Celebrating the success and influence of First Nations Fashion Designers!30.09.2020
It has been incredible to see the waves being made across the fashion industry from First Nations Designers and Artists – a culture whose inspiration, patterns and practices are so influential and hold the potential for great industry and global change. This year, Australia celebrated the rapidly emerging and influential space through the inaugural national Indigenous Fashion Awards. The Awards were held as part of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair with the aim of providing a vibrant and exciting platform to celebrate innovation, diversity and ethical practices of First Nations Designers and Artists.
To join this celebration, we caught up with Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta, Gangulu artist and designer Lillardia Briggs-Houston. Lillardia is an integral member of our Regional Arts NSW network and was a dual nominee in the NIFA. She will also one of the panellists presenting at the fourth and final Artstate, taking place in Wagga Wagga next month.
Tell us about your journey and experience as a fashion designer.
My interest in fashion started as a young girl while living with my grandmother. To keep me entertained she would pull out her old Singer to practice on and teach me how to draft patterns from scratch. Everything she used was second hand – old newspapers taped together for pattern paper, curtains for fabric and a machine that was older than me. Watching her instinctively hand down her skills so passionately inspired me to continue her legacy. Not only did she want me to carry her stories of our culture and kinship, but also the skills she learnt over the many years of her life. Something I’m deeply thankful for now. Everything began with her and over the many years I’ve continued growing my skills and merging my love of textiles art with fashion.
Being able to carve and handprint my culture onto fabric has given me a deep sense of healing and connection especially now that my grandparents have passed away. It’s my way of continuing their storytelling and culture – something they were so proud of.
I’ve always loved fashion but growing up I felt as if there was nothing that truly represented me. I’d shift through styles constantly but never truly felt like it expressed who I was. It wasn’t until I had a lightbulb moment a few years ago when I decided to sew some of my fabric I had printed into a bias dress. That moment was pivotal in my journey and I felt the power of my culture and ancestors through fashion. I finally found something that expressed every part of me as an Aboriginal woman. It amplifies my strength and connection to culture and has allowed me to explore my own self determination and sovereignty. Today, all I desire is showcasing my rich and thriving culture through fashion and textiles and I hope to actively work towards a First Nations led industry.
What inspires your work the most?
My work is completely inspired by my culture, country and family. So inspiration is endless.
Whether it’s going out on country to collect reeds for weaving, remembering an old story from my grandparents that connects us to our country or spending time by the river with my family. As Aboriginal people we all have such a unique and beautiful connection that it’s beyond words so It’s really hard not to be inspired by all that connects the oldest living culture in the world.
You were recently a nominee in the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards in two categories, congratulations! Can you tell us about this experience and what it has meant for your career?
Mandaang guwu/Thank you! I felt very lucky to stand on a national platform next to some remarkable First Nations Designers and Artists. I’m so proud and inspired by women like Liandra Gaykamangu, founder of Liandra Swim. For years I’ve watched her journey closely and it’s encouraged me to continue my own journey no matter how long and difficult it is. Seeing the fashion nominees in their respected spaces thriving is so encouraging and supportive.
Australian Indigenous fashion is really on the rise, and rightfully so. From the creative elements themselves, as well as the practices, subject matters and inspiration behind the pieces, there’s much to be inspired by. How do you think the recognition and practices of indigenous artists can shape the industry both nationally and internationally?
I think a lot can be learned from Indigenous artist and designers. Most of us have fundamental values of ethical and sustainable practices within our work and community that can positively contribute to the many issues within the fashion industry.
Also, fashion can be used as a catalyst for change, especially in Australia where there are still so many injustices and disadvantages against First Nations people. Many of our designers and artist are directly or indirectly contributing to changing mainstream perspectives and also the need to dismantle oppressive systems that still stand against First Nations mob today.
What are you currently working on? Do you have anything exciting coming up that you can tell us a little bit about?
Yes! I have a few exciting projects I’m working on at the moment including my very first exclusive collection that will be created, printed and made entirely on Wiradjuri country. I’ve been manifesting this for a while so to be one step closer is a massive achievement for myself and something I’m very proud of.
My long-term goal is to help contribute to a sustainable future for First Nations mob in textile/printmaking and fashion within small regional communities so I’m slowly chipping away at that goal too. I’ve been lucky enough to acquire a large yardage print table which will help me explore part this goal more broadly. Currently there are only a few remote art centres with the capacity for yardage screen printing and I believe this needs to change so that we can invest more in communities to support the growth of First Nations fashion and textiles.
Where and how can people view and purchase your designs?
I’m in the process of a huge website redesign but you can still subscribe at www.ngarrumiimi.com to follow for updates and collection launch. The new website will feature all my garments and textiles work, an online shop, storytelling behind my artwork and designs, as well as yarns with emerging and established FN fashion designers and artists. At the moment you can also view my work on IG too.
Lillardia is a panellist at Artstate Wagga Wagga. To hear from Lillardia, we encourage you to register here to join the conversation.