You won’t be cancelled for wearing First Nations fashion

Wearing Native American headdresses at music festivals, cornrows through caucasian hair and sombreros under the Australian sun warrant substantial fines from the fashion police for cultural appropriation but First Nations designers are issuing pardons to wear their work.

“We call people who wear our stuff allies,” says Wonnarua woman Amanda Healy, founder of Indigenous fashion label Kirrikin. “The artwork I use is produced by artists who completely understand where their art will be used, and are happy to promote our culture positively.”

Kirrikin menswear, designed by Amanda Healy and House of Darwin x Afends collaboration.Credit:Josh Howlett, Supplied

“Our looks are specifically designed for the broader Australian market and international market too. We have many Europeans wandering around in Kirrikin these days.”

Healy is seeing this first-hand, having just completed an intensive course at the International Fashion Academy in Paris.

An inclusive approach has also been taken by former AFL footballer and Larrakia man Shaun Edwards, with his surf-inspired brand House of Darwin. By leaning into nostalgic designs that celebrate Northern Territory culture, Edwards has escaped the perceived obstacle of wearing Indigenous artworks.

“Our style is graphic and jovial,” says Edwards, who launches a collaboration with sustainably focused Byron Bay brand Afends on Wednesday. “I grew up surrounded by First Nations culture and want to share that. For some people buying a T-shirt is an easier way of remembering a road trip rather than understanding a deep and complex painting.”

Cultural appropriations complaints. Gucci’s turbans from their autumn 2018 show and Commes des Garcons braided wigs from their autumn 2020 menswear show were heavily criticised.Credit:Getty

Accusations of cultural appropriation followed Commes des Garçons procession of white models with blond braided wigs on the runway in 2020, Gucci selling a “Indy Full Turban” in 2018 and Sarah Jessica Parker in a lehenga in the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That… giving cause for shoppers to consider the impact of wearing pieces that exploit minority cultures.

At Kirrikin, Healy has done the thinking before her pieces go online or appear on the racks at David Jones. For the menswear collection, promoted by a campaign using Indigenous talent sourced by model Nathan McGuire’s Mob In Fashion program, the artwork carries a message that goes with all skin colours.

“The whole collection is called ‘Ripples’ and is a comment on the ripples of change in our community, and in broader Australia,” Healy says. “I am loving seeing the embracing of our culture, the better acceptance of our people and history. In my life I have seen many changes for our people, but this is the most sustained and promising I have ever seen. My fingers are crossed that I can call the next collection ‘Waves’.”

For House of Darwin’s first major collaboration since launching two years ago, Edwards chose the brand’s signature punchy graphics, retro illustrations and environmentally conscious slogans, such as “Create Not Destroy” and “Return to Earth”.

“I wanted it to have meaning, so we landed on the concept of using old ideas to solve new problems,” Edwards says. “With so much discussion around bushfires recently, I wanted to bring attention to practices that can help combat fires that are right under our noses. These practises are part of the oldest continuous living culture.”

Along with spreading a positive environmental message, Edwards hopes that House of Darwin’s brand awareness will grow from working with Afends.

“We are lucky to have a supportive network in the Northern Territory but we are looking forward to coming to the eastern shores,” Edwards says. “It’s great that Afends is taking a chance on us so early in our career.”

A portion of the profits from the Afends and House of Darwin collaboration go to the Karrkad Kanjdji Trust, which works with Indigenous ranger groups in Arnhem Land.

Kirrikin is a social enterprise, with portions of profits distributed to artists and contributed to development programs. It’s another reason for First Nations brands to recruit allies.

“Everyone can do some good in their own backyard by buying Indigenous products,” Healy says.

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