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Is Fashion Finally Supporting First Nations People?

August 1, 2021
Author: Jasmine Waters

Many of us would be in agreement that the modern consumer is the most socially conscious that brands and businesses need to cater to. Thanks to the power of social media, we’ve been able to actively engage with growing global movements, with a particular shift after the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. In Australia, this has translated to a surge of support for its indigenous communities, and movements looking to empower First Nations design. Here’s what we can learn in how to support small brands with marginalised voices.

What’s happening in Australia?

First Nations people refers to Australians that are Indigenous, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For the past season’s Australian Fashion Week, the schedule saw 5 events dedicated to showcasing Indigenous talent, after decades of underrepresentation. There was particular emphasis on celebration of heritage, using art, music and performance to create deeper background and understanding to the history many of us have overlooked. Many participants cited a great need to Australia to heal as a whole, learning and understanding its marginalised history. We know that such movements have the power to create real social, political and economic change, while equally educating consumers on plights steeped in history and offer up a chance to support brands first hand. All of this was seen at First Nations Fashion and Design, but the potential for longevity of support is what needs to be globally transferred when it comes to aiding marginalised creatives.

Are marginalised voices being supported?

Those non-profits that partnered with the Indigenous events aims surround encouraging growth and self-determination, especially through economic empowerment. Participants received extended benefits, including complimentary membership for the Australian Fashion Council, substantial editorial coverage and a post-show package that included direct access to buyers online. Following promises and initial support through with mentoring schemes, developmental programmes and promotional events is the most important way on ensuring commitments to meaningful change are both transparent and effective long-term. Values need to stem from the protection of culture in order to allow connections and collaborations to prosper. There’s an incredibly long way to go, with hundreds of years of marginalisation to dismantle. Many of us are now aware that marginalised voices are the key agents of change, but simultaneously, are most effected by all areas of disadvantage in society.

Social media awareness and efforts to begin to change industry inclusion are all well and good but need to continually be followed up. There’s still an overall lack of access to fashion training, inclusivity in top level positions and the ongoing issue of cultural appropriation. Instead of ripping off and replicating Indigenous designs that work, small brands need to be rightfully showcased and brought in to consult in big brand boardrooms. There need to be a drive to empower Indigenous designers, implementing frameworks of undeniable accountability and pledging to meaningful commitments. It’s a proactive approach that will rightfully place the marginalised as the future of fashion, and the face of positions of power.

Anton Dell brand Mainie has exclusive use of certified authentic Aboriginal designs on its wearable art pieces. The artwork featured on Mainie products is ethically acquired from Aboriginal owned and controlled arts centres located on the ancestral homelands of the artists. Their business model is based on a genuine commitment to social responsibility principles, whereby the Aboriginal artists and their families directly benefit from the commercial use of their artwork designs.

Image source: one of our brands, Mainie Australia


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