Australia’s First Nations fashion and textile designers have been making fashion sustainably since day dot. Working with plant-based dyes and paints, and creating fabrics from locally grown and sourced textiles, the traditional art of painting, dyeing and weaving has been passed down through generations. The current scene is spread across the country, from remote communities and art centres to budding designers in the capitals, but the slow fashion values are still present.
From brands that are empowering Aboriginal Australians living in remote parts of the country, to accessory artists taking political action through the ears of their customers (literally) – these are some of the country’s best indigenous fashion brands and collaborations. For clarity and respect for the artists and makers, I’ve separated this list into indigenous-owned and non-indigenous-owned brands.
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait readers are to be warned that the photos and videos included may contain images and voices of deceased persons.
An enterprise out of the Bábbarra Women’s Centre in the Northern Territory, Bábbarra Designs imagines, prints and sews womenswear featuring unique indigenous art designs from their community. The textile workshop specialises in the production of hand-printed fabric design, managed by an incredibly skilled in-house, all-women sewing team. The founder explains in the video above that the centre was set up to give women and children in their community a safe place to go, but also to help them learn skills and use their talents to create something. The beautiful artworks these women create are all unique and have incredible stories behind them that has been passed down through generations.
Bima Wear is a Tiwi women’s creative enterprise and fashion label based in Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu), Bathurst Island, Tiwi Islands off the northern coast of Darwin. Established in 1969, the women behind Bima Wear design, screen print and manufacture unique clothing and homewares. The brand is best known for its bright colours and bold Tiwi designs, often featuring traditional symbols, structures, family and environmental representations that are central to Tiwi culture.
Native Swimwear Australia is a 100% Aboriginal owned and operated company, a multi-award-winning fashion label and the first Aboriginal fashion label in history to showcase at New York Fashion Week. The swimwear is a range of one pieces and sets featuring unique indigenous prints, made from regenerated lycra, fish nets, and recycled plastic bottles.
Gammin Threads is an Australian fashion label born from a love of typography, language and blak pride. Founder and designer Tahnee Edwards is a proud descendant of the Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti nations. She says Gammin threads is her side hustle and creative outlet – consisting of deadly chillwear and accessories for people who believe in living colourfully, paying respect and empowering women.
Faebella is a luxury activewear brand that incorporates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artwork into the designs of its products. Founded by Alisha Jayne Geary in late 2016, who is both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, she works with artists all over Australia to share different art styles and stories with consumers in the form of contemporary physical apparel. With Faebella, she hopes to raise appreciation and awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, culture and history. The Faebella activewear is all ethically made in Australia.
For Whadjuk Ballardong Nyungar woman Bec Barlow, a fashion label was the perfect amalgamation of her family, culture and hobbies (which include upcycling, fashion and travel), as well as the opportunity to give back to a cause close to her heart – increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives. With her label Deadly Denim, Barlow seeks out vintage and secondhand denim and fabrics to turn into unique and custom creations. The designer has partnered with Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund who work to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to qualify as midwives and remain in the profession.
Queensland-based brand Red Ridge the Label is bridging a gap between clothing and culture, shining a spotlight on central western Queensland Aboriginal artists. The women’s clothing and accessories label is an initiative of Outback Queensland arts organisation Red Ridge Interior Queensland – a not-for-profit company that promotes the social and economic development of the Aboriginal communities of remote western Queensland. The debut collection Diamantina highlights artwork from Wangkanguru and Yarluyandi women Aulpunda ‘Jean’ Barr-Crombie and Anpanuwa ‘Joyce’ Crombie from Birdsville. See more here.
Indigenous artist-turned-designer Arkie Barton is the woman behind this independent clothing label out of Brisbane. She says that “Arkie the label is for young women who want more than just an outfit, hand drawn prints and carefully designed pieces that tell a story and represent a piece of Indigenous Australian culture.” The prints are colourful and contemporary, and the pieces are all ethically made in Brisbane.
Design Within Country is a fashion project and label out of Marnin Studio in the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre. It was originally produced as a collection for the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Fashion Show and saw a number of artists and designers collaborate to bring it all together. The pieces in the initial collection featured minimalistic prints in bright, light shades – incorporating traditional indigenous artwork in a unique way.
Clothing The Gap is a Victorian Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise fashion label managed by health professionals. The brand says it produces merch that celebrates Aboriginal people and culture – with the aim to encourage all people to wear their values on their tee. Clothing The Gap unites non-Indigenous and Aboriginal people through fashion and causes, one of which is to help Close the Gap. Recently, Clothing The Gap became the first known Aboriginal-owned business to have its Australian manufacturing accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. At time of publishing, about 20% of the brand’s streetwear is ethically made in Australia, with the business also working on a future workwear line to be made 100% in Australia and accredited by ECA.
Buluuy Mirrii (meaning ‘Black Star’ in Gomeroi language) is a womenswear label by Australian Aboriginal fashion designer Colleen Tighe Johnson’s. Colleen’s work creates a cultural story within her designs – unique commissioned Gomeroi artworks are printed onto luxury fabrics and used to design one-off garments showcased on her runways, which include Melbourne, New Zealand, Canada and New York to name a few. Her long-term vision (which is well and truly underway) is to establish a 100% Aboriginal owned and run fashion house in Australia.
A fashion accessory label by Kristy Dickenson, Haus of Dizzy’s guiding philosophy is that “Life’s too short to wear boring jewellery”. The indigenous Australian jewellery designer and self-titled “Queen of Bling” makes epic earrings and accessories with funky designs and political undertones. Slogans like “Stop Violence Against Women”, “Self Love Club”, “Stronger than you know”, and simply the word “CUNT” – act as conversation starters to issues Kristy thinks need discussing.
Magpie Goose is partnering with indigenous artists in rural communities to source designs and print screen their clothing. The label is a profit-for-purpose/social enterprise that helps to illuminate opportunities and pathways for Aboriginal people living in remote Australia. The clothes are a range of modestly cut A-line skirts, dresses, shorts and tops, in the wonderful bright and bold colours and prints designed by the artists in the communities. The Magpie Goose clothes are made in Australia by Sphinx – an Ethical Clothing Australia accredited manufacturing business.
Non-profit fashion and homewares label NORTH uses its printed wares to showcase indigenous art and culture. The NORTH prints are designed by indigenous artists in community art centres and printed in various ways including screen printing with bush-dyed textiles or digitally printed using vegetable-based dyes. It’s all ethically produced in Australia using sustainable manufacturing practices. As a bonus, all profits from the sale of NORTH products are channelled directly back into the organisation to support the artists. Find out more about the brand in the video above.