The First Nations Runway Brings Local Talent to the World Stage

Melbourne city is abuzz on Friday night. After-work suits take to the pub, visitors are exploring the CBD laneways on foot and scooter, and a cascade of Fashion Festival revellers flood into ACMI at Federation Square. Outside, a Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung smoking ceremony meets the crowds. Inside, there’s a hum of excitement.

The First Nations Runway, presented on the land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, is an opportunity to showcase the talent of First Nations designers. Curated by First Nations Creative Director Rhys Ripper on behalf of Kinaway, the show was a tight edit of ready-to-wear garments by MAARA Collective, NGALI, Amber Days, Liandra Swim, Kirrikin, Wa-Ring and Yanggurdi. The First Nations Program complements the MOB in Fashion employment pathways program led by Indigenous model and designer, Nathan Mcguire.

Ahead of the show, guests are welcomed and reminded of the meaning of wominjeka, ‘to come with purpose’, which is used as a form of greeting in the Boon Wurrung. Live song and dance by Culture Evolves book-ended the runway show.

Maara Collective, the 2020 winner of the first National Indigenous Fashion Awards, opened the show with a structured ochre pantsuit. Its tall shoulder pads and cinched waist arriving with poise and purpose. Models clad in linen two-piece sets and romantic silks (featuring the ‘Tjukula’ print, by Pitjantjatjara artist Lexie Michael of Ernabella Arts, located in Australia’s remote APY Lands) zipped around First Nations people performing traditional dance. The Sharni silk dress, in white, with cut-out waist detail and plaited trims commanded attention.

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Next up, Yanggurdi brought cool and calm to the runway. Cotton tees, board shorts and even surf-board covers made their way down the ACMI basement floor. It was refined street-style inspired collection in tones of charcoal and white.

Naarm’s Annette Sax (founder of Yarn Strong Sista and Yarn Strong Brutha) debuted her new label Wa-ring at the First Nations runway, too. The local label has been chosen as an emerging designer by KIN Fashion and Textiles Program. Sax collects ochre and campfire charcoal from her traditional Taungurung Badjur lands. She works with her children to grind the derri (brown ochre) which is then used as pigment for screen printing designs on linen textiles. The result is romantic, light linen pieces that fall beautifully against the body. A cascading blazer donned by Alinta Carberry was the showstopper.

Liandra Swim, Kirrikin and Amber Days rounded out the showcase. Earthy tones, vibrant prints and silk were enduring.

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And finally, Ngali’s Nginha collection, translated in Wiradjuri language to ‘here’ or ‘this’, closed the show. Garments sported a collection of prints that have been respectfully translated from the artwork of First Nations artist Lindsay Malay, who lives in the remote Kimberley region of northern Australia. Despite the warmth in the air, a procession of quilted coats had crowds preparing for winter wardrobes. The A-line silhouettes making for perfect office attire in the cooler months.

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Written for Shop the Runway for Melbourne Fashion Festival.

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