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The story of Perina Drummond who founded her all-Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander modeling agency, Jira, begins in an iconic Australian setting: a Melbourne tram. “I met my first model, Cassie, on one in Brunswick. It was weird,” she laughs, thinking back to model Cassie Puruntatameri’s cold approach on the way home from Queen Victoria Market, “but it was such a great start for the agency.

It was 2017, and the Torres Strait-born stylist and former model decided to address the lack of Indigenous representation in the local Australian fashion landscape. Thanks in large part to the tireless push of Indigenous communities to put inclusion on the mainstream agenda, it has achieved a new urgency. Jira became the first major agency of its kind in the country, catering to a crucial underserved area.

“There were a lot of people – creatives and professionals – clamoring for Indigenous role models,” she recalls. “I was literally picking up my phone and I had someone on the line saying, ‘I’m ready to shoot.'”

Four years later, she is reshaping the mainstream understanding of what the instantly recognizable version of Australian fashion looks like: sun, swim, sometimes exclusively coastal and, previously, mainly white. Instead, she mentors young models, blazes a trail in the industry and is now hosting a historic moment – a show that will be one of two all-Indigenous fashion shows ever on the Australian Fashion Week schedule. afterpay.

Presented by Indigenous Fashion Projects, a project of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, today featured six First Nations designers from across the country, including designer Liandra Gaykamangu’s Liandra Swim; Maara Collective; Kirrikin; Melbourne label Ngali, known for its swirling silk prints; and two other swimwear brands, Indii and Native Swimwear. It draws on tens of thousands of years of history. The six designers will then take part in the Pathways program, an initiative launched last year by department store David Jones that sees each label paired with an established industry brand for mentorship, then supported with seminars, workshops and opportunities. networking events facilitated by the retailer over 12 years. month.

With Samantha Harris walking among the models and attendees, including New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and sports legend Adam Goodes, she sees it as a moment of community where the growing number of creatives from First Nations Nations can work together in a safe space, in what is a model for the future. “I feel the difference when I work with non-Aboriginals than with Aboriginals. There’s just a different momentum, and there’s just a different way of communicating.

“You almost feel like home when you do things together, even at fashion shows or photo shoots,” she continues, noting that despite the progress, the industry is still dominated by non-Aboriginal stories and may seem unfamiliar to some. First Nations people. “As our community grows within the industry, there is more relaxation. It’s so good that we can still bring that into a space that’s very foreign.

Drummond addresses the idea that comfort and confidence are still barriers to greater involvement of Indigenous Australians in the fashion industry and that cultural sensitivity is crucial. “You just have to understand that English is neither their first language nor their second language,” she says of the young models who speak one or more of the 120 different indigenous languages ​​still spoken today. (There were 250 at the time of British colonization.) “Sometimes it’s their third or fourth language,” she says. “It’s definitely overwhelming for them and something that really scares them.”

The talent with which she works has overcome such obstacles, which she supports them with. “We were once in Sydney for a shoot, and I had to host one of them. I made sure we took different flights to get her used to flying alone. But at the airport , I was teaching her to read the departure and arrival signs, making sure she knew which column…like, “This is where your gate is.” It’s your time boarding.

Her role is granular in this sense, taking time and a slower approach rather than pushing young models to go fast and hard as has been industry practice for so long. Instead, she frequently travels to remote communities, building confidence and showing budding role models whose connection to country, family and culture is inextricable with their identity that they may leave but return home, reversing the traditional trajectory of international supernovae. She knows that a thriving industry in Australia can support their work here and keep them connected to the culture.

The most rewarding part of her job is watching them flourish. “Even though [some may not] speak English correctly or they are not sure to speak that way, can they walk? They can absolutely walk. Can they shoot? They can absolutely bring it to the camera.

She only foresees more opportunities for future models, starting with these first Australian Fashion Week shows. “It’s been a journey to see Indigenous women from where we once were, without having that opportunity, to now where we’re almost at the forefront of Australian fashion. It’s such an exciting feeling. .

Named after her great-great-grandmother, Nara Jira Para, of Wuthati Country in Queensland, Jira is now based in the Torres Strait home of Drummond due to COVID-19. However, she takes trips to remote communities, such as Kimberley in Western Australia, unearthing talent. “It’s quite a utopia there, to be honest,” she says. And her advice for all First Nations people considering a career in fashion? “By all means, do it. Find a way to do it, even if it means contacting me just for advice.

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Originally appeared on Vogue