Indigenous Fashion Projects, in collaboration with IP Australia and Arts Law, is addressing an important gap in the burgeoning Indigenous fashion and textile industry.

Words by Camilla Wagstaff

Indigenous fashion and textiles is rocketing off as an industry. But with this well-deserved recognition comes a host of potential issues. 
How can we make sure everyone in the industry can work from a place of capacity and confidence? How can we bolster professional and economic opportunities for First Nations fashion artists and designers? How can we ensure our First Nations communities and cultures stay safe?
The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s (DAAFF) Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP), in collaboration with IP Australia and Arts Law, is looking to provide the answers. Introducing the Best Practice initiative.

“Best Practice is about making sure everyone has all the tools and information necessary to interact in the fashion world in a way that fully benefits themselves and their community,” says Sarah Paton, Project Officer at IP Australia. Sarah is a Wiradjuri woman who has been seconded to DAAF for the duration of the project.

“The recent emergence of Indigenous fashion shows that there is a real need for more information out there for Indigenous businesses,” says Sarah.

“This project aims to assist by providing that information so that Indigenous artists and designers – and those who want to work with them – can feel inspired [and] confident that they can navigate the journey.”

Image above: Anindilyakwa Arts x Anna Reynolds collection, Backstage at Country to Couture, 2021, photo by James Giles.

Banner image: Photo by Timothy Hillier, Country to Couture Melbourne, 2021.

Image: Anindilyakwa Arts x Anna Reynolds collection, Backstage at Country to Couture, 2021, photo by James Giles.

Image: Tiwi Designs with Ossom, backstage at Country to Couture, 2021, photo by James Giles.

Sarah says the Best Practice initiative came to light when DAAFF and IFP recognised a gap in the industry. These organisations bring together their unique positions as trusted entities with ties to many community groups, to develop a suite of reliable resources. “By making it easier for Indigenous artists to understand the fashion world and how it works, we are helping upskill the community and create culturally sound economic opportunities,” says Sarah.
IFP’s Best Practice Project Manager Belinda Cook notes that the Indigenous fashion and textiles industry is critical to the growth of the wider Australian fashion sector. “As industry leaders in the Indigenous fashion sector have repeatedly said; Indigenous fashion is not a fad or a trend,” she says.

“It needs to be honoured with the utmost respect, privileging Indigenous artists and designers’ innovation and culturally rich ways of knowing and practicing.” 

Sarah notes that it’s vital that the wider fashion industry supports Indigenous artists and designers on their journeys. “There are cultural considerations that the fashion world hasn’t always acknowledged,” she says. “By focussing on Best Practice, we can create some guidelines to help the fashion world respectfully grow and evolve in a culturally appropriate direction, where Indigenous art is properly valued and appreciated.” Belinda makes clear that the Best Practice initiative will also help assign appropriate value and payment to First Nations art and design.
“Best Practice is critical to ensure there is not a repeat of the misappropriation of Indigenous art and design, as has happened in the retail sector in previous decades. It will also prevent miscommunication, misunderstanding and ignorance of the value of Indigenous knowledge and development in this space.”
The Best Practice toolkit incorporates a range of resources available online. They will be presented in person at key events for Indigenous artists and designers. They’ll also be shared amongst the Peak Bodies that support Indigenous artists and fashion around the country. 
 

Belinda outlines with educational tools and resources:

 

  • A checklist of key questions and points of discussion to get both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, designers and fashion brands exploring and clarifying why they want to engage in the Indigenous fashion space and what their expectations are. 
  • An interactive digital map of the many pathways that can be taken in a fashion program and the resources and knowledge to consider at each stage. 
  • Project Partners Arts Law and IP Australia are developing videos and templates to assist in the contracting process, the legalities of a fashion collection development and Cultural IP management.  
Taking the project to the next level, DAAFF and IFP has engaged illustrious Aussie fashion label Helen Kaminski to work through a specific collaboration with Art Centres which specialise in weaving practices, in line with the Best Practice ethos. 

Image: Backstage at Country to Couture, 2021, photo by James Giles.

“We’ve developed products with artists and artisans all around the world, but this incredible opportunity to work with artists in this country is so exciting for us,” says Arkin Dejemal, Global Operations Manager at Helen Kaminski.
Hilary Hanrahan, Helen Kaminski‘s Supply Chain Coordinator and the point woman on the Best Practice project, is also thrilled. “We see an exciting opportunity to leverage our platform to raise awareness and understanding of the cultural significance of Indigenous art, As well as the talent and expertise of the artists involved.”
At the time of writing, the team at Helen Kaminski has undertaken introductory sessions with Art Centre managers, senior artists and the IFP team.

“We explored who we are and what we make, and we exchanged packages of our materials to experiment,” says Hilary. “So far it’s really been about building trust and a good line of communication and connection. The approach feels very authentic. It’s a lovely informal way of communication which feels relevant for both sides. We’re just feeling our way through.”

Programs like Best Practice are vital to support the sector and create real, sustainable opportunities for First Nations Australia. 
As Sarah Paton concludes:

“I am excited to be a part of a project that has capacity for real and important change amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Fashion has always been a progressive industry. A focus on Best Practice for Indigenous artists ensures it remains progressive and helps to create a culturally safe future.”

Image above: Backstage at Country to Couture, 2021, photo by James Giles.

Thanks For Reading

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