above BEHIND THE SCENES COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTO BY MICHAEL JALARU TORRES
The vibrant showcase – presented by Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP), and proudly supported by the Northern Territory Government and Country Road – is set to return to Larrakia Country again in 2024 for the annual celebration of First Nations fashion, art and culture. With applications open now for the runway show, we wanted to know more about what the team behind IFP are looking for when it comes to entries for the iconic fashion event.
Michelle Maynard is the manager of IFP, taking a hands-on role and overseeing everything from Country to Couture, the IFP Pathways Program, the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA), and the David Jones Indigenous Fashion Projects runway. As a multimedia creative and contemporary Tasmanian Aboriginal designer herself, Michelle brings her experience to select the next crop of First Nations fashion, art and culture we can look forward to seeing on the runway. We caught up with her to find out more about the vision for 2024’s Country to Couture show.
above MICHELLE MAYNARD BY DYLAN BUCKEE
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to Indigenous Fashion Projects?
I live and work out of nipaluna, where I’m engaged with the local design community. My people are trawoolway from the north-east and Bass Strait islands of Tasmania and it’s there that my heart and story are tied.
I’m a mum of two very inspiring young adults. I’ve always loved fashion. I dreamed of working in design, modelling or editorial as a teenager, but life took me on a different path for a while. In my late thirties, I came back to what I always wanted to do and studied fashion design. I followed that with project management training and got involved with events management, production, mentoring and community development projects.
I’m passionate about advocating for my people and Country, and for the potential of healing and empowerment, through art and design.
I freelanced for seven years establishing a design practice and strong professional reputation for my creative practice, project management capabilities and ability to design and deliver projects with valuable artistic, social and culturally safe outcomes.
I’m passionate about advocating for my people and Country, and for the potential of healing and empowerment, through art and design. My love though lies with fashion and textiles. I’m a co-creator of Ya’rnin – Recovering Kinship Through Design, a fashion and textile design pilot project, and am currently a collaborator with Walantanalinany Palingina, a key Tasmanian Aboriginal multi-arts initiative. I’ve been working to support the emergence of First Nations fashion and textile design in Tasmania through these initiatives.
With an intention to take a break from freelancing, it was very exciting to discover IFP was recruiting. As I read the position description, I knew that I had the range of skills required and the passion, so I applied. While the skills and experience I gained throughout my entire working life support who I am today, making the choice to follow my passion at 38, and the years that have followed, have set me on a trajectory to beautifully land here with IFP and DAAFF.
top ‘DALUK’ COLLECTION, BÁBBARRA WOMEN’S CENTRE IN COLLABORATION WITH YOUNG DALUK, RAW CLOTH, JEMIMAH JEMIMAH, THE SOCIAL STUDIO AND MANINGRIDA ARTS AND CULTURE, COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTO BY DYLAN BUCKEE left and right BEHIND THE SCENES OF COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTOS BY MICHAEL JALARU TORRES bottom ‘GUN-GWA GWOYELWA GULUMOERRGIN (THIS IS LARRAKIA COUNTRY)’ COLLECTION, DATLARWA DESIGNS, BY CHANTELLE AMOS AND YVONNE ODEGAARD, PHOTO BY MICHAEL JALARU TORRES
What’s one thing you’d like an artist or a designer to know about the runway show before they apply?
Country to Couture is more than just a runway, it’s a celebration of culture and an opportunity to be part of a community, and learn from and connect with other designers and artists from around Australia. While the quality of the show is changing and growing, Country to Couture is a grassroots event. It’s the foot-in-the-door opportunity to have a first runway experience whether as a designer, model, in media and marketing or with our events team.
While the quality of the show is changing and growing, Country to Couture is a grassroots event. It’s the foot in the door opportunity.
Country to Couture brings together a diverse mix of talent and experience from first-time models to models gracing magazine covers. We work to make the experience a connected and empowering one, within a culturally safe and respectful space. We want everyone involved to have a beautiful and memorable time.
