MEET Julie Shaw, Founder and Creative Director of MAARA Collective who was awarded the Fashion Design Award at the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA) this August, presented by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s (DAAFF) Indigenous Fashion Projects. We take a moment to catch up with the incredibly talented Yuwaalaraay designer, to talk about her work, collaborations, community and culture.
AFC were thrilled to be a supporting Industry Partner for the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA) this August, presented by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s (DAAFF) Indigenous Fashion Projects. Recognising 33 First Nations nominees across 6 unique categories. We congratulate all the amazing individuals involved!
Julie Shaw, Founder and Creative Director of MAARA Collective was awarded the Fashion Design Award – co-presented with Country Road, and recognised alongside Bula’bula Arts, for the Community Collaboration Award – co-presented with Northern Territory Government.
We take a moment to catch up with the incredibly talented Yuwaalaraay designer Julie Shaw, to talk about her work, collaborations, community and culture.
Tell us a little about your own background. How did you come to be drawn to the field of fashion and textiles? What are some key experiences that have shaped your industry journey so far?
I always knew from a very young age that design was what I loved and was drawn to.
To be quite honest I’m still not sure how or why. I grew up in the outback opal mining town of Lightning Ridge in northern NSW, so far removed from the lights and glamour of the fashion industry and certainly didn’t come from a family involved in the industry. Somehow though, I was just drawn to art and creativity and knew that it would be my path.
On a trip to North-east Arnhem Land years ago, where I stayed with a homeland community and learnt to weave and harvest materials with the Yolngu women, I experienced the incredible beauty and vibrance of the works being produced, and knew that it could translate so beautifully into contemporary fashion.
How did ‘MAARA Collective’ come to be?
I started MAARA Collective to celebrate and showcase the talents of our Indigenous artists, weavers and textile designers in a meaningful and appropriate way.
I’ve always held a creative dream to work with our people to bring to life culturally inspired fashion, and that’s where the idea for MAARA Collective came about.
After years working in the industry across design and product development, I just felt like I wanted to start something new. Something that wasn’t fast-fashion or disposable, but that had substance, was meaningful to the creators and the consumer, and that was meant to be cherished and kept forever.
MAARA Collective is, at its core, a collaborative brand, and the word ‘maara’ refers to the words for ‘hands’ in the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language groups, of where I am from. The name MAARA Collective is about acknowledging and honouring the ‘many hands’ involved in the creative and collaborative processes. Anyone from the fashion industry understands and knows just how many hands touch the product before it falls into the hands of the consumer.
Through the brand I engage and work with independent artists and art centres to license or commission artworks that are digitally printed onto fabrics, and translated into garment form through my design of the collections.
I also collaborate with weavers and jewellery makers to co-design accessories collections that work back in with MAARA collective fashion & lifestyle ranges.
A question we always ask, what does ‘Australian Fashion’ mean to you?
Australian fashion to me means recognising our diverse contributions to the industry, whether that be from our Indigenous designers and creatives or from multicultural influences through our society; I feel that Australia really is a beautiful melting pot of influences.
Our Australian lifestyle also plays a part in the identity of Australian fashion to me, and I guess that is why I love to design resort wear, reflecting and dreaming of our long summers and love of the water.
Tell us about your collaboration with the artists at Bula’bula Arts? What has been a key learning for you from this relationship?
In 2019 I connected with Yolngu master-weavers Mary Dhapalany, Margaret Malibirr and Evonne Munuyngu from Bula’bula Art Centre, which is based in Arnhem Land in the remote Top End of Australia. Together we co-designed a fashion and accessories collection which was presented at the ‘Country to Couture’ runway show in Darwin. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to travel up to Arnhem Land to spend time working with and learning from these incredible women and artists of the community of Ramingining.
I went on trips with the women onto Country to harvest and collect the natural materials for weaving and dying the pandanus, which the ladies use to weave.
The ladies led us with their deep knowledge of the environment, and together we harvested by hand the pandanus leaves for weaving, along with the roots, bark, leaves and bulbs required to make the natural dyes.
Everything came from nature and was sourced sustainably; a key learning here being to take only what is needed.
For this collection, I designed the garments using silks and ombre hand-dyed techniques, with a colour palette inspired by the vibrant yellow that featured prominently in the artist’s woven pieces. The ladies designed and handmade woven belts, bags, jewellery - and the stars of the show - wide brim resort-style hats that audiences just fell in love with, and which are currently on display at the ‘Piinpi Contemporary Indigenous Fashion’ exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery.
Another key learning was to be flexible and adaptable in the making process of such important pieces. That these pieces made by the weavers are not just objects of beauty, but they are enriched with cultural practices and story, and so the time and the process required to make them must be respected.
Your work carries a strong sense of country, culture and community. How has your own connection to country, your community and cultural heritage influenced your work and vision for MAARA Collective going forward?
As Indigenous people we are very connected to family and community. I was fortunate to have grown up on my Country surrounded by family and community, always knowing my place, where I came from and who my people are. I realise now that not everyone has had this experience, and I’m so very grateful for my upbringing. For me it’s about that connectedness, that practice of sharing and inclusivity, and I guess that’s why I love to collaborate; it’s really about those shared stories and experiences that I just find magical and which really is intrinsic to Indigenous people and communities.
For MAARA Collective’s first print collaboration, I’ve worked with Yuwaalaraay artist/designer Lucy Simpson of design studio Gaawaa Miyay to create exclusive prints, based on emu (Dhinwan) feathers. This is a very special print collaboration, as Lucy and I are connected through our families and communities of the Lightning Ridge and Walgett areas of NSW, and where the emu is our totem.
The collection, Resort 20/21 ‘DHINAWAN’ was released this month, and in the artist’s own words, “This print was created in honour of place, with emu feathers collected at Dharriwaa / Narran Lakes on Yuwaalaraay Country, traversing experience to wearable memory. (When worn) the Dhinawan feathers adorn and wrap around the body echoing the gentle embrace of Gunimaa (Mother Earth).”
What are you currently working on?
As mentioned, the Resort 20/21 Collection has just been released, featuring the exclusive prints of Lucy Simpson and including the launch of our swimwear range which also features the Dhinawan prints.
The entire print collection has been produced in Sydney, and it was really important for me that the printed product be locally made, on the land from which the stories originate.
We have also just refreshed the MAARA Collective website where the ‘DHINAWAN’ collection is available to purchase online.
Launched during NAIDOC Week this year and coinciding with the Resort 2021 Collection, we have also released an exclusive jewellery collaboration with Worimi artist/designer Krystal Hurst from Gillawarra Arts. We co-designed a collection of earrings and necklaces exploring the use of what we like to call ‘treasures from Country’ – emu feathers, dried native seeds, banded kelp shells with freshwater pearls, all brought together with sterling silver. The jewellery collection is also available at maaracollective.com and gillawarraarts.com
We have also recently been announced as a finalist in the Best Emerging Australian Designer award for the Australian Fashion Laureate - which is very exciting and an incredible honour!
Who are some of your local fashion and textile go-to’s?
1. Aus Indigenous Fashion @ausindigenousfashion – Curated by Yatu Widders-Hunt and showcasing the vibrant Indigenous fashion community
4. Bula’bula Arts @bulabulaarts – The art centre where Mary Dhapalany, Margaret Malibirr and Evonne Munuyngu work, along with many other incredibly talented and important Yolngu artists of the community of Ramingining, N/E Arnhem Land.
All images courtesy of Julie Shaw, MAARA COLLECTIVE