Clearing the Path

The Indigenous Fashion Projects x David Jones Pathways Program pairs First Nations designers with seasoned industry mentors, supporting the development of thriving Indigenous-owned fashion labels. 

Words by Camilla Wagstaff

Following the successes of its annual Country to Couture fashion event, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) has launched a growing number of dedicated First Nations textile and fashion initiatives under the Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP) banner.

These initiatives are the next step to overcoming the challenges of entering and thriving in a complex mainstream fashion industry.

As Denni Francisco, Wradjuri woman and founder of fashion label Ngali points out, “one of the main challenges is to commercialise the exciting creativity that exists within our communities. It is exciting to see our creativity shown on the runway, but where to from there?”

Ngali designer Denni Francisco, backstage ahead of the Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Brook Mitchell, Getty Images.

Ngali, Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Stefan Gosatti, Getty Images.

 “Our role at IFP is to support that development,” says IFP Manager Dave Giles-Kaye. “Part of that is helping to break down the knowledge barriers and connect people into the industry network … but it’s also about introducing the public to the incredible diversity of Indigenous fashion.”

Dave notes that ultimately, we as a wider community need to connect to First Nations fashion “as pupils”, listening to and learning from our oldest living cultures.

“We see ourselves as a capacity-building, support organisation, serving the people who are doing the work every day.”

In collaboration with iconic Aussie department store David Jones, the Pathways Program is a shining example of IFP’s capacity-building MO. The Pathways Program is a fashion label development program that pairs emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers with those from some of Australia’s most established fashion brands. 

Through a series of workshops and ongoing mentorship, the Pathways Program is a two-way opportunity for industry experts to both share their knowledge and nurture the growth of Indigenous businesses and learn from Indigenous designers guided by more than 60,000 years of heritage. The fashionable fruits of this 12-month labour are launched at David Jones by way of an exclusive Capsule Collection. 

First Nations Designer Capsule Collection in-store at David Jones Pacific Fair, IFP Pathways Program x David Jones, 2021, photos courtesy of David Jones and Maara Collective Instagram.

“The Pathways Program initiative is part of David Jones’ ongoing commitment to supporting diverse design perspectives and working towards a future Australian fashion industry that is more inclusive and representative of Indigenous design and culture,” says David Jones General Manager of Womenswear, Footwear and Accessories, Bridget Veals. 

“Our Pathways Program, in partnership with DAAFF, is in its infancy and we have already seen the designers featured at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week and now stocked at David Jones in only 12-months! [This is] a true testament to the dedication and passion of the designers and success of the program.”

The 2020/2021 Pathways Program saw Wonnarua woman Amanda Healy of Kirrikin mentored by Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest of Aje.

“I absolutely loved working with my mentors,” says Amanda. “They were amazing, [IFP Manager] Dave’s support was brilliant, he is such a sweetie with incredible depth of knowledge of the industry. The work and support provided by DJ’s was remarkable, that they would offer up their time and expertise is something else, it will push our whole sector onto the next level.”

“Working with Amanda Healy of Kirrikin has been an exciting and profound experience that we’re looking forward to continuing with,” concurs Edwina. “Amanda is unique as a designer as she empowers and platforms other Indigenous artists in her community by giving them the extraordinary opportunity for their prints to feature in her collections.”

Adrian adds that Aje is “excited to continue to work with the Pathways Program by nurturing mentees in a longer-term capacity. We’ve enjoyed working with Amanda and have learnt from her, as she’s learnt from us.”

Kirrikin designer Amanda Healy, backstage ahead of the Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Brook Mitchell, Getty Images.

Samantha Harris wears Kirrikin, Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Stefan Gosatti, Getty Images.

Julie Shaw of fashion label Maara Collective mentored by Charlotte Hicks of Esse Studios and Kit Willow of KitX.

Shaw describes Pathways as “yet another excellent program of learnings and mentorship from within the Australian fashion industry. Through this incredible opportunity with David Jones, I am so pleased to be able to bring our Resort 2022 collection to audiences in a physical store environment.”

Designer Julie Shaw of MAARA Collective followed by Natalie Cunningham of Native Swimwear with models on the runway, Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Jack Steel

Indii Swimwear designer Nancy Pattison, backstage ahead of the Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Brook Mitchell, Getty Images.

Indii Swimwear designer Nancy Pattison, Indigenous Fashion Projects show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, Photo by Stefan Gosatti, Getty Images.

Nancy Pattison of Indii Swimwear was mentored by Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning of P.E Nation.

“I’ve really been enjoying the mentorship and collection project,” says Nancy. “It’s been such an eye-opening experience and I have valued every moment. IFP and David Jones also put together an amazing event to showcase all our designs. I really enjoyed the runway show, the whole event was a dream!”

Julie, Nancy and Amanda, alongside Liandra Gaykamangu of Liandra Swim (mentored by Bianca Spender), Natalie Cunningham of Native Swimwear (mentored by Becky Cooper and Bridget Yorston of Bec + Bridge), and Denni Francisco of Ngali (mentored by Mary Lou Ryan and Deborah Sams of Bassike) make up the six participants of the 2021 Pathways Program.

It’s a group of incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are breaking new ground, pushing the boundaries of cultural and creative expression, and cementing themselves in the mainstream fashion industry. 

As Nancy Pattison concludes: “What I’ve enjoyed the most is physically meeting with the other designers. I am so inspired by each and every one of them.” 

Amanda Healy agrees: “For me the most important was the connection that we all as designers had – this group of amazing Aboriginal women who all worked so well together, and each with their own interesting and inspiring stories, I loved that.” 

IFP Pathways Program Designers outside the David Jones Sydney window display during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, 2021, Photo by Terence Ow, courtesy of David Jones

Thanks for reading.

You can support the Pathways Program and more by joining the Indigenous Fashion Projects family:

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