Australia’s First Exhibition of Contemporary Indigenous Fashion Design

“Australian fashion is taking notice of the country’s oldest design traditions - and we’re only scratching the surface” - Grace Lillian Lee, 2020.

The fashion industry is obsessed with both heritage and novelty; so it only makes sense that the industry should embrace Indigenous Australia’s culture, which is one of the oldest and most overlooked fashion traditions in history.

Despite the toll Covid-19 has taken on the creative industries, the Bendigo Regional Gallery held a first-of-its-kind exhibition (31 October, 2020 to 17 January 2021) showcasing textiles and garments from contemporary First Nations fashion designers and artists, nation-wide. ‘Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion’ features collections by Indigenous artists and designers such as Lyn-Al Young, Babbarra Women’s Centre, Hopevale Arts and Cultural Centre, AARL Fashion, Grace Lillian-Lee, Lisa Waup x Verner, and many more (Bendigo Regional Gallery, 2020). Curator and Kaantju woman, Shonae Hobson (2020), explains that the word Piinpi is: 

“...a Kuuku Ya’u word from my great grandmother’s language, and it’s a word that we [Kanichi Thampanyu people] use on the East Coast of Cape York Peninsula to describe seasonal changes across the landscape.” 

For many of the designers and artists in this exhibition, knowledge of the land and seasons is depicted in their garments, textile prints and woven materials as it is culturally significant. Piinpi is intended to take the audiences on a thematic journey across Country; across four Kuuku Ya’u seasons: Kayaman (season of fire and smoke); Ngurkitha (season of rain); Pinga (season of flowers), and finally, Piicha Piicha (season of cool winds) (Bendigo Regional Gallery, 2020).

Melbourne-based fashion designer Lyn-Al Young’s installation at (Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara woman) Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion. Courtesy of Bendigo Regional Gallery, 2020. 

In a discussion with The Guardian Australia (2020), Grace Lillian Lee, Indigenous designer, artist and curator, comments about this exhibition:

“...the fact that this is the first one of its kind is a really special moment for people to take notice, not just in Australia, but globally.” 

Shonae Hobson (2020) describes the exhibition as being “a shared vision for storytelling, continuation of cultural practices and optimism for the future.” This can be seen within the exhibition space where Indigenous craftswomen have created:

 “...technically complex and sophisticated wearable art pieces that draw on their ancestral knowledge of traditional weaving techniques, and also combine that with contemporary fashion design ideas.” -Shonae Hobson, 2020.

Moreover, MAARA Collective’s works demonstrate the importance of sharing culture and passing down knowledge when it comes to Indigenous fashion. Creative Director Julie Shaw embraces a collaborative approach to designing her luxury resortwear; hence the term ‘MAARA’ literally referring to ‘hands’ (in the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language groups). Thus, each garment, accessory or textile that is featured in the exhibition is representative of much more than just materialistic items; they are contemporary pieces infused with tradition, community and an avant-garde flair (The Guardian, 2020).

MARRA Collective’s wide-brim woven hat with raw edges made in collaboration with the Bula’bulaa Art Centre. The hat was made using the leaves of the screw palm (Pandanis spiralis) which have been dried in the sun, soaked and boiled with bulb, root and bark dyes collected from bushland in Ramingining in north-east Arnhem Land. Courtesy of Bendigo Regional Gallery, 2020.  

This spectacular exhibition also opened at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on the 20 February 2021, and it will run until 8 August 2021 (NMA, 2021). Read more about the exhibition here

Join First Nations curator Shonae Hobson on a virtual tour of the ‘Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion’ exhibition. 


At Yarn, we embrace both heritage and novelty of Australia’s most ancient fashion traditions. We have a wide range of accessories and garments that reflect the sharing of stories and culture through contemporary Indigenous design. Yarn is always looking for more ways to share the achievements of First Nations peoples.