturbing feature some of the cheekiest slogans when it comes to First Nations fashion, and done so as part of an exploration of Aboriginal knowledge, identity and protest. A project of artist Vernon Ah Kee’s, many of the messages that feature on the label’s signature black t-shirts confront a number of complex issues, with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.
The brand is most well-known for its iconic t-shirt featuring the slogan ‘I see Deadly People’ which is often spotted on the Instagram pages of celebrities, including author and academic Anita Heiss.
Other slogans include ‘Aboriginal All The Time,’ ‘Does Not Assimilate into other cultures very well’ but perhaps the most poignant for this time of the year is ‘Australia, drive it like you stole it.’
Through this t-shirt range, Vernon has been able to raise poignant and timely issues in ways that are engaging, sometimes funny but always real.
This collection is a fantastic realisation of Vernon’s work, being best known as a boundary-pushing, internationally acclaimed artist who has featured in the Biennale of Sydney, the Venice Biennale, as well as the National Gallery of Canada.
Clothing the Gap
Clothing the Gap — a clever play on words in reference to Closing the Gap —is a new and dynamic label which commits 100 per cent of its profits to support health promotion activities in Aboriginal communities.
Encouraging their fans to ‘wear their values on their sleeve’ they offer a range of tees and accessories with relevant and timely messages that speak to health issues, as well as a range of other hot topics.
In response to the Aboriginal flag copyright issue, they’ve released a ‘Free the Flag’ series, featuring the words on t-shirts, stickers, bucket hats and totes. Importantly, the label also includes detailed information on the issue on their website, so that customers can get up to speed, watch relevant news clips and find out more about how to help.
‘Free the Flag’ isn’t the only issue the brand is raising awareness of, as they also feature tees with equally empowered slogans such as ‘Always Was Always Will Be’, which is the theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week, and ‘Not the Date to Celebrate’ in reference to January 26.
For those after something a little more understated, the brand offers a range of stylish yet simple tees with ‘Clothing the Gap’ embroidered on the front, which are in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, with a choice of red, black or yellow fabric.
Yatu Widders Hunt is a Director at Indigenous social change agency, Cox Inall Ridgeway and founder and curator of the Australian Indigenous Fashion social media community. She has worked in communications for a number of years, including for Federal Government, the Koori Mail and the NCIE. Follow Yatu @ausindigenousfashion
NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe
NITV/SBS received no commercial consideration for these selections and all reviews were made independently by the writer.