Indigenous designers, artists and creatives are on a trailblazing path to recreate the mold for contemporary fashion with deep cultural roots.
The launch of "Walking in Two Worlds" by First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) was a head-turning moment in the Australian fashion industry on Friday that saw Indigenous models hit the catwalk in an exhibition of Blak-led and designed event.
Mirram Mer woman and founder of FNFD, Grace Lillian Lee, told NITV News she was excited to launch the independent event to focus on the “ecology” of Indigenous fashion.
"Historically, Indigenous culture has been an incredible source of inspiration for the industry and now it is time for us to take the space and acknowledge that we're not just inspiration,” said Ms Lee.
”We're doing it ourselves and independently growing. This is more than a moment, it's a movement. This is a legacy we're building for the next generation.
"This is a step toward changing the narrative. In the past, we have done this via beautiful collaborations, but this time we are giving it back to First Nations people so they can take ownership over the space."
FNFD is an Indigenous not-for-profit peak body that also appointed Awabakal woman and international supermodel Charlee Fraser as an ambassador and model mentor for the event.
The initiative combined a ten-day model mentoring program with a showcase of five collections by Indigenous creatives, curated over the past two years.
The mentoring program took place on Country at Yarrabah in Far North Queensland, with permission granted by Traditional Owner, Elverina Johnson.
The prime focus of the event was to support the growth of First Nations artists in the fashion industry and highlight the key role they play in influencing the future of Australian fashion.
The event culminated on Friday night in front of 120 invited guests at Bulumba-Ja arts centre via a large projection within a theatre to create a hybrid and dynamic interconnection between life in urban and rural Australia, that organisers described as a nod to the concept of 'walking in two worlds'.
"For Walking in Two Worlds, connection to community and culture is integral. The process of producing this event is more about the journey than the destination," said Ms Lee.
Ms Lee was among the designers showcasing her celebrated wearable art designs. Other designers who exhibit their work in the event include Lynelle Flinders, Elverina Johnson, Emily Doolah, Nickeema Williams and Waringarri Arts Centre.
The event was a vibrant visual display of the collision between culture and creativity and showcased the potential of First Nations fashion and creative talent, which is set to take the industry by storm.
’Standing on the shoulders of many who forged the path’
Ms Lee told NITV News that she is empowered to be surrounded by extraordinary Blak excellence and that she believes an Indigenous-led shift is crucial to creating real change.
"I feel that we at FNFD are standing on the shoulders of many who have forged the path for us to be in this moment now,’ she said.
“We are part of something that is going to change our future generations. We are doing this so that we can create a safer, more culturally aware space for our next generation of talent to be able to be properly recognized in the industry."
With the revolutionary fashion event set to overhaul the conversation around Indigenous design, Ms Lee said it was an accessible opportunity for the broader community to learn about the diversity of Indigenous culture via fashion.
The initiative was also a positive step forward in the pursuit of reconciliation, she said.
"It's more than a sparkly event, it's about giving hope and inspiration to our people. We have a long way to go in healing our nation, and the more that people can feel united and accepted the better our nation will be."
The event was held at a moment in time when Indigenous models have reached unprecedented recognition as faces for social change.
Indigenous activist and Awabakal supermodel Charlee Fraser shot to fame after achieving international recognition during her debut at New York Fashion Week in 2016.
She told NITV News that her work in embracing her Aboriginality has been the most meaningful part of her life journey.
Having modelled for the likes of Alexander Wang, Prada, Stella McCartney, Dior, Chanel, and Givenchy, Ms Fraser has long championed greater Indigenous representation in the industry, earning a reputation as a leading voice for change within fashion circles.
She attributes the feat as one of her greatest accomplishments and something she will continue to build on through her work with organisations like FNFD.
Ms Fraser said that since she entered the fashion industry, she had witnessed it progress toward greater diversity and representation of Aboriginal peoples.
"I am leading my own cultural journey at the moment, so it means so much to me to be invited to be a part of this event and I'm learning so much along the way. The entire experience has been massive and emotionally charged for me.
"The main goal of the 'Walking in Two Worlds' event is not to be trending, but to create ‘normalcy’.
“First Nations culture is a part of life, and it should be and should have always been a part of Australian life," said Ms Fraser.
Ms Fraser said the project had caused her career and culture to collide in an invaluable, emotional, and rewarding way and that she hoped it would be a leap forward in achieving reconciliation and social unity.
"This program will help the models stay true to themselves and connect to their culture.
“Moving through the fashion industry with cultural awareness connects us to our cultural identity and bridges that gap that currently exists,” she said.
"It is like the stars have aligned. The fact that we're here, we have been led to this and we are exactly where we need to be. This is happening now. It's better late than never and we're just ready to forge forward.”
More than a catwalk
Model and mentoree Carleah Flinders told NITV News the experience of working alongside powerful Indigenous leaders on Country to develop an Indigenous-focused event had been "unbelievable and empowering".
Having previously modelled for vogue, the 19-year-old proud Dharrba Warra and Starke River woman said the experience was a positive step toward achieving inclusion and diversity.
"There is still a bit of a way to go with getting the Indigenous faces of models out there. It is still hard for dark-skinned models, who don't get as much recognition as they should,” said Ms Flinders.
"Modelling alongside an international Indigenous model, being around powerful Indigenous women, and doing it all on Country means it's not like any other catwalk show I have been in. It's a different feeling, like being comfortable and powerful at the same time.”
Ms Flinders said she hoped the event prompted a shift in the Australian fashion community's perception of Indigenous creatives and their place in the future of Australian fashion.
"A lot of hard work has gone into this. I hope that it achieves national recognition because this work is so different and important.
“The Fashion industry should take note," she said.
Walking in Two Worlds will be LIVE STREAMED on the NITV facebook page tonight, Saturday December 12 at 7.30pm EDST/5.30pm WST.