As the sun rises on Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) in Sydney I am filled with anticipation and pride.
After a gruelling year courtesy of a global pandemic, it is not lost on me the importance of this AAFW. This time last year the Australian fashion industry faced an uncertain future due to disruptions in supply chains and business operations, rampant store closures and a drop in sales. As the world adjusts to this new normal where covid has become part of our everyday lives, the fashion industry is slowly starting to re-emerge, regroup and refocus.
Having been invited to seven shows, this will be my first experience as a delegate. Though I do not know what to expect, I am grateful to be part of an event that will contribute more than $27.2 billion to the Australian economy. With over 70 designers showcasing their collection this year, 2021 will be the biggest Australian fashion week since 2015. As such, all eyes will be on Sydney which will be particularly important in the Indigenous cultural narrative and representation of Australia. For the first time ever, six First Nations designers will hit the AAFW runway. Undoubtedly overdue, this representation signals that Indigenous design talent is being recognised and paves the way to a more inclusive future.
Presented by Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP), a Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation program I am truly honoured to have been invited to attend this historic milestone. Simply put, discussions pertaining to the future of Australian fashion are obsolete without input from the traditional custodians of this land. The Australian fashion industry has a distinct culture and aesthetic and without Indigenous representation we do ourselves a disservice by not enriching what makes us unique on the world stage.
I am eager to see the collections of Liandra Swim, Indii, Kirrikin, Native Swimwear Australia and Ngali and how they weave Indigenous art, craftsmanship and stories with fashion. Having most recently discovered luxury resortwear brand MAARA Collective, I am particularly looking forward to seeing what Creative Director Julie Shaw brings to the runway. Founded in 2019, what has struck me about MAARA Collective is the way Julie uses colour, a reflection of her relationship with nature and how her experience as a Yuwaalaraay woman informs her design choices.
Having been almost eradicated because of colonization and the Stolen Generation, Indigenous languages, tribal histories, and cultural practices are not widely taught or understood in Australia. Though times are changing, it is moving to see how the arts are being utilised to reclaim identity. From Bangarra Dance Theatre to the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation program, the arts are proving once again how powerful they are. It is easy to simply disregard fashion as nothing more than a necessity, but this historic milestone demonstrates that fashion is a statement and an avenue to discourse and widespread cultural appreciation.
With AAFW taking place on Gadigal Land, the inclusion of six First National designers is a step in the right direction and I for one can’t wait to see and learn more.
Lead photography by Jalaru Photography