Australia’s 1st Indigenous Fashion Week Highlights Women Of Color


A survey by Australian women’s magazine Cleo in September 2013 claimed that Aussie consumers don’t want to see ethnic or Indigenous faces advertising their products, clothes or in the media.

Editor Sharri Markson surveyed 1100 models from the top agencies and found only a small number of diversity amongst the group.

“There were literally only 16 Chinese models and seven Indigenous models,” she said to ABC news Australia.

“The owner of one of the major modelling agencies, Priscilla’s, said it was very sad but they often have to turn away a beautiful black model or beautiful Asian model,” she said.

“They have to tell her the beautiful truth that she just won’t find full-time work in Australia and it’s not worth her while. Black, Asian or ethnic models don’t sell here.”

There are claims Australia is 15 years behind the United States when it comes to ethnic faces in the mainstream advertising and fashion industries, but they are working toward change.

This month marked the very first Indigenous Fashion Week in Australia which heralds a new dawn of faces seen in the land down under.

Former Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements said during her time at the iconic fashion magazine, she only saw 2 Aboriginal women on the cover (Elaine George in 1993 and Samantha Harris in 2010) but admits thanks to social media and globalization, it has broken down many barriers for Australia, being a smaller market than the rest of the world.

While some argue issues of race, Kirstie says the standards have nothing to do with skin color, but body proportions. She also pointed out that the majority of Aboriginal men and women live outside big cities which makes it harder for an agency to scout them.

“I don’t think they were purposefully discriminated against, at least during my tenure, but unfortunately, they were all but invisible. They were overlooked,” she said in a blog post on lifestyle site Mamamia.


“The excruciatingly strict standards of the high fashion world demand an almost impossible otherworldliness that actually overrides race – a supermodel needs to have perfect proportions, perfect skin, a perfect profile and be perfectly photogenic. Only a handful of girls in the world make it into this arena as it is,” she says.

“In my experience, photographers and editors do not use girls because they are black, Asian or white, nor do they discriminate against them because they are black, Asian or white. They use them because they are supernaturally beautiful and that they project the look the fashion story requires.”

Adam Ferrier from ad agency Cummins Ross told us that the lack of diversity in Australia fashion and advertising shouldn’t be an issue of race or prejudice.

“The advertising industry is rather conservative. As advertising anything can be expensive it’s rather risk averse.  Therefore, advertising tends to copy or reflect trends – rather than set them,” he said. Does this mean the Australian public need to start demanding more ethnic diversity? Perhaps.

“Australia is a weird place. Many Australian’s hold onto a somewhat dated view of what Australia is about. Imagining an ideal of a blond haired, bronzed Aussie surfer sitting next to his blond babe on the beach watching the surf roll in,” he goes on to say.

“This is in stark contrast to the reality that we are one of the most multicultural places on earth, and part of the wider Asian land mass.  As a culture and practice we embrace diversity, however this isn’t reflected in our communications.”

He agrees that diversity is needed, and no doubt this huge step forward of having a dedicated Indigenous fashion week speaks volumes.

“Diversity allows everyone to feel normal and accepted.  The more a culture embraces diversity, the more room there is for everyone to feel normal and accepted,” said Adam.


Vice magazine in the US made a trip down under for the very first Indigenous Fashion Week, showing that diversity is something that resonates on a global scale.

“It’s a hard industry, and it’s particularly hard when your look isn’t mainstream. We want to make our look mainstream.” said model Marlikka Perdrisat to Vice. She grew up in a small community outside Broome in Western Australia, and said her only exposure to fashion was the magazines other girls showed her at boarding school, and those never had indigenous models.

“You see what they want, and that’s not black,” she said. However it seems the millennial generation are working to eliminate stereotypes and represent a more accurate multicultural Australia in these influential industries.

“Young women understand that our culture is diverse and they want to see that reflected in fashion advertising they don’t want to see the same white and blonde look,” said Sharri Markson from Cleo magazine.

“Fashion advertisers are 100 per cent out of touch and they need to change in order to encourage people to buy their cloths and spend money on their products.”

The inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week showcased not only ethnic models but Indigenous designers. Perhaps one day there won’t be a need for a special fashion week dedicated to just the ethnic community, but for now it is a step in the right direction, giving greater visibility to the diverse landscape of Australian culture and forcing consumers to see a different perspective.

SBS Australia filmed a special segment on their show ‘The Feed’, given that the network is dedicated to multiculturalism.



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  2. So wonderful to see fashion in Australia embracing a more diverse approach, and Vice for exposing it. If only the media in Australia exposed more of the work thats being done to encourage more diversity, more of those barriers could be broken!

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