Australia’s Lack of Indigenous Model Representation

In 1993, Elaine George became the first Indigenous model to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. It was an incredibly important moment in Australia’s history and was hoped to be the start of more diversity within the modelling industry. The image was celebrated and sales of Vogue rose that month, however another Indigenous model didn’t appear on a Vogue cover until 2010. The Australian fashion industry has been frequently attacked for its lack of cultural diversity and representation of Indigenous models. It is clear that major change within the industry is still needed.

Yarn Model Nina Korbe

“In terms of representation and inclusivity, I think Australia still has a really long way to go, because while we are forward-thinking in some ways, I think we lack in other areas, which is a shame” Samantha Harris

A small handful of Indigenous models have made a name for themselves. The best known is Samantha Harris. Harris started modelling very young, at age 13 she entered the Girlfriend Covergirl Model Search competition and became one of the national finalists . Soon after she received a contract with Chic Model Management. She’s gone on to make a huge impact within the Industry becoming the second Indigenous woman to appear on the cover of Vogue and most recently she appeared on a Marie Claire cover alongside Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell. The cover read “The Time is Now, after more than 100 years Indigenous people still aren’t recognised in our constitution. Here, Australia’s biggest names unite for a better future”. This cover image showcases these three powerful women taking a stand and reinforcing an important message that a First Nations treaty needs to be obtained immediately. This shows what a positive impact Indigenous people can have when on the national stage and why representation is so important.

It is because of this lack of representation Indigenous modelling agencies have begun to emerge with the mission of creating career pathways for First Nations people within the fashion industry. Jira Models is at the forefront of this movement right now. They are a modelling agency based in Melbourne headed up by Perina Drummond. They celebrate all aspects of Indigenous culture including aspects which may be misunderstood by mainstream modelling agencies. For example “having male backstage staff is a problem. The men’s business, women's business thing is still quite a big part of our culture” says Drummond. In 10 years Jira Models hopes that there will no longer be a need for the agency, that other modelling agencies and the Australian fashion industry will become more diverse and inclusive of Indigenous models.

These Indigenous agencies are also working hard at creating change through challenging the stereotypes of what ‘authentic’ Indigenous models should look like. Model and actor Kira-Lea Dargin has had first hand experience with this kind of discrimination. She comes from a mixed-race background with both Aboriginal and Russian heritage. Some casting agents have rejected her because of her Indigenous heritage and others have said that she doesn’t look ‘Aboriginal’ enough. It is so important that the Australian industry leaves these archaic ideas behind, understanding that one's culture and heritage is never based purely on physical appearance. As said by Michelle Lovegrove “Being Aboriginal is based on family, heritage, cultural connection and recognition by community”.

So what changes are needed in the Industry? The key change that is needed is blurring the boundaries between castings and ‘Indigenous castings’. As said by Nathan Mcguir a Noongar man and model with Vivian Models, “....our presence is necessary in the Australian market. I feel we are moving towards that space because we can do the job and just happen to be Indigenous.” It is so important that all agencies and brands recognise that Indigenous models are an essential part of the Australian industry. Here at Yarn we are dedicated to supporting Indigenous models and change within the modelling industry. We hope that Australia can continue to diversify and Indigenous models can gain more representation as an integral part of Australian fashion.