Celebrating Aboriginal Designers

~ TEN ITEMS ON MY WISHLIST RN ~

This year’s Black Lives Matter movement has drawn focus on the many atrocities suffered by our First Nations people, past and present, due to colonisation. It acted as a catalyst for many non-Indigenous Australians (myself included) to more thoroughly check their privilege and begin educating themselves on how to become a better ally. 

While it is crucial we gain an understanding of the negative impacts colonialism has had on both Indigenous-Australians and their land, Australians also need to make room for a positive space, in which we can celebrate our unique Indigenous heritage. With customs, philosophies and traditions going back 65,000 years, Aboriginal people have the oldest continuing culture in the world. That is pretty fricken amazing!

NAIDOC week is an opportunity to celebrate the richness of Aboriginal culture and, if it wasn’t for Covid, it would actually be in full swing right now. The good news is, we don’t need to wait for NAIDOC week to honour Aboriginal culture. With this in mind, I have collated ten stand-out clothing pieces and accessories that are designed, made and sold by Aboriginal artists and designers.

Supporting Aboriginal art and business is just one of many ways non-Indigenous folk can be a good ally. But don’t let your journey stop there—there is so much still to do to help close the gap! If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, I found this website a great place to start: https://pathtoequality.com.au/

And now, my list:

This Gunai Warrior rugby jumper from Clothing the Gap:

This jumper is, fittingly, part of Clothing The Gap’s NAIDOC 2020 collection. In the throes of an icy Melbourne winter this jumper greatly appeals to me but only in part due to its cosiness; I also love it’s boxy cut and cool half-zip. The message is an important one too.

The Aboriginal-run and owned label is a play on the saying “closing the gap”, with a focus on doing just that. Their aim is to increase the life expectancy of Aboriginals, to be more in line with non-Aboriginal folk. Managed by health professionals, 100% of their profits go towards supporting Aboriginal health and education programs within Victoria. 

All of the homewares from Bima Wear:

These pillows and tablecloths would breathe life into any home! 

Bima Wear is proudly designed, owned and operated by Tiwi women since 1969 who “ …are our own bosses determining our work practices and schedules,” with 100% of sales from their website going back to the women running the business. For anything they cannot manufacture themselves they try to employ local and ethical businesses as much as possible. 

This ring (far right) from Bush Magic Metal:

I’ve been obsessed with opals for a while now so was excited, but not surprised, to find an Aboriginal jewelry designer who deals with this special stone. Did you know 95% of opals come from Australia? This particular boulder opal looks like an aerial shot of the great barrier reef, which is rather appropriate seeing as the stone was mined in Queensland. 

Bush Magic Metal is the brainchild of Lydia Baker, a self-taught silversmith, creative, and proud Indigenous woman. She uses ethical opals and recycled sterling silver.

These pants from Maara Collective:

I love this styling, it is very ‘Jacquemus-meets-the-outback’.

Jacquemus past collections

Maara’s sunshine yellow trousers have me dreaming of hot summer nights with no lock-down restrictions in place. There’s a similar pair in white too.

Julie Shaw, a Yuwaalaraay woman from NSW, is the founder and Director of Maara. The word ‘maara’ means ‘hands’ in her native tongue, which is an appropriate moniker seeing as she works in collaboration with other Indigenous artists and creators for her collections. She also gives back to remote Aboriginal communities through proceeds from online sales of her clothing.

This T-Shirt from Garuwa Clothing:

I’ve always loved the Aboriginal flag and the meaning behind it (to simplify it: red for the earth, black for the people and yellow for the sun) an emphasis on their infrangible ties with nature. Dip it in tie-dye and it’s almost as if you are adding a dreamy water element to it!

This T-Shirt was sold to raise money for the Justice of David Dungay Jr fund. It’s currently out of stock but, according to Garuwa Clothing‘s Instagram, it appears there may be another drop on the horizon. Follow them to stay up to date on new designs and one-off releases. Garuwa Clothing is 100% Aboriginal owned and operated.

This Handbag designed by Kelly Dixon (and sewn by Ikuntji Artists):

This joyous print is giving me Marc Jacobs daisy vibes.

Marc Jacobs daisy pattern

Perfect for clashing with other prints or adding a splash of colour to a more muted outfit. I love the baguette style and short strap. 

It’s designed by Aboriginal artist Kelly Nixon, daughter of famous artist Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon. She is just one of the many talented artists at Ikuntji. Ikuntji Artists had its humble beginnings as a women’s centre in 1992 but soon developed into a place that produced world-class art. They now have eight resident artists, exhibiting their works nationally and globally. 

These reversible bikinis from Liandra Swim:

Reversible swimwear is basically getting two swim suits for the price of one. The cut is practical yet flattering and the design is “tens-of-thousands of years in the making”. What’s even better, it’s made using recycled plastic bottles and recycled elastine.

Liandra’s founder and designer, Liandra Gaykamangu is a Yolngu woman from NT who says that each of her designs tell a different story.

These earrings from Haus of Dizzy: 

These BudyaBudya stud earrings (‘butterfly’ in the Wiradjuri language) take me back to 2001 in the best possible way!

2000s collage | Source: Pinterest

Kristy Dickinson, a proud Wiradjuri Woman, is the creative mind behind Haus of Dizzy. She produces fun and fabulous jewellery with many of her designs promoting Aboriginality, as well as queer and gender inclusive values. It’s cute, but activism, but cute.

This hat from North:

A linen sun hat with the perfect width rim. It’s the same price as a Ganni hat but made from natural fibres (rather than polyester) which are designed and made, by local artists. Kieren Karritpul, a Ngen’gi Wumirri man, is the NT artist behind this design. The pattern depicts women’s fishing nets used in traditional fishing—an intricate and vital tool in past Aboriginal societies.

North is a not-for-profit organisation run by an Indigenous and non-Indigenous team. Their goal is to bolster and support regional textile designers and art centres across the NT. They are not only committed to their artists, and are a member of the Indigenous Art Code of ethics, they are also committed to the environment—following minimal waste practices and ensuring the textiles produced are sustainable.

These Puma x Sawft shoes:
Screenshot from Soju’s website

Soju Gang is a DJ-come-Designer whose style in both fields borrows heavily from eighties and nineties hip hop. Soju launched her own streetwear brand, Sawft, through VAMFF earlier this year and, just like her music, it’s a fun time. Part of her release included a cool collaboration with Puma and I want all of them!

You can check out a fun DJ set from her, from Triple J, here.

* * *

While researching for this post I became aware of non-Indigenous people/companies ripping off Indigenous artists. Doing your research before making a purchase is paramount. A helpful account to check out isTrading Blak on Instagram. 

As a general rule, whether you are buying Indigenous-made or not, it is always good to know where your clothing comes, who made it, who is profiting from it, and what materials were used.

If you are like me and were worried about being a non-Indigenous person wearing Indigenous designs this is what Clothing the Gap had to say:

If you are unsure, you can always contact the business and double check. If there are any Indigenous-Australians reading this post, and you have any feedback for me, please get in touch!

Here are a some more super talented Indigenous-Australian designers:

Native Swimwear
Arkie The Label
Aarli Fashion
Lore the Label
Deadly Denim Jackets
Kirrikin Australia
Elverina Johnson
Lyn Al-Young
Simone Arnol
Ngali Australia
Colleen Tighe Johnson

I’d love to hear about some of your favourites!