SYDNEY — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island creatives were celebrated at the third edition of the National Indigenous Fashion Awards, which were announced in Darwin, Northern Territory, on Wednesday.
Held at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair — Australia’s largest First Nations visual art event, which features work from more than 75 Indigenous art centers — the awards recognize and showcase excellence in the categories of fashion and textile design, business, traditional adornment , wearable art and community collaboration.
Denni Francisco, a Melbourne-based Wiradjuri woman, received the Fashion Designer Award for the second year in a row, earning her 12-month consecutive business mentorships with Australian retail chain Country Road.
The Business Achievement award went to Laura Thompson, Gunditjmara co-founder of Melbourne-based Clothing the Gaps, an Aboriginal social enterprise and certified B Corp specializing in streetwear emblazoned with activist 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 life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Esther Yarllarlla, a Kunibidji artist working 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-made “bush rope”, while the Collaboration Award Community artist Linda Puna from the Mimili Maku Arts collective located in the APY Lands (Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, a local government area for Aboriginal people) and Melbourne-based vegan brand Unreal Fur went to Yankunytjatjara for their collaborative collection of jackets and coats with the work of Puna.
The Textile Design Award went to Gunggandji and Kuku Yalanji master weaver Philomena Yeatman for her “Yulu Dreaming” linen print that features images of stingrays and was incorporated into a pair of pants and top made by seamstresses at 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 fifteen to six months to produce, Yeatman has created some mini basket earrings to go with the look.
Narrandera, New South Wales textile artist and designer Lillardia Briggs-Houston, a woman from Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gangulu, won the Wearable Art Award, for her hand-painted merino wool knit jumpsuit that is embellished with rushes. two-meter river dresses that are hand-sewn into the neckline, a hand-painted and dyed skirt with a matching printed head veil.
The jury was made up of Yatu Widders-Hunt, a Dunghutti and Anaiwan woman who is director of the Sydney-based indigenous communication agency Cox Inall Ridgeway; Perina Drummond, creative director and chief stylist at NIFA, a woman from Meriam Mer who is also the founder of Australia’s first indigenous modeling agency, Jira Models; Australian Fashion Council Head of Marketing and Communications Prue-Ellen Thomas and Country Road Womenswear Design Manager Jacklyn Rivera.
”[NIFA] really illuminated the diversity of practices that exist in the First Nations fashion community and people working in remote areas,” said Widders-Hunt. “It celebrates things that I think are really important to the industry, like collaborations, wearable art, respectful storytelling, sustainability. It’s not just about the craft.”