How Indigenous Fashion is Challenging the Fashion System

Since the 18th Century the fashion designer has been “all powerful”. They have been seen to be the sole authors of their designs and garments and have dictated what should be made and what consumers should wear. This is beginning to change particularly through First Nations fashion, in both Australia and many other First Nations cultures around the world.

The first official fashion designer was Charles Frederick Worth. He was the first to sew his label to his clothing, as such making his name known as the creator of the garments. This was a revolutionary move and the beginning of fashion designers taking over our fashion system (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2020). Designers began to dictate the trends, and the crafts people behind the garment became lesser known.

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair: From Country to Couture, image sourced from DAAF.

Collaboration has always been an important part of fashion, it is an industry that relies on many different skilled individuals including artists, textile designers, seamstresses, manufacturers, stylists, marketers, models and many other associated creatives. Each of these roles are equally important in the creation of garments and brands. Indigenous fashion is helping shine a light on the importance of all of these roles, not just the “hero designer”. Within the Indigenous fashion industry artists and textile designers have always been particularly important. It through traditional artwork, textiles, motifs and weaving that fashion communicates Indigenous culture and stories.

Traditional weaving and crafts have always been an important part of Indigenous culture and these skills are passed down through the generations. It was in the mid 20th century that modern Indigenous textiles began to emerge. Missionary nuns in Far North Australia began to allow Indigenous women to craft their own textiles. They created beautiful brightly coloured fabrics with unusual combinations of motifs and patterns. Come the 1970’s the textile revolution truly began. Remote Indigenous art centres started creating hybrid forms of painting and textiles, consequently establishing artists as a crucial part of Indigenous fashion.

Fashion today serves as a form of cultural continuity for First Nations people. It is a living culture, as such artists and creatives continue to innovate with styles and traditional motifs. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) is an event that showcases these traditions and the many different creatives involved in the creation of Indigenous fashion. The incredible colours and textures of the textiles are displayed with fresh energy and vibrancy. For communities the DAAF creates a healthy connection between modern fashion and culture.

It is incredibly exciting to see that Indigenous fashion is challenging the norms and acknowledging the full range of talented people that are that are needed to create fashion. It is wonderful to see Indigenous creatives thriving in every part of the industry. Here at Yarn every part of our team from the artists to production and marketing are essential in the creation of our beautiful designs and the sharing of our message. The Indigenous artists that we work with play a vital role in the sharing of the stories and culture through our apparel. Indigenous fashion is about framing self-determination. We hope that the entire industry can continue to move forward with this kind of mentality. It is not just about the individual designer, creating fashion requires collaboration and community.