Black Fashion

There is a lot of excitement around the variety of Indigenous fashion and textile projects that are blossoming around the country. The momentum has been building for a number of years and several of the creative outcomes are being showcased. It seems the time is ripe for Black Fashion in Australia.

Arts Law through our Artists in the Black service is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and designers get the best possible rewards for their creative work and fashion is no exception. In this article we profile some of the interesting work and events that are occurring and what Artists in the Black is doing to assist.

Talking about it

There have been quite a few forums and workshops over the last couple of years providing opportunities for artists, designers and other professionals to share their skills and knowledge in the fashion and textiles area and to work out what gaps there are and what is needed to develop a vibrant Indigenous fashion industry.

Quite a bit has been happening in Queensland starting with the inaugural BLACK HEAT fashion workshop. This was part of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) in August 2011 when Arts Queensland together with Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation brought together a range of skilled professionals, successful designers and Indigenous creators to develop a plan to further cultivate this emerging industry. Subsequent to this forum, in June 2012 Arts Law held a workshop looking at the legal issues involved in collaborations between Indigenous artists and designers with input from Umi Arts, Kick Arts, Indigenous Art Centre Alliance ( IACA) and the support of Arts QLD.   Arts QLD also provided support to QUT Creative Enterprise Australia who held a workshop at Kick Arts workshop during CIAF in August 2012 on possible issues for the Indigenous artists participating in the QUT Indigenous Fashion Project later in the year.  Arts Law has been available at these events to provide necessary legal information for the artists and designers wanting to understand their rights. Coming up is the UflaUpla National Indigenous Textiles Forum as part of CIAF  Presents in Cairns 15-16 August 2013.

A separate initiative looking at both collaborations across Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and also with India is being done by Sangam, the Australia India Design Platform. This program has looked at the issues raised by Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborations, the protocols which need to be in place and how this applies to cross cultural collaborations with Indian artists. One of Sangam’s initiative’s was the Creative Neighbourhood Workshop held at the Gunnery in Woolloomooloo with NAVA, Arts Law and others in August 2012. During the same time, in a very different part of the country, the Travelling with Yarns workshop was held at Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) in Arnhem Land NT, with participants looking at initiatives and issues involved with textiles and creativity.

The Selling Yarns conferences which have been held by Craft Australia, Australian National University and others have focussed more on weaving and Indigenous textile practice which potentially feed into the fashion arena. To date there have been three successful events – the first in 2006 in Darwin, Selling Yarns 2 in 2009 and most recently Selling Yarns 3 in March 2013 in Canberra. There have been a range of interesting design collaborations and opportunities which have emerged from these conferences, including the Koskela and Elcho Island Artists lights (see Solid Arts case study

Fashion initiatives/shows

There are interesting  projects happening all over the country including the artists at Erub Erwer Meta on Darnley Island in the Torres Strait developing beautiful printed fabrics and individual designers such a Deadly Divas in Western Australia consequently presenting their collections as well as a number of catwalk events showcasing Indigenous fashion designers. In 2012 Deadly Divas and three other Indigenous designers from Western Australia took part in Dreamtime, part of Perth Fashion Week in April 2012. Also in 2012the QUT Fashion Incubator /Creative Enterprise Australia organised a collaborative project between 5 fashion design students and 5 Indigenous artists culminating in runway show on 21 November 2012. In March 2013 the Indigenous Runway show at the Spiegel tent during L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival received a lot of publicity.  Coming up is the Indigenous Spring Fashion Show (part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week) in September 2013 which Indigenous Fashion Unearthed will be participating. Next year the inaugural Australian Indigenous Fashion Week will be held in April 2014.


Behind the scenes, Arts Law has been working away to make resources available to the designers involved in these events. In June, Artists in the Black will be presenting workshops to the designers involved in Australian Indigenous Fashion Week to ensure they understand both the Indigenous cultural and intellectual property (ICIP) and copyright and contractual issues involved in their work. Another interesting development in 2013 was the QUT CEA Scholarship for an Indigenous emerging fashion designer.

To help with the many exciting initiatives, Arts Law has developed two template agreements, one for fashion collaborations and the other a licensing agreement for fabric which is useful for both fashion and furnishings, both of which are available on the Artists in the Black website. These agreements help designers and artists, not only manage the copyright issues arising in such projects but also the potential sensitivities around ICIP involved in the creations.

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