To research the growing global Indigenous fashion industry to support a Kimberley textile industry

South Africa
Land, Commerce and Logistics
The Arts
To research the growing global Indigenous fashion industry to support a Kimberley textile industry featured image

Keywords: Indigenous, fashion, textiles, design, industry

Overview and Recommendations:

Since the 1960’s there has been development of an Australian Indigenous fashion industry that encompasses fabric printing, clothing design, small and large business models and supports the growth and training of indigenous younger generations in varying capacities. Some regions have been more invested than others. There has been decades long textile and fashion development in the Northern Territory art centres and more recent establishment of art centres and programs focused on textile and fashion development in the Kimberley region of WA and northern QLD. There are also individual artists particularly those based in urban regions of the country producing their own lines of fashion and accessories. The alignment with the fine arts sector and current art centres models are connecting forces that has seen the development of different models in regional and remote communities.

There is great potential to build and support economic, cultural and social developments for indigenous artists, their families and communities through further strengthening of the industry. To support investigate future developments in the sector this research was undertaken to look at the approaches of designers and textile makers within Africa and South East Asia. These regions and particularly the industry of South Africa share common traits to Australian indigenous industry development. They create unique and culturally rich art, textiles and design that reflect on historical and contemporary culture and expression but have a limited market within their nations. As such they have significant strategies in place to develop local industry for national and international consumption. They are building international audiences and retail opportunities to make for a growing and sustainable industry that benefits the growth of the nation.

The research in this report is based upon travel and investigation in major fashion capitols, including the western strongholds of New York and London and more importantly the developing fashion capitols of South Africa, Kuala Lumpur and Java. These spaces have rich textile and fashion histories to explore with contemporary designers building on their legacy in design. The contemporary issues these regions face are the same as those we in Australia are grappling with. The report reflects on the strategies that are being explored, which reinforce the necessity for government investment in the industry and protection in regard to trade and imports. The report encompasses four main sections that address the key areas that fashion is aligned with; business, textiles, art and education pathways. The sections explore the connections of  fashion with history, culture and tradition, regional development and trade and contemporary developments. The research is particularly focused on business models and strategies being explored by artists and designers of African regions and Southeast Asian countries. The report aims to reflect the importance of narrative and story telling in fashion and art with the inclusion of designers and industry voices in case studies.

The results of this research highlighted core themes that were informing changes and success in models across the industry at large.

  • Building on our strengths – the enhancement of systems and models that have been locally developed were a critical factor in the success of the local designers and the broader industries. There was insistence on remaining connected to the models that provide long-term support, including family structures, community based models, and promotional platforms that invested in local industry members and developments. This approach was reinforced across academic, institutional and commercial models.
  • Collaboration and a Connected Sector - collective creative thinking is central to the development of industry. It is a core strategy that is resulting in the development of entrepreneurial and innovative practises expanding creativity, networks and skills development across artistic and business sectors. This was seen to be the most important way to develop business readiness in designers and sustainable business practise in the industry.
  • Innovative and strategic business approaches - presenting a clear vision and understanding of our business models, our target audiences, and taking our story and conditions to the market knowing our value. Remaining agile and innovative in our business and creative strategies to stay competitive in the dynamic global industry.
  • Digital Platforms and access – Online platforms and social media was incorporated into every business model I encountered. This is a crucial area to develop and engage with for business visibility, audience development and retail sales. It provides a means to reach global customers and is a major opportunity for the engagement of younger generations in the industry.

The eight recommendations that conclude this report are presented as a means of connecting and strengthening the Indigenous Australian fashion industry regionally and nationally. In combination they provide an ideal picture of the strategies that will support collective creativity and development for sustainable industry growth. Individual artists and groups of artists can draw upon the individual recommendations to support current developments and practise. The recommendations are responsive to the mix of artists working conditions and positions within the industry across the nation. They ultimately support the development of an industry that empowers Indigenous artists and leaders to reap the most benefit from their creative practise.


Belinda Cook

Belinda Cook

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