Darwin, Northern Territory © North
Where to find Australia’s best Aboriginal fashion and textiles
Fashion writer and vintage stylist Joanne Gambale searches the country for the best Aboriginal clothes and textiles. Here are her top picks and where to find them.
Like many in Australia, fashion stylist Joanne Gambale is passionate about supporting Aboriginal-owned businesses and the non-profits that give back to their communities, but her real love is Aboriginal textiles, which she thinks of as “wearable art”. While many Aboriginal-owned fashion labels are based online – Ginny’s Girl Gang, Lyn-Al, Maara Collective, Liandra Swim and Lisa Waup’s collection for Verner to name a few – there are galleries, arts centres and stores across the country where you can discover a kaleidoscope of Aboriginal designs. Here she shares her pick of clothes and textiles that not only look good, but do good by supporting Aboriginal communities and artisanal traditions.
Bábbarra Designs, Maningrida, Northern Territory
The Aboriginal artists of the Bábbarra Designs collective have been producing incredible printed textiles since 1989. Their fabrics are loved by fashion designers, who use them to create striking clothes. The fabrics are also popular with interior designers, who employ the fabrics to create beautiful homewares such as cushions and bedding.
Based in Maningrida, on the coast of the Arafura Sea in the Northern Territory’s West Arnhem Land (a one-hour flight or nine-hour drive east of Darwin), the production hub began as a women’s refuge and still promotes female solidarity. Run entirely by women, it has now expanded to support remote women’s centres in surrounding communities too.
Look out for these wonderful textiles in the top galleries of Australia’s capitals – at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery of Australia store in Canberra, and the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.
Kirrikin, Perth, Western Australia
Kirrikin is your go-to for luxury resort wear – something you might need a lot of on an Australian holiday. Kirrikin’s floaty scarves, cover-ups and swimwear collections are digitally printed with the artwork of contemporary Aboriginal artists, including Kaye Lorraine White, Sheryl Hicks, Shane Hansen and Helena Geiger.
The joy of wearing these prints is that they each tell a unique story; the artists draw inspiration from their natural surroundings and the stories of their ancestors. Kirrikin uses sustainable fabrics and manufactures ethically, is entirely Aboriginal-owned, and shares profits with the artists behind the designs.
You can find Kirrikin at Enex shopping centre in Perth.
Magpie Goose, various outlets across Australia
Magpie Goose is the brainchild of Maggie McGowan and Laura Egan, who both fell in love with local textiles while working within the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal communities. While not Aboriginal-owned, the brand does partner with Aboriginal artists, and its social enterprise model works to ensure economic inclusion and community education.
The collections, or “exhibitions of stories”, as they’re called, are well-tailored basics with simple, colourful prints and are already appealing to Australian fashionistas. Current and past collections include work by Ikuntji Artists, near Alice Springs in Central Australia, Minyerri, near Darwin, in the Northern Territory, and Hope Vale, near Cairns, in Queensland.
North, Darwin, Northern Territory
This non-profit organisation is governed by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal board members, and revenue from sales is directed back into the development of creative ideas that come from the artists themselves.
The work is exquisite, from simple tailored separates to “wearable art” such as Karen Napaljarri Barnes’s hand-painted linen robe with silk lining.
Ngali, Uluru, Northern Territory
Melbourne-based, but conceived by Denni Francisco, a proud Wiradjuri woman (of central New South Wales), Ngali puts another spin on Aboriginal textiles, translating mediums of both painting and photography onto silk clothes and accessories to great effect; abstract meets painterly in the colours and shapes of Australia’s landscapes. “Art is a lens through which our people see, understand and communicate with others,” Denni says.
Tiwi Design, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory
See your textiles being silk-screened by hand on a 13-metre-long (43-foot) table at the Aboriginal-owned and run Tiwi Design, a thriving and long-running workshop on Bathurst Island. This island is one of the two main Tiwi Islands, where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Darwin. While you’re there you can take a tour of Bathurst Island that includes an art session with a local Tiwi artist. After that it will be hard to resist a splurge on the diverse range of fabrics on display at the shop.
You can find an edited range of Tiwi textiles at their online shop.
Ngukurr Arts, Ngukurr, Northern Territory
Ngukurr is a remote Aboriginal community on the banks of the Roper River in southern Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. At its heart is Ngukurr Arts. Local artist Karen Rogers creates each design using stencils and rollers before it’s turned into a screen-print in Katherine, a three-hour drive away, then sewn together back in Ngukurr. The designs pay homage to local flora – such as Karen’s popular Garlunga print – and local life, as seen in her Walkabout design. The scarves here are dyed using nothing but local plants.
You can find an edit of Ngukurr Arts textiles at its online shop.
Marnin Studio, Kimberley, Western Australia
Marnin means “women” in the Walmajarri language. At the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre’s Marnin Studio in Fitzroy Crossing, in the heart of Western Australia’s Kimberley region, female artists find healing – and a living – by designing and creating textiles, gifts and homewares. Marnin Studio also facilitates a cross-cultural collaboration between local designers and emerging city-based designers to create fashion collections that have featured around the country at Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Melbourne Fashion Week and more.
Marnin Studio textiles are available online.