Words by Nina Fitzgerald and Ellie Meyer

Image: Ngali’s Merendari Silk Dress. Photo courtesy of Denni Francisco.

NIFA | Fashion Design Award

We now come to the last blog in our series leading up to the inaugural NIFAs, delving into each of the six award categories, and introducing you to some of the amazingly talented nominees. The Fashion Design Award, recognises commercial fashion labels with a minimum of two collections of original design of clothing, jewellery or accessories.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been designing fashion long before it was ‘fashionable’. From clan designs, ancestral stories and ceremonial body design, fashion has been a part of life for millenia. Today Australia’s First Nations designers approach fashion design in a very unique manner, often drawing on these ancient connections to community, land and cultural heritage to enrich their creative vision. 

Telling stories is a way of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and fashion is a medium which connects to all people. Fashion design is an opportunity to share stories through an engaging and ever contemporary medium with a broad audience.

This year’s panel of judges will be considering each nominee based on; design quality and originality, styling, cultural advancement and expression, product quality, commercial capability, environmental and social contribution, branding and marketing.

“Fashion has always been a means of storytellingto design a garment is to create a narrative. I look forward to learning more about the wonderful stories each designer has woven throughout their collection and am honoured to help shine a light on the incredible talent of Australia’s First Nations artists. As a judge, I’ll be looking for innovation in design and how each collection celebrates community and art.”

Maria Rinaldi-Cant
Head Of Design – Womenswear, Women’s Accessories, Childrenswear at  Country Road

NIFA 2020 Judge 


This category is presented by Country Road with the prize including industry mentorship and business support with the large fashion retailer, travel within Australia to workshops and mentor sessions and a one year membership to the Australian Fashion Council.


Fashion Design Award Nominees


Liandra Gaykamangu for Liandra Swim

Liandra Swim uses original designs to showcase, celebrate and highlight the versatility and resilience of Indigenous Australia. Prints are created digitally by Liandra herself, and all pieces are made of a high quality lycra called Repreve, derived from regenerated plastics. 

Each collection’s pieces are named after diverse and inspirational Indigenous women, with a goal to positively share the narrative of ground-breaking female-led achievements through a grassroots movement. 

The SS19/20 collection, ‘The 241: The Contrast’, features a reversible range, allowing the wearer greater control. The blue Gapu Waves print highlights the resilience of Indigenous culture, after the immense changes that arrived through colonisation. The reverse black and white Sun Dance print is an ode to the sun, a giver of life.

Julie Shaw for MAARA Collective

Yuwaalaraay designer Julie Shaw of MAARA Collective collaborates with Indigenous artists and creatives, drawing inspiration from culture and country to create a contemporary fashion and lifestyle brand with a luxe aesthetic. The name ‘MAARA Collective’ acknowledges and honours the ‘many hands’ involved in the creative process (the word ‘maara’ refers to ‘hands’ in the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language groups).

Designs are elegant and ethereal with cultural inspiration interwoven throughout the collections. Showcasing prints that tell stories of Country, elements of traditional hand weaving techniques and colour palettes that evoke the unique Australian landscape, MAARA Collective captures the true essence of Australia. 

Social impact is a key pillar of the business, with a ‘Giving Back’ program contributing to social initiatives focused on supporting Indigenous causes. The designer looks to develop sustainable ways of working, from considered fabric selection to producing locally wherever possible, and ensuring that Indigenous involvement is inherent throughout all aspects of the brand.

Denni Francisco for Ngali

Ngali successfully blends quality garments in modern silhouettes, layered with evocative Indigenous art and photography, inspiring conversation around culture, identity and place. With a powerful narrative, the unique range of silk printed dresses and scarves are timeless pieces that invite the wearer to support Indigenous talent through fashion.

Founder and designer Denni Francisco has an impressive industry history,  with an inclusive vision of cultural advancement and social change through fashion. The label is working with the fashion community to build new pathways and holds a scalable business model with potential to help indigenous brothers and sisters.

Cheryl Creed for Murrii Quu Couture

As an Aboriginal woman, designer Cheryl Creed looks beyond the aesthetics of fashion, “I have a responsibility towards the wellbeing of my country”. With an awareness of the impact of fast fashion, Cheryl creates unique & exclusive gowns from discarded garments and materials. 

Describing her work as creatively passionate and dramatic, she draws inspiration for Murrii Quu Couture from the golden age of Hollywood. The designer is self taught, beginning her career with after her sister’s suggestion to take part in a  local modelling call out inspired her to purchase a sewing machine and overlocker.



This year’s winner will be announced during the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (aka NIFA), and broadcast LIVE through the NITV social channels on 5 August! 

To stay updated, be sure to follow @indigenousfashionprojects on Instagram and sign up to the DAAFF newsletter. 


Image Credits

  • Blog Banner | Ngali’s Merendari Silk Dress. Photo courtesy of Denni Francisco
  • Murrii Quu Couture at Global Indigenous Runway VAMFF 2020. Model Genevieve Derschow. Photo credit @lucasdawsonphotography @cocktailrev.
  • Liandra Gaykamangu, Liandra Swim, the Barbie-Lee design, Model Leia Holloway. Photo by Kat Parker for AFC Curated
  • Julie Shaw, Maara Collective Resort Collection. Photo by Cybele Malinowski.