An evening to celebrate the deadly designers and creatives changing the fashion game, the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs) were announced on Tuesday.

Presented by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) as part of the Indigenous Fashion Projects program, the NIFAs were hosted by Warlpiri woman Rachael Hocking at the Darwin Convention Centre.

In its second year, the awards saw 31 First Nations artists and designers nominated and six winners selected across six categories.

  • The Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art Award, co-presented by DAAFF, was awarded to Paul McCann from Melbourne, Victoria.
  • The Fashion Design Award, co-presented by Country Road, was awarded to Denni Francisco of Ngali, based in Melbourne, Victoria.
  • The Textile Design Award, co-presented by RMIT University, was awarded to Eunice Napanangka Jack of Ikuntji Artists, based in Haasts Bluff, Northern Territory.
  • The Community Collaboration Award, co-presented by Darwin Innovation Hub, was awarded to Anindilyakwa Arts with Dr Aly de Groot and Anna Reynolds from Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory.
  • The Environmental and Social Contribution Award, co-presented by the Northern Territory Government, was awarded to Mylene Holroyd of Pormpuraaw Art & Culture featuring Simone Arnol designs from Cairns/Pormpuraaw, Queensland.
  • The Special Recognition Award, co-presented by the Northern Territory Government, was awarded to Bima Wear from the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.

Taking home the Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art Award, Paul McCann is already well-known for his green and wattle ball gown which was debuted by Felicia Foxx at the Australian Fashion Week First Nations runway.

McCann reflected on his creative process in making the gown and the sentiments in the seams.

“I created a gown that showed Australia and the world our sovereignty, strength and resilience in the most beautiful way possible,” he said.

Felicia Foxx in Paul McCann’s gown at Australia’s Fashion Week. Photo Supplied Facebook.

Ngali designer and Wiradjuri woman Denni Francisco took home the Fashion Design Award.

Ngali is a high-quality, sustainable fashion label which has established the presence of Indigenous fashion in the international market.

Francisco describes the win as a “collective award” which celebrates the coming together of “community, family, all the people that have come into the orbit of Ngali”.

“Fashion is a really comfortable entry point for people to learn more about our culture, our history and the celebration of who we are,” she said.

“Everything we create as First Nations people is about family, community, connection.”

Ngali, in all its creations, ensures the artwork is at the core.

“It all starts with the artwork. We design with respect to the artwork in mind, so it’s about finding artworks that you can work with as a textile artist, and choosing it in collaboration with the artist and talking about how we can translate it respectfully into print,” said Francisco.

“Our styles, the silhouettes are quite simple. This means that the prints are the heroes.

“I work to add those special touches, whether that be an embroidered collar or a particular type of cuff or a curved hemline. Those choices are overpowering the artwork, it complements it.”

Denni Francisco of Ngali. Photo supplied.

As a social enterprise, community is central to Ngali.

“The journey of Ngali will be very connected to us as a social enterprise — in terms of what it is we are able to give back around royalties to the artists we work with and to the supports we give to our kids’ education and literature/IT skills,” said Francisco.

Along with the award, Francisco will take on a 12-month mentorship with Country Road. She steps into the shoes of MAARA Collective’s Julie Shaw, who took out the award in 2020.

“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to have that mentorship with Country Road. In my initial discussions with them it is beyond design, it’s about overall business … I’m always keen to learn,” said Francisco.

NIFAs judge and Head of Womenswear at Country Road, Maria Rinaldi-Cant, complimented the talent of Ngali and all those who participated in the NIFAs.

“What I am seeing is the strength and the different forms of talent, it is so amazing. I can’t put it into words,” she said.

“I can’t wait to do the mentorship, I’m already learning so much from Denni, and I learnt so much from Julie. I’m learning about the culture and the story that is in the artwork and the textile — it’s all about culture.” 

Iconic Australian brand Country Road has been a leader in Indigenous representation in the fashion space. In her time in the industry, Rinaldi-Cant says she has seen a shift towards Reconciliation.

“From my point of view, the fashion industry is changing. It’s not becoming so mass-produced and mundane,” she said.

“We’re adapting those values at Country Road of understanding the storytelling … we’re invested in opportunities where we can celebrate First Nations talent.”

By Rachael Knowles