From the city of Fremantle to the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, Rebecca Rickard has taken Deadly Denim from side hustle to a global fashion debutante.  

For the Whadjuk and Ballardong woman from the Nyungar Nation, Deadly Denim began as a hobby. It launched in 2018 when Rickard sold her pieces at local markets on weekends while studying to be a midwife.  

Three years later, the business has grown beyond Rickard’s expectations.

The mum of three had been browsing business opportunities and applied for Flying Solo, a New York Fashion Week showcase open to just 10 up-and-coming independent designers who panelists believe are “the ones to watch”.

“I got an email very last minute from Flying Solo, the emerging designers program in New York, they pick 10 designers from applications all over the world,” said Rickard.

“I had a week to register and a week to make the pieces which was a whirlwind. There were eight looks which can be up to 16 pieces.”

“Because I collaborated with the other five artists, even though I’m making the garments, it still feels like a collective effort. It feels stronger than me just as one person.”

Crowdfunding the registration fees in just three days, Rickard said she was thankful for the continued support from the community of followers Deadly Denim has gained over the years.

“The registration fee was $4,000 and then there’s making the garments and posting them there, but I just went for it,” she said.

“I was so appreciative of the response, there’s a wonderful community of followers on social media that got behind it, and we raised what we need in two to three days.

“It was surreal, for me the moment I was truly proud of was when all the artists, the people that support the label and are behind the label, seeing the excitement online, it became real for me.”

Deadly Denim takes the stage at NYFW. Photo supplied.

Recognising another opportunity to showcase Indigenous Australian fashion design on an international platform, Rickard invited five artists to feature their artwork on the garments including Noongar artist Kiya Watt, Ngalang Moort and Kalkatungu artist Cungelella Art.   

“Our first collaboration was Bobbi Lockyer, which I had been talking about and wanting for so long, she had her beautiful piece on a jacket,” Rickard said.

“Mikayla King was the final artist I collaborated with, she’s lived on Noongar Country most of her life and does amazing things for our community and we used her design Connections.

“I also reached out to other Indigenous businesses, we used Clothing the Gap t-shirts with the skirts and Koorie Circle earrings to use on the runway with two other local businesses’ accessories.”   

Deadly Denim was also invited to present at LA Fashion Week in October 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic saw the cancellation of international travel, and eventually the showcase.  

“So many people and events were impacted, so I let it go quite easily, there’s not much I could do, I was having a lot of fun,” she said.

“I was really excited, we were getting quite creative with not just the show but representing our cultures, I had invited Elders and I was featuring solely Noongar artists on my pieces, and used our Indigenous models, so I definitely felt bad for the artists and models I reached out to.

“I think everyone was on the same page in understanding a pandemic is often a once in a lifetime sort of experience, and it was out of our control.”   

Ten per cent of Deadly Denim sales are also sent to the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund, which supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwifery students. 

 

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 But where does one go from New York Fashion Week?

“Wherever the wind takes me,” according to Rickard.   

The powerhouse said she will finish her midwifery studies over the next couple of years and continue to tour with her Aunty Kerry-Ann Winmar learning about local birthing places and practices. She has no plans on slowing down with the business.  

“Marissa Verma from Bindi Bindi Dreaming and I, with the support of Langford Aboriginal Association, put together a market for Aboriginal businesses to showcase their skills, products and knowledge, giving people an opportunity to buy direct and support local Aboriginal businesses,” Rickard said. 

“Marissa noticed a demand for it. The first one went so well that we are looking at doing them quarterly.

“A project I have in the works … the City of Fremantle has [been] given funding to hold a First Nations show during an event later in the year. It will include the Māori and Pacific Islander communities as well as some workshops I’ll be running for participants to make their own garments.” 

By Darby Ingram