Returning to Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) in 2022, Indigenous Fashion Projects comes to Gadigal Country bursting with color and innovation from the country’s brightest creative choices today. Labels featured include Kirrikin, Native Swimwear, Ngali, Maara Collective, and Liandra Swim, with each collection reflecting the designer’s personal relationship with Country.
An immersive journey from central Australia, through rivers and into the sea, the Indigenous Fashion Project at AAFW is a celebration of Indigenous brands and designers making their mark in the Australian fashion industry. Under Creative Direction of Eastern Arrernte woman Shilo McNamee, the event involves contemporary creations from the world’s oldest living culture.
The designers featured in the Indigenous Fashion Project are part of the David Jones Pathway Program; support brands and their role in the industry. Bridget Veals, David Jones GM of Womenswear, Footwear and Accessories, said the program is rich in industry tips and tricks, equipping designers with the knowledge needed to advance their labels.
“This program provides an excellent two-way learning process for Indigenous designers to expand their reach and refine their growth opportunities in the global fashion industry,” explains Veals. “The process is based on the principles of listening, understanding and sharing culture to provide an enriching experience for all of our designers involved.”
We spoke with Liandra Gaykamangu of Liandra Swim and Julie Shaw of Maara Collective to unpack their creations, reflections and aspirations for the future, in useful conversations that provide a glimpse into their world as creative people.
Liandra Gaykamangu from Liandra Swim
Tell us about your background
I am a Yolngu woman from East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. My family lives on a small island, Milingimbi, and the ocean as you can imagine is a big part of who we are and how we live both on a daily basis but also culturally. I also grew up surfing and living by the sea, when my mother remarried a surfer and she was a huge influence on my love of the sea.
It was all of this – my love for the ocean from the enjoyment it brought me throughout my life, but also culturally – that prompted me to start a swimwear label. I love that we can combine all of my elements that I like the most. Being a sustainable label is also a very important aspect for this, because I have always been taught to care for nature, especially from a cultural aspect.
How does your culture tell you about your swimwear? Does it guide you in more ways than through design aesthetics?
Our signature print is where this is most obvious, but actually everything we do and in every way we are informed by my culture and the way I was raised. I drew each print by hand, with each print representing a unique story and theme. This is instrumental in the way our culture uses art forms and storytelling to share and educate.
As I mentioned, the element of sustainability is also very important to me because we have a very special relationship with plants, animals and locations. It goes deeper than just having a totem; we are connected by kinship and have a deep responsibility to care for and care for our environment, which is important to me and I take this aspect of our label very seriously.
As an Indigenous designer, what does being part of the Indigenous Fashion Project at AAFW mean to you and your team?
It was a very valuable experience as I was able to learn and connect with my industry. I am also very honored to represent my culture and people on such an iconic platform in the fashion industry.
Tell us about the collections featured in AAFW. What are the main motifs and pieces that you hope to speak to those in the industry and consumers in general?
We will be launching our Deep Ocean Collection at AAFW22. The story themes and print collections are inspired by the Mariana Trench and plate tectonics. There are elements there that have been inspired by the nature of ecosystems that develop deep beneath the surface, but also how plate tectonics fit together, connect and create.
Sustainability is definitely a big part of the Liandra Swim brand, proven through initiatives like using recycled plastic. Was the idea of sustainability inherent in every collection from the start?
Yes of course! I am always looking to get better and do better in every possible way! We are very close to being plastic-free in our packaging, which is very interesting. However, it took me a while as I went through the process of testing new elements to make sure they were good replacements [and] this includes in-depth research and use.
What is your individual approach to style?
I wouldn’t say I have a particular style. I go through phases based on my emotions and how I see the world. I like bright colors, but I also like neutrals and darks – it really is based on each day and how I feel. This is something that can be felt and experienced through each collection, as they differ slightly in design, theme and color!
How has your brand developed since its inception and what are your hopes for the future?
I think I had a full circle moment last week. I started the label by owning kiosks and various markets and last week I was named in a US fashion magazine as the top 34 Australian brands to shop this summer. It’s just a beautiful reminder that all the hard work is worth it.
Julie Shaw from Maara Collective
Tell us about your background:
I grew up in the inland opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, New South Wales. I am descended from Yuwaalaraay people from my mother’s family and very lucky to be raised in my Country, surrounded by family and community. I feel that this has grounded me as a person and even though I now live in the city, whenever I come home I really feel that connection to my Country. This sense of knowing where I’m coming from has informed the way I work creatively, with culture as the foundation of my inspiration.
How has your own design and style changed over the years?
I always aim to improve the design aesthetic of each new collection, but stick to our signature femininity style and use handcrafted techniques such as knot weaving and tying. I feel that we are evolving from a resort-focused brand to more of a ready-to-wear lifestyle brand, and there are so many exciting opportunities to expand our product categories through our collaborative themes.
How does your culture tell you about your clothes? Does it guide you in more ways than through design aesthetics?
Of course. There are themes of cultural inspiration interwoven throughout the brand and replicated in various forms, from collaborations with artists, to the use of color heavily influenced by the outback landscape, to even the use of language for naming collections and styles. At the heart of this collection is our collaboration and our sincere desire to celebrate and promote Indigenous art and culture.
As an Indigenous designer, what does being a part of the IFP at AAFW mean to you and your team?
This is a great platform and opportunity to showcase our work to the fashion community and a wider audience along with Australian design talent, and to show what Indigenous fashion is and what it can do. Also, that we can stand with the best in the country.
As fashion looks to the future, adopting practices that give back to the community and the planet are on par with the course. How does MAARA Collective take a holistic approach to social and environmental sustainability?
We manufacture 95 per cent of our products locally in Sydney. It is very important to me that collaborative work featuring the work of Indigenous artists is produced here in Australia, the country where their stories originate.
We donate the proceeds from each of our online sales to the Buy1 Give1 Foundation, and the proceeds are used for digital skills training and education in remote Aboriginal communities. Our pillar of ‘giving back’ is one that we plan to expand and build on over the years, as we grow, always with the idea of giving back at the forefront of mind. In line with Indigenous culture, we are always looking for ways to go easy on the journey of running this clothing brand, through fabric choices, packaging options, striving to minimize waste in our product development process.