SYDNEY— Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers were celebrated at the third annual National Indigenous Fashion Awards, which were announced on Wednesday in Darwin, Northern Territory.
Held at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – Australia’s largest First Nations visual arts event, featuring work from over 75 Aboriginal art centers – the awards recognize and showcase excellence in the categories fashion and textile design, business, traditional adornment, wearable art and community collaboration.
Melbourne-based Wiradjuri woman Denni Francisco has won the fashion designer award for the second year in a row, winning her back-to-back 12-month business mentorships with Australian retail chain Country Road.
The Business Achievement Award was presented to Laura Thompson, co-founder of Melbourne-based Gunditjmara, Clothing the Gaps, a B Corp certified Aboriginal social enterprise specializing in streetwear featuring campaigning slogans such as “Aboriginal Land – Tread Lightly” and ” Always Was, Always Will Be”, a key slogan of the Australian indigenous land rights movement. The brand name is a play on Closing the Gap, an Australian Federal Government health initiative to help close the gap life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Esther Yarllarlla, a Kunibidji artist who works with the Bábbara Women’s Center in Maningrida, Northern Territory, won the traditional adornment award for her women’s mókko, a traditional skirt made of hand-knotted “bush rope”, while the community collaboration award went to Yankunytjatjara. artist Linda Puna of the Mimili Maku Arts collective located on APY land (Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara land, a local government area for Aboriginal people) and Melbourne-based vegan brand Unreal Fur, for their collection of down jackets and coats featuring the work of Puna.
The textile design award went to Philomena Yeatman, master weaver of Gunggandji and Kuku Yalanji, for her linen print “Yulu Dreaming” which features images of stingrays and was incorporated into pants and top made by seamstresses from the Yarrabah Arts & Cultural Precinct in Far North Queensland, where Yeatman is based. Best known for her baskets and placemats, which are woven from pandanus leaves and can take anywhere from a fortnight to six months to produce, Yeatman has created mini basket earrings to go with the look.
Narrandera, textile artist and designer based in New South Wales, Lillardia Briggs-Houston, a Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gangulu woman, won the Wearable Art Award, for her hand-painted merino wool knit bodysuit, adorned with two meter river reeds which are hand sewn to the neckline, a hand painted and dyed skirt with a matching printed head veil.
The judging panel was made up of Yatu Widders-Hunt, a Dunghutti and Anaiwan woman who is director of the Sydney-based specialist indigenous communications agency Cox Inall Ridgeway; NIFA’s creative director and chief stylist, Perina Drummond, a wife of Meriam Mer who is also the founder of Australia’s first indigenous modeling agency, Jira Models; Australian Fashion Council Marketing and Communications Manager Prue-Ellen Thomas and Country Road Womenswear Design Manager Jacklyn Rivera.
”[NIFA] really brought to light the diversity of practices that exist within the First Nations fashion community and people working in remote areas,” Widders-Hunt said. “It celebrates things that I think are really important to the industry, like collaborations, wearable art, respectful storytelling, sustainability. It’s not just about craftsmanship.