‘Not just fashion’: historic runway brings audience to tears

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Julie Bishop wearing Perth-based designer Meraki.Credit:Getty

During the finale, the models poured sand through their fingers, reinforcing the “always was, always will be” message about Aboriginal land that was omnipresent through the entire show.

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Lee said performer Electric Fields’ rendition of From Little Things, Big Things Grow, performed in front of guests including former foreign minister Julie Bishop and singer Jessica Mauboy, sent “a real strong and meaningful message”.

“We’re here with open arms wanting the support, wanting the conversation and wanting to grow. And we want to do that unitedly [with the wider fashion industry],” she said.

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The Indigenous component of fashion week, which began on Monday with a welcome to country, yet another first, continues on Thursday with a show featuring six more established Indigenous designers, who are being mentored by some of Australia’s biggest brands and retailer David Jones.

Denni Francisco, of Ngali, says it was overdue to have an “elevation of Indigenous fashion and the recognition” at fashion week.

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“For quite some time there have been First Nations people doing amazing collections and artworks. Now it’s starting to be more in the mainstream … that’s great. I really look forward to a time when it’s not unusual, when it’s an expectation.”

Model Lisa Fatnowna wearing Ngali by Denni Francisco.

Model Lisa Fatnowna wearing Ngali by Denni Francisco.Credit:Rhett Wyman

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She likes to think the show falling on the Mabo anniversary is a case of “ancestral intervention”. “It is the day that continues to reinforce we are here, we have always been here and we have a voice.”

Francisco ’s latest collection is built around the theme of “seeing from above”, especially after the challenges the world has faced in the past year. The lines in her prints “give us the opportunity to say there are always different ways to see things”.

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David Giles-Kaye, head of Indigenous Fashion Projects, which oversaw the show, agreed the ultimate goal for the designers featured in the runway is “taking that next step towards being a label that could have their own runway next year or the year after”.

Mr Giles-Kaye, the former boss of the Australian Fashion Council, says several of the Indigenous designers were “on the cusp” of securing representation with major retailers, and a platform such as Australian Fashion Week could be the boost that locks in a deal for one or more of them.

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Backstage at the First Nations Fashion + Design show.

Backstage at the First Nations Fashion + Design show.Credit:Getty

He says an important part of building the profile of Indigenous designers was educating the buying public on how to wear pieces back with other brands, without fear of cultural insensitivity.

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Bridget Veals, head of womenswear at David Jones, said the mentors, which include P.E Nation, Bianca Spender and Bassike, have provided the Indigenous brands with practical assistance on skills ranging from social media to production.

“One [designer] just wants to make more money so she can put more back into her community,” Veals said. “It’s definitely not been a one-size-fits-all approach [to mentoring them].”

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Veals says she will be looking at the commercial potential of the brands on the runway on Thursday.

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“Commercially, Julie Shaw, from Maara Collective, is the most advanced, and we would look to see how to support her further,” Veals said. “But it’s still early days for the partnership … We’re opening the door to what could be next for these designers.”

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