First Nations Fashion + Design: ‘Walking In Two Worlds’

Shining a light on the incredible Indigenous fashion and design talent we have in our country, First Nations Fashion + Design (FNFD) is a new not-for-profit industry body supporting and encouraging the growth of First Nations Peoples within the industry.

“It is the aim of FNFD to support self-determination and provide opportunities and educational pathways into the Australian fashion Industry,” FNFD founder, and proud descendant of the Miriam Mer people of the Eastern Islands of the Torres Straits, Grace Lillian Lee says. “Indigenous fashion is the future of Australian fashion.”

Launching earlier this year, the body will create strong foundations, through connections, opportunities and educational pathways, to ensure the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture through fashion. Following a 10 day, on-country mentoring program, FNFD will host its premiere event this Saturday 12 December, which we are super proud to support as a media partner. Walking In Two Worlds is set to showcase the development of five collections over the past two years and will be performed at Bulmba-ja Arts Centre but live-streamed on Facebook for those of us not in Cairns!

Indigenous fashion is the future of Australian fashion.

Here we catch up with the five talented designers (Emily Doonah, Nickeema Williams, Elverina Johnson, Lynelle Flinders and Waringarri Art Centre) to find out more about the inspiration behind their respective collections.

Emily Doolah

My inspiration comes from my Torres Strait Islander culture and 1920s fashion: the 1920s liberated women’s fashion and hairstyles with the striking Art Deco designs; the boyish look; and the adoption of male clothing which changed women’s fashion to a more modern style.

The fusion of culture, nature, and 1920s style has strongly influenced my works, bringing past elements to create a collection for the present that conveys the modern look of 2020 to inform future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers and stylists.

Nickeema Williams

This year has been crazy: 50% traumatising and 50% transformative. My collection was made throughout all the madness. From the global pandemic to Black Lives Matter, it stirred up so much dust. So many different things floating through the air, evoking and resurfacing important discussions. But it also amplified all the things that aren’t working. I’m based in the bush in Central Queensland, mainly in the Aboriginal Community of Woorabinda where I work. So this collection is sort of a reflection of this year and being a woman of colour.

It’s a reflection of strength, resilience and survival. I collaborated with my brother Keemon Williams for a few looks. My brother had moved up from Brisbane as he just finished uni at QUT when COVID hit. So he has been adapting to living and making art away from the city.  The pieces are influenced by snake scales: the process of creation and shedding skin. Due to isolation and lack of access to materials the collection is all hand painted and raw.

Elverina Johnson 

I am a Gunggandji woman from Yarrabah Aboriginal Community which is 60 kilometres south-east of Cairns. Yarrabah is nicely situated between the rainforest and the ocean. I am of the Gunggandji nation of Yarrabah and we are Rainforest and Saltwater People.

These facts have already set the foundation for inspiration throughout my creative processes. The ocean, the rainforest, the beach, the landscape and the cultural activities that encompass what being part of this land (Jabu) and sea (Birriny) means. There is no shortage of inspiration here in Yarrabah on Gunggandji Country. My Elders are alway sharing their stories with me about their childhood and cultural practices. Their food, fishing, hunting and gathering practices go far beyond what we see and hear about in these current times.

My art, which comes in various mediums, depicts my surroundings, my culture and my learnings from my older family members and my Gungganji Elders. I paint, sing, write, speak and practice what I have learned from those who have the right to teach me.

Lynelle Flinders

I get a lot of my inspiration for my designs from the flora and fauna of North Queensland: the colour palette of the reef and rainforest is second to none. Stories from my father’s Country Hope Vale also get entwined with each design in an abstract way. I find it just works.

Waringarri Art Centre

Gathering the gifts of nature and learning cultural practices inspires the beautiful designs of Waringarri Textiles and the Yirrb collection. The Waringarri Textiles Project, which began in 2016, engages young women in cultural practice to share knowledge, learn new skills and to develop their potential. Supported by senior artists and Elders as mentors, this project supports young women with cultural traditions such as bush food knowledge and collection which inspires their beautiful textile designs. These unique and beautiful creations directly support the wellbeing and economic livelihood of younger artists. 

Focused on producing beautiful, hand-printed textiles, artists have now begun developing designs for fashion garments and accessories. Initially supported by a creative development workshop with Grace Lillian Lee and mentored by leading senior artist Peggy Griffiths, the Yirrb collection was born to provide artists with opportunities in the fashion industry. While still in its early stages, artists would like to see their textile designs and garments being worn by women everywhere.

Walking In Two Worlds will take place this Saturday 12 December and will be live-streamed on the NITV Facebook page. Follow the link here to find out more.