Image | Shaneiva wears Gumnut Gown by Paul McCann, winner of the 2021 Cultural Adornment & Wearable Art NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards photoshoot with marie claire Australia, 2021, photo by Tristan Stefan Edouard.

Celebrating innovation, diversity and success.

Australian First Nations fashion is fast proving itself a global player. This thriving new industry is strutting its stuff in collections, runways, exhibitions and wardrobes across the world, quite literally making its mark on our global cultural fabric.

Launched in 2020, the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA), provides a vibrant and exciting recognition platform to celebrate the innovation, diversity and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and fashion designers. Importantly, it also contributes to the capacity building of the burgeoning sector.

Words by | Camilla Wagstaff

Yatu Widders Hunt, Founder of Australian Indigenous Fashion and a member of the Dunghutti and Anaiwan peoples of the Northern Tablelands of NSW, helped to judge the 2021 NIFA. 

“It was an absolute privilege to be a NIFA judge,” she says. “The awards definitely elevate and celebrate the role of First Nations fashion, which I think is critical. They play a role in showcasing the diversity of Indigenous Fashion and highlight the work of communities, artists, social enterprises and a whole range of key players, in addition to designers.”

Yatu was inspired by the collaborative NIFA judging process.

“It was a really diverse panel of judges and just hearing everyone’s perspective and talking about technical design, cultural representation, sustainability and a whole range of other issues was really inspiring.”

In 2020, iconic Aussie label Country Road partnered with DAAFF to help support its pathways for emerging First Nations talent. It is now the sponsor of the NIFA Fashion Design Award, with the category winner going on to undertake a 12-month mentorship with Country Road. 

“Events like NIFA are becoming mainstays on the Australian fashion calendar and provide incredible opportunities to celebrate First Nations talent and share important stories,” says Fabia Pryor, Country Road’s Brand Community and Impact Manager. “Our teams and community are so engaged in this partnership. They are looking to learn and are proud to be part of it.”

Image | Denni Francisco of Ngali, winner of the 2021 Fashion Design NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards, 2021, photo by Dylan Buckee.

Marrithiyel designer Paul McCann took out the NIFA 2021 Cultural Adornment Award for his outstanding contribution to the industry to date. 

“It was such an honour and a great acknowledgement of my fashion textile art practice,” says Paul. “Especially with the talent I am up against!”

Paul also notes that the NIFA goes a long way to help the wider art and fashion worlds take note of emerging talent, “and the new ways we are expressing our stories. When we win such awards, it really helps us to continue making beautiful things.”

Since the win, Paul has created a six-piece collection for the First Nations Fashion + Design: Walking In Two Worlds show at Brisbane Festival. He designed an additional two gowns for the Melbourne Fashion Week capsules presented around the city and participated in the inaugural Victorian Gay Pride Centre exhibition. Paul is currently working towards 2022 Afterpay Australian Fashion Week.

Image | Shaneiva wears Gumnut Gown by Paul McCann, winner of the 2021 Cultural Adornment & Wearable Art NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards photoshoot with marie claire Australia, 2021, photo by Tristan Stefan Edouard.

Image | courtesy of Paul McCann

Gunggandji Yarrabah creative Simone Arnol won the 2021 NIFA for Environmental and Social Contribution, alongside sustainable art pioneers Pormpuraaw Art & Cultural Centre, with Mylene Holroyd.

Simone believes that platforms like NIFA, that highlight sustainable and ethical practices, have a crucial role to play in the Indigenous Fashion Industry. They help to keep Cultural Protocols and respect for cultural knowledge in check. 

“The fashion industry comes with a lot of exposure and followers, and it is vital that we do not stray from Cultural Protocols,” says Simone. “I believe NIFA is across this, and I’m proud of the programs they provide and deliver.”

Since winning the 2021 award, Simone has presented two fashion collections as part of the CIAF Fashion Performance Of Spirit and Story: Sacred Sites and Places of Significance. She also has a photography exhibition at Jan Manton Gallery in Brisbane slated for February 2022. 

Image | Shaneiva and Kiesha wear pieces from Mylene Holroyd from Pormpuraaw Art & Culture and Simone Arnol, Winners of the 2021 Environmental and Social Contribution NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards photoshoot with marie claire Australia, 2021, photo by Tristan Stefan Edouard.

Image | Mylene Holroyd, Simone Arnol and Christine Holroyd, Pormpuraaw Art and Cultural Centre, 2020, photo courtesy of Simone Arnol

With plans for NIFA 2022 underway, and nominations opening in the new year, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s (DAAFF) Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP) is thrilled to continue its capacity-building and support of an industry with such great economic – but more importantly cultural – potential. 

As Yatu Widders Hunt concludes: “It’s really important to me that people appreciate that First Nations fashion in anchored in so much more than the aesthetic. It carries so much power, history and story. It’s so important to be seen and heard as an industry, and the NIFA is a great platform for that.”

Image | 1) Bima Wear, winners of the 2021 Special Recognition NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards, 2021, photo by Dylan Buckee.

2) Anindilyakwa Arts, winners of the 2021 Community Collaboration NIFA, National Indigenous Fashion Awards, 2021, photo by Dylan Buckee.  

The NIFA will be back in 2022!

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter here for updates as event details are announced and nominations open in the New Year! 

In the mean time, if you’d like to watch or rewatch the NIFA 2021 – head to NITV SBS OnDemand via the link below.