EXCLUSIVE: IMG Partners With First Nations Fashion and Design for Australian Fashion Week

SYDNEY — IMG will partner with First Nations Fashion and Design, a national voice representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers, to support Indigenous Australian creative talent in a series of initiatives at the upcoming Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, whose resort 2022 collections showcase will run from May 31 to June 4 at Sydney’s Carriageworks venue.

WWD can reveal that FNFD will open the event on the morning of May 31 with a Welcome to Country presentation, which will include a traditional smoking ceremony, along with dance, art and fashion elements.

On June 2, FNFD will then present an Indigenous runway showcase featuring the work of eight designers, including Amber Days by Corina Muir; Aarli by Teagan Cowlishaw; Clair Helen; Ngarru Miimi by Lillardia Allirra Briggs-Houston; Keema Co. by Nickeema Williams; Nungala Creative by Jessica Johnson; Sown in Time by Lynelle Flinders, and artist Grace Lillian Lee, who is also the founder and director of the First Nations Fashion and Design Indigenous Corporation.

From May 31 through June 2, FNFD will also operate a dedicated space within AAFW’s on-site showroom facility The Suites, which will serve as a backdrop for featured Indigenous designers to meet with buyers and media.

Additionally, on June 3, Lee will host a panel discussion exploring the continued growth and industry support of Indigenous Australian models and designers as part of the AAFW: The Talks program.

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“We are committed to playing an active role in the advancement of Indigenous Australian designers and leveraging our resources to amplify their voices in the Australian fashion industry and around the globe,” said Natalie Xenita, executive director of IMG’s fashion events group, Asia Pacific region.

“Our country has inspired the Australian fashion and design industry for over 200 years,” Lee said. “Our practices and native landscapes have served as a great source of inspiration. Our people and our land continue to contribute to the growth and development of this nation. We aim to rewrite history by reclaiming our narrative of connection to country through fashion and design. Indigenous fashion is the future of the Australian fashion industry, and what an honor to be featured as the first Indigenous runway show at AAFW’s 25th anniversary, amplifying Indigenous voices for the next generation and chapter in AAFW history.”

IMG’s The Suites will not be FNFD’s only showroom option at the event.

Under a separate partnership with the online showroom Ordre.com, within hours of FNFD’s June 2 AAFW show, the collections of all eight featured FNFD designers will be available for view on Ordre.com, potentially increasing the designers’ visibility to international retailers — none of whom will be flying to Sydney this year, due to ongoing travel restrictions.

According to Ordre.com cofounder and chief executive officer Simon Lock, Ordre’s virtual resort 2021 showroom collaboration with the Australian Fashion Council last year led to direct engagement with 400 of Ordre’s 3,000-strong network of global retail organizations, including Galeries Lafayette, Shinsegae, Intermix, Joyce Boutiques, Net-a-porter and Matchesfashion.com, and generated several million dollars in wholesale orders. The AFC collaboration commenced last May, when the canceled 2020 edition of Australian Fashion Week would have taken place, and showcased the collections of 25 designers.

“Right now, retailers have limited options to attend physical fashion weeks and to attend physical showrooms, so virtual showrooms are proving a great channel to discover new talent,” Lock said. “We’ve seen increased engagement with our global retail network particularly when it comes to reviewing new season collections for new emerging designers.”

Since Australian Fashion Week’s inception in 1996, there has been little Indigenous representation, with only one or two Indigenous brands such as Kooey Swimwear and Desert Designs having previously shown on schedule.

Its profile boosted by the establishment of the short-lived Australian Indigenous Fashion Week in Sydney in 2014, however — which collapsed under debts of 343,000 Australian dollars several months later and was never repeated — the Indigenous fashion sector has since witnessed significant development, with popular fashion shows now key components of Indigenous art showcases such as the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair.

The past 18 months have seen the launch of FNFD and the latter’s First Nations Fashion Council, as well as the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s Indigenous Fashion Projects initiative, which last year staged the first National Indigenous Fashion Awards and also unveiled an Indigenous fashion incubator program with the David Jones department store chain.

Neither IMG nor Indigenous Fashion Projects responded to questions about a separate Indigenous fashion showcase that WWD understands IFP is planning to stage at AAFW on June 3, showcasing an additional five designers, including Maara Collective and Ngali.

Headed by former Australian Fashion Council CEO David Giles-Kaye, Indigenous Fashion Projects had originally been due to stage a multibrand show at Australian Fashion Week in 2020, but it was shelved when the event was canceled due to COVID-19.

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