2 September 2022

Indigenous fashion display aims to encourage local creativity

| Claire Fenwicke
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Kristie Peters

2021 ACT NAIDOC Artist of the Year Kristie Peters designed the supporting artwork for the NIFA installation at Canberra Centre. Photo: Supplied, Ben Calvert Photography.

A collection of award-winning First Nations-designed garments have landed in Canberra, with the aim to inspire local Indigenous talent to follow their fashion dreams.

Work from five of the six winning designers from the 2022 National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA) could be found at the Canberra Centre alongside a display created by 2021 ACT NAIDOC Artist of the Year Kristie Peters.

A Wiradjuri artist who has lived in the Canberra region for half of her life, Kristie hoped the display would result in the first Canberra entry for the awards.

“Fashion and textiles help keep culture strong, they hold so much meaning,” she said.

“For me, they’re so important for keeping our stories alive, they help you create change and advocate for our ancestors.”

NIFA was first launched in 2020 as part of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s Indigenous Fashion Projects to celebrate the innovation, diversity and ethical practices of Australia’s First Nations people in fashion and textiles, while also helping to build the sector.

The award ceremony provided a unique chance for both the Australian and international fashion community to connect with Indigenous culture, with categories covering traditional adornment, textile design, fashion design, wearable art, community collaboration and business achievement.

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Wiradjuri woman Denni Francisco won NIFA’s Fashion Designer Award, which will see her brand Ngali benefit from a 12-month business mentorship with Country Road.

She felt fashion provided access to culture, both for Indigenous people to express their heritage and for non-Indigenous people to engage with it.

“[Fashion] is an entry point to learn more about our culture,” Denni said.

“It helps take our artworks … and let’s them walk around on streets anywhere in the world.

Winner of the Business Achievement Award was Laura Thompson with her three-year-old brand, Clothing the Gaps, which was behind the successful Free the Flag campaign and the ‘Shades of Deadly’ campaign which promoted diversity and inclusion of skin tones.

She also encouraged everyone to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion, as it represented a chance for connection.

“I often get asked if non-Indigenous people can wear my clothing, because they don’t want to be culturally insensitive,” Laura said.

“Be comfortable and know the story of what you’re wearing, wear it with confidence and trust that when I see you wearing it, I feel safe and supported in that space.”

The Canberra Centre sponsored the Community Collaboration Award for NIFA, which celebrated effective and productive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the textile and fashion industry.

It was awarded to Linda Puna from Mimili Maku-Arts through her collaboration with Unreal Fur, which created a collection of outerwear pieces featuring Linda’s artwork, including a puffer coat and reversible faux-fur jacket.

Her pieces could also be found for sale at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Canberra Centre manager Gary Stewart said he hoped that by sponsoring the award and displaying the winning pieces there would be local representation at NIFA in 2023.

“Unfortunately Canberra hasn’t had any representation in the awards since its establishment, so we hope this display will inspire local Indigenous talent to be involved going forward,” he said.

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Kristie encouraged any local Indigenous designers to reach out to people in the fashion industry to receive guidance on how they could get their foot in the door.

“Believe in yourself and believe in your dreams,” she said.

“Surround yourself with positive people, each one I met gave me more to learn and gave me the confidence to further my business.

“Now I’m finally creating my dreams into reality and this will hopefully inspire other people to live their dreams as well.”

The NIFA 2022 display can be found on the first floor of the Canberra Centre opposite Zara and will be on show until 12 September.

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