This Indigenous Modeling Agency is Changing the Face of Australian Fashion

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

Drummond touches on the idea that comfort and trust are still barriers to more involvement by more Aboriginal Australians in the fashion industry and cultural sensitivity is crucial. “Just understanding that English isn’t their first language or their second,” she says young models who speak one or more of the 120 different Aboriginal languages still spoken today (there were 250 at 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 off.”

The talent she works with have taken on such hurdles, something she supports them with. “We were up in Sydney for a shoot once and I had to houseparent one of them. I made sure we caught different flights so she got used to flying by herself. But at the airport I was teaching her how to read the departure signs and the arrival signs, making sure she knew which column… Like, ‘That’s where your gate is. That’s your boarding time.’”

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

The most rewarding part of her job is seeing them flourish. “Even though [some may not] speak English properly or they’re not confident to speak that way, can they walk? They can absolutely walk. Can they shoot? They can absolutely bring it to the camera.”

She foresees only more opportunities for future models, starting with these first Australian fashion week shows. “It has been a journey to see Indigenous women, from where we once were, not having this opportunity, to now where we’re almost at the forefront of Australian fashion; that’s such an exciting feeling.”

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Named after her great-great grandmother, Nara Jira Para, from Wuthati Country in Queensland, Jira is now based in Drummond’s home of the Torres Strait because of Covid-19, though she takes trips to remote communities to places in the Kimberley in Western Australia, unearthing talent. “It’s quite a utopia out there, to be honest,” she says. And her advice for any 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 to get advice.”

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