Several deadly designers were celebrated Wednesday night at the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs).

Celebrating diversity, innovation, ethics and culture, the NIFAs were broadcast live across NITV’s social media channels due to COVID-19.

Supported by the Northern Territory Government, the NIFAs formed in response to the immense success of the Country to Couture fashion runway event held at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) each August.

In its first year, the awards saw 33 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives and designers nominated in six categories.

Winner of the Textile Design Award, which is sponsored by RMIT University, was Merrepen Arts Language & Culture artist, Kieren Karritpul.

“When I first found out I won the award I felt shocked and happy, and very proud, and I didn’t think that this moment would happen!” said Karritpul.

“I called my mother over and told her, and she was very happy and proud of me. I could hear her voice changing like she was going to cry.”

A young achiever at only 26-years-old, Karritpul said this award is an opportunity for growth.

“It’s going to put me [into] a whole new big level. I can’t believe what is going to happen after this award and in the future” he said.

“I think it could open up a whole new way of showing my name out there to the whole world and teaching people about this art in Australia and internationally.”

Beginning his creative journey at just five-years-old, Karritpul had a keen interest in animals and crocodiles, but now feels a connection to the art of weaving.

My mother, grandmother and great grandmother are weavers, and I grew up watching them weave, but I’m not allowed to weave as a male because of my culture. We have a strong culture here. So instead I interpret weaving through my paintings in all sorts of aspects,” he said.

Karritpul is continuing a creative legacy.

“It has been passed down from the generations. It is in my blood. My mother, grandmother, great grandmother and even before then are all artists,” Karritpul said.

“When I was 14, I told my parents I am going to be an artist and they thought I was too young to make those decisions, but I had already made up my mind.

“My grandmother, Molly, always supported me and so one day she hid me with her in a billabong until my parents agreed I could become an artist. She always supported me.

“My mother says when I was younger I would always ‘hang around’ with the Elders and listen to them. I’ve always been interested in the stories and traditions of my ancestors.”

The NIFAs’ Creative Director, Nina Fitzgerald, said the ceremony brings people together.

“Showcasing vibrant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions in new contemporary forms enables us to share the powerful stories which have connected Australia’s First Nations Peoples to this country since time immemorial,” she said.

“Fashion is a medium which transcends cultural boundaries and can be the vehicle to bring people together to celebrate Australia’s rich heritage and vibrant cultures.”

See the winners below:

Textile Design Award – co-presented with RMIT University and Ross Bonthorne

  • Kieren Karritpul from Merrepen Arts Language & Culture
Kieren Karritpul, Merrepen Arts Language & Culture. Photo courtesy of Merrepen Arts Language & Culture.


Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art Award – co-presented with DAAF

  • Peggy Griffiths from Waringarri Aboriginal Arts
Peggy Griffiths in her Legacy Dress. Photo courtesy Grace-Lillian Lee and Chris Baker.


Community Collaboration Award – co-presented with Northern Territory Government

  • Julie Shaw of MAARA Collective with Bula’bula Aboriginal Corporation
MAARA Collective x Bula’Bula Arts. Photo by Cybele Malinowski.


Environmental and Social Contribution Award – co-presented with Northern Land Council

  • Ninti One Limited
Ninti One Cultural Advisor, Leitha Assan. Photo courtesy of Leitha Assan.


Special Recognition Award – co-presented with Northern Territory Government

  • Bede Tungutalum
Bede Tungutalum fabric design at From Country to Couture 2019. Photo by Dylan Bucklee.


Fashion Design Award – co-presented with Country Road

  • Julie Shaw for MAARA Collective
Julie Shaw, Maara Collective Resort Collection. Photo by Cybele Malinowski.

By Rachael Knowles