On the 25th-29th July, 2016 Warburton celebrated Australia’s most remote fashion week . Situated in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Western Australia, with 1,000km from the nearest towns (Kalgoorlie and Alice Springs), Warburton is one of Australia’s most remote places (Alanya 2015). Wilurarra Creative has been running the Warburton community driven fashion program since 2004 (Feilding 2016). The fashion week gives the Ngaanyatjarra residents an opportunity to showcase their new skills in hairdressing, styling, fashion parade management, event production, photography and publications developed at Wilurarra Creative .
Local artist, Vashti, explains the impact the program has had on the community, “I’ve never seen fashion before, now I’m seeing fashion in our land,” she describes the style as ‘local style or Wilurarra style’, “the local style is personal and developed organically. Wilurarra style, I dunno — must be some kind of meaning, meaning to them” (Morris 2016).
The usually quiet desert setting was transformed with bold colour, big makeup and the spotlight was on the local style. Backstage locals crafted their hair, practiced poses and nervously paced behind the curtain before walking down the homemade catwalk, to parade in front of family and friends. Although far from the catwalks of Paris, Silvano Giordano is the director of Wilurarra Creative who co-presented the event explains; “Fashion allowed community members to express their unique style as part of contemporary Ngaanyatjarra culture” (Cooney 2016)… “It’s not serious fashion, there’s not lots of ‘blue steel’, There’s a lot of laughter and feeling shy, but then standing up and being proud” (Morris 2016).
Having run the fashion week a few years earlier, Vashti said local confidence was growing and so too was the unique Ngaanyatjarra style, “Last time they used to do it like, shy and quiet, and now you can see people, when the event is coming closer it’s like, girls talking to girls saying, ‘Hey it’s coming up, fashion you know — do your own style'” (Morris 2016).
Warburton is using fashion to drive social change. Alex Walton, a Ngaanyatjarra Health Personal Helpers and Mentors Services co-ordinator said “the event empowered people and made them feel good about themselves”(Cooney 2016).
Off the back on Warburton Fashion Week, the community released a locally-produced fashion publication two years in the making, titled Alanya, Ngaanyatjarra slang for “looking good”(Alanya 2015). Created by Wilurarra Creative, it is the result of workshops in digital design, photography, fashion, styling, marketing, advertising, messaging, writing and translation. It featured more than 90 collaborations with artists, volunteers, facilitators, photographers, writers, editors, models and stylists to co-create fashion photo stories, digital collages, or original Ngaanyatjarra ads (Alanya 2016).
Who knows, perhaps Ngaanyatjarra style will become a fashion subculture? But in the mean time it is an excellent way for an isolated community to express itself in the wider, modern Australian setting. Not only does fashion week help build relationships throughout the community, build confidence and learn new skills, it also is building a creative industry opportunity as seen with Alanya.
Morris, Nathan. 2016. “Remote fashion festival drives social change and celebrates Aboriginal desert style.” Abc News. 30th July. http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-30/remote-fashion-festival-drives-social-change/7675034
Fielding, Kate. 2016. “Warburton Fashion Week 2016.” Accessed 20th August 2016. http://www.katefielding.com.au/Projects/957/
Alanya. 2015. “Alanya Publication.” Accessed 20th August 2016. http://www.alanya.com.au
Cooney, Elaine. 2016. “Ngaanyatjarra residents style up for catwalk.” Yahoo 7. 1st August. https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/regional/goldfields/a/32205486/ngaanyatjarra-residents-style-up-for-catwalk/#page1