First Nations fashion encapsulated at Melbourne Fashion Week
16th September 2019 , By Hannah Cross
As Melbourne Fashion Week wraps up, the city’s Indigenous fashion scene is on full display in Fashion Capsule 3.
The exhibition features a range of First Nations artists and designers from across the country as they come together to show off their high-end, fashion forward vision that acknowledges the rich culture and history of Australia’s First People.
One featured brand is AARLI, a sustainable and ethical streetwear brand with a unique aesthetic tied to next generation storytelling and upcycled textiles.
AARLI’s Deadly Kween jumpsuit is on display in Fashion Capsule 3 – a black hooded sequin jumpsuit with a twisted 3D neoprene shoulder trim and AARLI’s trademark ‘Deadly’ print on the back.
AARLI designers used the method of twisting 3D neoprene to represent fish scales and gills as aarli means fish in Bardi language.
The jumpsuit itself is made from upcycling a faulty Deadly t-shirt, deadstock end of roll fabrics, sequin cushion textile and an organic silk lining.
AARLI Creative Director TJ Cowlishaw said one of her favourite aspects of Fashion Capsule 3 is Lisa Waup wallpaper featured throughout the exhibition.
“I am totally obsessed with Lisa Waup artwork at the moment,” Ms Cowlishaw said.
“I can remember Lisa explaining to one of the models about her black and white print Continuity, the print represents bloodlines and connection to family.”
Ms Cowlishaw is also an advocate for ethical and sustainable fashion.
“I am extremely passionate about sustainability and ethical fashion. I believe is it about learning from Elders and sharing [with] our next generations about caring for our oceans and country,” Ms Cowlishaw said.
“As an urban Aboriginal woman, I have never claimed to be a traditionalist,” Ms Cowlishaw said.
“I LIKE TO TELL PEOPLE THAT I AM AN URBAN WARRIOR. AS THE NEXT GENERATION IT’S MY DUTY TO BE A VOICE FOR MY ELDERS, COMMUNITIES AND MY FAMILY.”
One way that AARLI weaves First Nations history into its clothing is through numbers.
“AARLI screen [prints] numbers on streetwear collections … ‘67’ represents the  Referendum … ‘92’ represents Mabo Native Title or ‘10’ represents Samantha Harris being on the cover of Vogue magazine,” Ms Cowlishaw said.
“It sparks a conversation and is much more than just a number on clothing … adding signature touches to our collections give meaning and background to each garment.”
Accessories and jewellery brand Haus of Dizzy also features in Fashion Capsule 3, collaborating with Melbourne designer Alexandra Blak on various headpieces, cuffs, neck plates, and earrings.
Proud Wiradjuri woman and creator of Haus of Dizzy, Kristy Dickinson worked with Alexandra Blak to create pieces that acknowledged Ms Dickinson’s Indigenous heritage but in a futuristic way.
“My favourite piece is the glasses we made from iridescent acrylic. They catch the light and are etched with the Indigenous symbol for Woman,” Ms Dickinson said.
“Since the fashion industry is [a] massive concern on our planet, slow fashion [is] not a trend – it needs to be the future.”
Ms Cowlishaw said AARLI uses fashion as a platform to educate and share storylines with the wider community.
Haus of Dizzy mostly produces statement earrings that scream political sentiment.
Ms Dickinson crafts bold pieces emblazoned with phrases like “Abolish the Date,” “Black Magic,” and “Always was, Always will be.
The designer said what drives the political force behind her creations is a desire to create change.
“I feel like growing up I was too shame to have a voice and speak my mind about certain issues that affected myself and people around me,” Ms Dickinson said.
“I NOW HAVE A PLATFORM TO START CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ISSUES THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO ME AND HOPEFULLY BY BRINGING SOME AWARENESS TO THESE ISSUES, CHANGE WILL BE MADE.”
Ms Dickinson also creates custom First Nations earrings for Indigenous women who want to express their heritage through fashion.
“The whole reason I started making [these custom earrings] was to represent our mobs in a deadly way,” Ms Dickinson said.
“I now have Indigenous people from all over the world wanting their First Nation flags and the nations they are from so they too can rep [sic] their mob.”
For Ms Dickinson, Haus of Dizzy is meant to be “loud, bold, brash” and start conversations.
“I make my jewellery to get noticed … if I wasn’t doing that, then I’m not doing what I set out to do when I started Haus of Dizzy.”
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