This week in Sydney, Australia’s first indigenous fashion week opened its door for business. Called Australian Indigenous Fashion Week (AIFW), the organization will be a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers to showcase high quality traditional and contemporary fashion arts, textiles, accessories and furniture. The first year will include about 30 artists and designers, with shows set to kick off a year from now, in September 2013.
Australia’s Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world, dating back over 60,000 years. It is a deeply spiritual culture with a belief system that is inextricably linked to land. Today, it is probably best known for its artistic tradition with the signature Papunya Tula ‘dot art’ style paintings easily recognizable around the world.
One of the main aims of AIFW is to improve the economic status of Aboriginal people by brokering relationships with local and international buyers. Beyond that, it is also a chance to celebrate indigenous designers and increase their profile. There have been a few recent examples of Aboriginal artists working with contemporary Australian brands. The label Antipodium collaborated with indigenous artists Barbara Merritt, Manapa Butler, Ruby McIntosh and Roy Merritt on a collection a few seasons ago, and recently the swimwear label Kooey worked with Aboriginal artist Anne Hanning Knwarreye on exclusive prints.Less is known about Aboriginal fashion and design outside of Australia, though last year debate erupted over the reference of Aboriginal art in Rodarte’s fall collection. Rodarte properly licensed the textiles that they used and proceeds went to the artists involved, but it still angered Aboriginal law professor and member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Megan Davis. Hopefully the fashion week will be a chance to promote Aboriginal designers and artists in a context free of controversy.
AIFW organizers All The Perks, an indigenous owned and managed events company, tapped model Samantha Harris to be the face of the event. Harris is one of Australia’s top models and is also half Aboriginal on her mother’s side. We caught up with the stunning beauty to see what she had to say about the launch.