Perth Fashion Festival’s Indigenous runway is hitting Yagan Square this Sunday, showcasing two of Perth’s best Aboriginal designers: Deadly Denim and Kirrikin.

The show will open with a debut from upcycled denimwear brand, Deadly Denim.

Rebecca Barlow, creator of Deadly Denim, originally launched the brand to raise money for the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund – the organisation that awarded her a scholarship.

While studying midwifery, Ms Barlow creates unique denim pieces in collaboration with Indigenous artists.

Ms Barlow told NIT she feels “really lucky” to have the opportunity to debut her designs at this year’s Perth Fashion Festival.

“We’re featuring the Djilba collection, which is the Noongar season that we’re currently in,” Ms Barlow said.

“It’s [my] first collaboration with three individual artists and … their artwork … has been photographed and digitally printed onto fabric.”

These artists Ms Barlow worked with on Djilba are from across the country, including Noongar woman Kiya Watt from Western Australia, Kalkadoon woman Glenda McCulloch from Queensland’s Mt Isa, and Ngarrindjeri woman Amanda Westley from South Australia.

Stone Axe Waterfall by Glenda McCulloch. Photo supplied by Deadly Denim.

From each sale price, 15 percent of profits go to the artists and 10 percent goes to Rhodanthe Lipsett.

Ms Barlow said Indigenous fashion creates another space Aboriginal artists can reach into and be successful from.

“You get just another medium to bring culture to the wider community,” Ms Barlow said.

The next steps for Deadly Denim include growing their collection from only denim jackets to skirts, dresses and bags out of recycled jeans.

“[I want to] keep growing the artists that come into it,” Ms Barlow said.

“Allowing exposure for them … most of them are up and coming artists.”

For Ms Barlow, it is very much about teamwork and collaboration.

“[It’s about] coming up with collective ideas together … to get everyone growing their businesses and their work.”


The forefront of Indigenous fashion

Indigenous luxury brand Kirrikin is back at the Festival for a second year, this time headlining the Indigenous runway.

Successful Wonnarua businesswomen and creator of Kirrikin, Amanda Healy said this year’s collection is all about the Australian summer.

“We have quite a new evolution of our line,” Ms Healy said.

“This season’s story is Saltwater Dreaming … getting people to feel and look like the Australian summer.”

The collection will feature wrap dresses, long flowing skirts, matching pants and shirts, as well as smaller tops or tops with sleeves to cater for every preference.

This year, approximately 80 percent of Kirrikin’s models are Aboriginal.

“[We also] have a few beautiful black faces that aren’t Australian black faces,” Ms Healy said.

Ms Healy said the Indigenous runway will launch the new line, which she describes as “a cross between everyday wear and resort wear.”

“We have a bit more of a universal appeal, so people could wear [pieces] to work … the beach, the pub … a more relaxed feel,” Ms Healy said.

Like Deadly Denim, Kirrikin works with Indigenous artists on all their pieces.

The Saltwater Dreaming collection features four patterns from three Indigenous artists:

  • Saltwater Dreaming and Emu Feathers by Noongar man Shane Hansen
  • Ripple by Gumbayngirr woman Helena Geiger
  • Overland Sigh by Palawa woman Emma Kerslake.
The Saltwater Dreaming design. Photo supplied by Kirrikin.

Ms Healy believes the very presence of Indigenous art in the contemporary fashion industry can work to change people’s views and ideas.

“For me it’s about kicking down doors, being in places that we haven’t previously been and making our presence felt,” Ms Healy said.

“It’s a bit about honouring the beauty of our culture … and the stories that we tell. Each of my artists [tell] ancient stories in contemporary ways.”

Ms Healy believes that by creating a space for Indigenous art to be front and centre in the fashion industry, it will contribute to a more positive view of Australia’s First Nations people.

“For me it’s about strengthening that space … our culture needs to influence … we need to make sure that we are viewed as authentic Australia,” Ms Healy said.

The Kirrikin creator wants to generate more interest across Australia and boost international sales – the brand currently has sales in Hong Kong, London and China.

“When people talk about Indigenous fashion … [we want Kirrikin to be] first and foremost in their mind.”

The Indigenous Runway is a free event at Perth Fashion Festival and is showing on Sunday September 15 at 12pm in Yagan Square.

By Hannah Cross