Aussie Plus Size Label Teams With Award-Winning Indigenous Designer For Stunning New Collection

Designer Elverina Johnson has partnered with clothing brand Taking Shape for a new collection.

Aussie Plus size clothing brand Taking Shape recently launched an exciting new partnership with award-winning Indigenous designer, Elverina Johnson. The first in a series of partnerships they are set to reveal throughout the year, Taking Shape are taking female empowerment to the next level through their work with Elverina, whose mission it is to preserve the Indigenous Spirit through the arts.

The collection was recently featured in Vogue Australia, and Elverina’s designs will also be appearing on the runway as part of this year’s First Nations Fashion Design showcase at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney on May 13th.

A highly respected Gungganji Gurugulu woman from Yarrabah in Far North Queensland, Elverina is one of the Nation’s most recognizable and accomplished artists who was awarded the 2017 Nation NAIDOC Artist of the Year. Her talents span the spectrum of visual and performing arts. Her belief is that arts can empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and restore a genuine sense of pride in their culture and communities.

Elverina shares her First Nation history and stories through her beautiful prints, bringing them to a wider audience and educating through fashion. Elverina shared ‘there are many roads to reconciliation’ and the opportunity to collaborate with Taking Shape allows her to share her story on a national platform.  

Like Taking Shape, Elverina takes her role of empowering women seriously. Her family name – Bunya Badjil – means ‘good woman’. Elverina is passionate about making her unique prints available for all women to enjoy. Taking Shapes’ size inclusive styles, diverse fashion and style confidence provide the perfect canvas to celebrate all women.

Elverina’s art, with its bold and colorful designs, was featured in the First Nations Show at the 2021 Sydney Fashion Festival and in the 2021 Brisbane Fashion Festival. Her designs have also been worn by the Miss World Contestant 2019 and fun fact, she’s even performed with the Wiggles!

The two original designs were hand painted by Elverina, and are both exclusive to Taking Shape. Her vision was then interpreted by TS designers and brought to life in this stunning collection, which you can see in the images below. The first design is called Bunya Yaji. This print was inspired by the rainforest and mat and basket weaving techniques of the Gungganji women. Traditions deeply connected to culture, they represent the strength of the women and the community. The second design is called Dirringhi. Inspired by the ocean and sea life of Far North Queensland, the Dirringhi print features the mussel shell which represents a delicacy, adornment, and cutting tool.

Here’s what Elverina shared with us about the Taking Shape partnership, her mission through her artwork, and why female empowerment is important to her personally:

Congrats on the news of the new partnership with Taking Shape! How did this all come about initially? 

My initial interest in Taking Shape started earlier this year when as a customer myself, I went into one of their stories in Cairns to look for something suitable to wear to a friend’s 50th birthday party. I loved the clothes but the prints didn’t really interest me. So I asked one of the customer service operators if there were jackets. I bought the plain black jacket and told the lady that I would buy the jacket and hand paint it.

I got into a conversation with the lady and told her I was an Artist and showed her some of my work on my Instagram profile and she was interested in what she saw. I mentioned that it would be great to have indigenous designs on Taking Shape clothing as it would add to the diversity. She took my phone number and said she would talk to the managers. I forgot about it and a few months later I got an email to chat about the possibilities!

What are some of your featured pieces that people can look forward to seeing in the collection, and the inspiration behind them?

Some of the featured pieces in the collection are around women’s stories, which are symbols of strength, and the journey of a woman such as the Dilly bags and the woven mats. They are deeply connected to First Nations women especially in north Queensland where the dilly bags and the woven mats are made from the fibers of the palm trees in the tropical rainforest.

Designer Elverina Johnson working in her studio.

What is your creative process when beginning a particular design? Where do you begin, in terms of color, print, inspiration etc?

My creative process begins with an idea or inspired concept depending on who or what I am painting for. I usually take a lot of photos as I live between the rainforest and the ocean in my community of Yarrabah. So inspiration is all around me. Photos of something I saw usually gives me an idea. Sometimes I will start with a color or shapes. I then decide how I will use the idea. Either on canvas, fabric, wearable art, accessories etc. Most times, the idea I start out with will not be the end product but something completely different and better.

As an artist who has been creating designs for many years, what does it mean to work with a mainstream fashion brand to bring your work in front of more fashion lovers and buyers? 

Working with a major mainstream fashion brand is far beyond my expectations. I am over the moon about the partnership, and having this opportunity has just opened up a flood gate of further opportunities for me. I appreciate Taking Shape giving me the opportunity to do something for them. This is what makes practical reconciliation a reality.

I hope that people who see and buy this line of clothing will feel proud and also feel a sense of connection to what the artworks are about.

We love that you interweave your culture and passion for justice throughout your work and have spoken about this before. Can you share more about how you believe fashion can be a forum for reconciliation with the Indigenous communities in Australia? 

Art in all forms can be a doable platform for storytelling and practical reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems to be. All you need to have is a willingness to learn, listen and take small steps towards practical measures to reconcile.

Taking Shape has been very inclusive of different body sizes as well as different ethnicities in their campaigns. As a First Nations woman, can you tell us why representation is important to you? 

Representation is extremely important for me as First Nations woman in Australia. We represent the ancient women and we have ancient stories to tell that share good values that all people can learn from and apply to themselves, which is what you will see in my designs.

I saw a great comment from a lady who found out about what I was doing with Taking Shape. She was also a regular customer of the brand. Her comment was, “Taking Shape just got better!” The diversity that Taking Shape is already projecting, in terms of catering to plus size women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, has now become more inclusive of First Nations women who will identify and feel extra valued.

What does female empowerment mean to you personally, and how do you channel this through your designs? 

Female empowerment is a huge topic for me especially, because I have four sons. You would think that it would be more so if I had all girls, but I find it’s easier to highlight women’s empowerment when speaking to males who are growing up and need to be prepared for strong women and who can support and understand us. Women are the back bones of our family units and our communities.

Who are some other Indigenous designers that you are inspired by, and that more people should know about? 

There are amazing Indigenous designers who I love working with and whose work is outstanding, such as Grace Lillian Lee, Simone Arnald, Nakeema Williams, and so many more.

What do you hope people will love most about your partnership with Taking Shape? 

I love this partnership with Taking Shape because of their openness to learn and understanding what the stories are about. Their willingness to be agents of changes and inclusiveness in a society where First Nations people have to work extra harder to even get a little recognition is great. And when we do, we value it well, as I do right now. 

I hope that people will know and see that there are real people who do care behind the big company names. It’s rare, but they are there. They too need a chance to shine.

You can shop the full Taking Shape X Elverina collection, and learn more about the story behind the designs, by clicking HERE.

Model wears clothing from the Elverina Johnson X Taking Shape collection.

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