What makes a designer or collaboration stand out to you?
What really stands out to me is designers staying true to their own values and creative expression. Making their way, designing their businesses and collections their way, and staying true to how they want to be positioned in this industry. There is something incredibly palpable that comes through collections solidly grounded in story and identity.
I think when it’s a true collaboration where the Indigenous designer or artist is fully involved in the entire design process and decisions, it enables an optimum two-way development opportunity. We see the richness of this kind of collaboration in the way collaborators are empowered with knowledge, connections, respect and a new understanding of best practice approaches that safeguard and honour Indigenous peoples, culture and knowledge systems, and ensure agency and ownership remain in the rightful places.
top FINALE, COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTO BY DYLAN BUCKEE left and right BEHIND THE SCENES COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTOS BY MICHAEL JALARU TORRES bottom FINALE COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTO BY DYLAN BUCKEE
What does innovation and cultural integrity in First Nations fashion mean to you?
Cultural integrity is staying true to our cultural responsibilities to our people, our Country and our knowledge systems. It’s about authenticity of cultural practice, and the appropriate use of story.
Innovation to me in the Indigenous Australian fashion context, is expanding beyond the traditional fashion industry models and paradigm. It’s our people creating businesses and participation models that serve us and our communities. It’s a very exciting level of self-determination. We’re seeing many examples of this from the regional approaches in the Kimberley with a growing amount of art centre-based fashion labels and development programs – including the regional Skutta runway hosted by Nagula Jarndu that features collections, models, artists and specialists from around the Kimberley – to, independent designers like Lillardia Briggs-Houston and Paul McCann who are carving their own very unique positionings that speak strong and loud to their values and cultural integrity.
It’s our people creating businesses and participation models that serve us and our communities. It’s a very exciting level of self-determination.
Of course, the other side of cultural integrity is the understanding and commitment by non-Indigenous people to practice engagement with Indigenous peoples that respects, honours ownership, and contributes to the safeguarding of our culture and knowledge.
Another element you are looking for is a commitment to sustainability. Why is this important to IFP and the Country to Couture show?
Sustainable practice is an integral aspect of maintaining cultural integrity. It supports us in our responsibilities to Country.
Our applications aren’t about eliminating people if they can’t demonstrate sustainable practice, it’s more about advocating, guiding and supporting designers to grow their own awareness of the issues and approaches towards sustainability. We see this as a foundational need to minimise the risk of compromising cultural integrity and responsibilities to Country.
above BEHIND THE SCENES COUNTRY TO COUTURE 2023, PHOTO BY MICHAEL JALARU TORRES
Which First Nations fashion brands are you loving at the moment?
So many – the collections from designers like NIFA fashion design winner Lillardia Briggs-Houston and IFP Pathways program participant Cassandra Pons from Lazy Girl Lingerie through to the exciting collaborations and textile designs coming from art centres like Yarrabah Arts and Culture and Bábbarra Women’s Centre. I’m completely in love with the work that Yarrenyty Arltere in Alice Springs is doing which feels like such a beautiful embodiment of playfulness and fun.
What’s been one of your favourite moments from your time with IFP so far?
The recent Country to Couture 2023 shows. We built an internal show team this year to really explore what it takes to build the kind of connected experience that we were aspiring to. We were very blessed to have Cassie Puruntatameri on board with us, along with three local Darwin mentees. With the incredible support of our entire DAAFF operational staff, it felt like a bit of a dream team this year.
Watching and feeling the connection that we nurtured and sharing the overflowing pride and achievement through laughter and tears, we knew it was something special.
We supported 22 designers and their collections to showcase on the runway. Watching and feeling the connection that we nurtured and sharing the overflowing pride and achievement through laughter and tears, we knew it was something special. My favourite moments are always witnessing the pride and empowerment of all of the First Nations mob that participate in this platform.