Towards a Definition of First Nations Fashion

It has been a long wait for the First Nations Fashion Industry and for the designers and artists who have worked in the fashion sector for many years.

Robyn Caughlan, a Dharug designer, was the first Indigenous designer in 2003 to present her ready-to-wear collection at Australian Fashion Week. In the last 20 years, Indigenous designers have showcased their work as part of group shows. Francisco’s solo exhibition is a significant step forward for the industry.

Fashion isn’t just for the catwalk. It’s a practice with a political undertone. It is important to discuss what “First Nations Fashion” means.

Read more: How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius.

What is ‘fashion’?

Australian administrators, during the European colonial rule from 1788 to 1860, were often shocked by the appearance of Indigenous peoples and imposed new clothing styles.

Indigenous peoples are generally viewed as having “unsophisticated,”” “static,”” and insufficient clothing.

Sociologists argued that only modern, urbanized societies, such as France, had a “system” for production, business, and trickle-down styles.

In the 1970s, UK researchers and US researchers began to use the term “dress” instead of “fashion” to connect wider forms and practices of clothing, body, and cultural traditions.

“Fashion” has, however, been used as far back as the discussed using “Indigenous fashion-art-and-dress” to describe First Nations clothing practices, fashion design, and integration of art.

We haven’t had a discussion in Australia about a term that could encompass textiles, fashion, and art. First Nations fashion organizations and groups, as well as projects, all have their strategies and terms.

This phrase should include everything, from wearing Aboriginal Flag T-shirts to the city and Tiwi Island and Commissioned Garments at galleries and museums.

Most First Nations designers do not design for the fashion industry or galleries that sell their art as art. They are designed to break colonial ties, share cultural stories, and provide a wearable way of well-being.

Style is important

The words Australian First Nations fashion designers, artists, and producers use to describe the industry and their work have been the subject of our research.

New First Nations designers, artists, and craftsmen have sprung up in the new millennium.

They use words like fashion designer, curator, and artist to describe themselves and their work.

The work is described as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, First Nations, or cultural Nations.

Artist Elisa Carmichael calls traditional clothing and cultural adornments the “first creations of Australian Fashion”.

Tristen Harwood, a First Nations writer, has written about the differences between “style”, “fashion”. He defines First Nations fashion as the marketing and purchasing of Indigenous-designed fashions. Harwood defines style as the dynamic process of dressing, which touches on identity and politics.

Style includes wearing clothing in all of its complexity. It spans the history of forced clothes to revivals of cultural garments and types.

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