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Top Indigenous designer creates IWC supporter wear

LEADING Indigenous design house AARLI has created a new range of corporate and supporter wear for Aboriginal community-controlled organisation Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC Ltd).

“IWC is a sponsor of AARLI, and this step forward into a suite of corporate and supporter wear reflects the success stories of both operations,” said IWC CEO Ara Harathunian.

From humble beginnings in 2002 with just one employee, IWC is now a major employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with operations in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

AARLI is owned and operated by Aboriginal designer Teagan (TJ) Cowlishaw, who was born in Darwin, is a Bardi descendent and has family links to Chinese pirates.

Even as a child, Teagan was involved in fashion. In the 1990s, her mother Sarina Jan coordinated fashion and community events in the Northern Territory for Indigenous fashion designers. Teagan was a model.

Today, Teagan is known nationally and internationally, with her work in major exhibitions, books and publications and is sending out a clarion call that Aboriginal culture can drive a successful business operation.

Mr Harathunian said the partnership between AARLI and IWC Ltd was a natural one.

“Teagan is focused on being a positive influencer through Aboriginal culture. IWC has recognised in AARLI a passion to shape the future for the better for all people, with culture an integral part of the everything the design house delivers.

“This is how IWC works, with culture and Reconciliation in Action part of our everyday operations, using an Aboriginal Terms of Reference framework to deliver empowerment and opportunity to all peoples.”

Teagan says AARLI is on a mission.

“Our design house, AARLI, wants to influence society’s perception of Aboriginal Australian fashion and provide commercial platforms or opportunities for next-generation First Nation creative professionals,” she said.

The name AARLI stems from her culture – it is Bardi language for fish.

Also at the centre of the AARLI collections is Teagan’s passion to “re-use and recycle”, which has led her to discover innovative new ways to upcycle in the fashion arena.

“As a young girl, because we didn’t have much money growing up, I learned to appreciate vintage fashion and costume design,” she said. “I also found a passion to upcycle, based on the need to reuse and recycle wherever possible in every part of our life.”

“We need to remind ourselves we’ve only got one Earth, one shot. We, as brands, need to influence and create awareness among consumers to understand the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’.

The ride to being a leader in her field has been a heady one so far.

In 2014, AARLI develop a deadstock partnership with Nobody Denim. Brand turning dead-stock denim, which could otherwise end up in landfill, and the combination of other sustainable products won AARLI national and international praise and taken her around the world on photoshoots.

In 2014 Teagan launched AARLI with her pieces in Sydney at Australian Indigenous Fashion Week being featuring in national Newspapers, books and magazine cover.

In 2015, she joined the alumni of British Council’s ACCELERATE program being the only WA representative and first fashion designer to complete the program.

In 2016, Teagan received a Creative Enterprise Australia Indigenous Fashion Accelerator scholarship – the first West Australian to be recipient of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT CEA) scholarship.

She used it to develop a graduate collection of upcycled samples and the label’s spring/summer 2016/17 collection Eco Rebel – which was made from leftover end-of-roll textiles remnant from Australian Designer brand Bec and Bridge and textile which is a type of polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, and car upholstery.

That scholarship helped Teagan take AARLI to the next level, and evolve into the brand that delivers Indigenous women’s clothing, accessories and jewellery that is ethically produced.

“AARLI is the type of organisation IWC is proud to get behind,” said Mr Harathunian. “Teagan has made her own opportunities, and her success today is due to her hard work and passion for Indigenous culture and our Australian environment.

Today, Teagan is exhibiting across Australia. This month, and until the end of September, she is one of the leading Indigenous designers from across Australia being showcased in Blak Design Matters in Melbourne curated by Jefa Greenaway.

In August, Teagan is part of an exciting exhibition being delivered in partnership with the State Library of Western Australia.

Titled “Bibbullmun Bardi – Exploring Aboriginal Design”, the exhibition will celebrate seldom-told stories of some of WA’s Aboriginal design icons. The exhibition will explore the diversity of West Australian Aboriginal design practice. From Bruce Wiggan, Ron Gidgup, Sally Bin Demin, KANINDA, Ticia Designs, Mangkaja art centre, Marnin Studios and Peter Farmer.

The successful designer credits dedication to her Nana Rose Jan. Teagan states proudly that her mother Sarina Jan is her main inspiration and powerhouse of support.

“The 2018 NAIDOC theme, ‘Because of her, we can’, is so true, so real,” she said. “My deadly Mudda has been my number one influencer and muse.”

Her mother, Sarina Jan, was the recipient of this year’s Top End NAIDOC – Lifetime Achievement Award.

  • Blak Design Matters runs at Federation Square, Melbourne from 21 July to 30 September
  • Bibbullmun Bardi – Exploring Aboriginal Design runs from 9 August to 30 September at The Nook, State Library of Western Australia, Perth.