Wa-ring: Illuminating Indigenous Fashion at Melbourne Museum

The Global Indigenous Runway (GIR) held at the Melbourne Museum as part of the PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF) 2024 Independent program, illuminated the transformative potential of Indigenous fashion under this year’s theme, Ancestral Bloodlines.

While designers and models from four ASEAN member states—Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Laos—graced the runway, aiming to celebrate the cultural connections between First Nations’ Peoples from Australia and the ASEAN region, it was Australian designer Annette Sax who captivated attention with her brand Wa-ring and its latest collection.

Wa-ring, meaning ‘river is kin, river is our family’ in the Taungurung language, stands as a luxurious and sustainable fashion brand deeply rooted in culture and connection.

“My collection will be featured in Bloodlines, Global Indigenous Runway at the Melbourne Museum. I am most looking forward to reconnecting with the amazing Indigenous models who I met last year during My Spirit My Country, Global Indigenous Runway MFF23 where they wore my silk collection Baban-ik Maruk Yilam (My Mother ‘s Heart and Home),” Sax told Style Up ahead of Wa-ring’s showcase.

In discussing last night’s presentation and the brand’s new Yalok collection, Sax conveyed that the inspiration behind this collection stemmed from a thoughtfully curated color palette imbued with symbolic significance.

“The inspiration behind this collection is a vibrant colour palette of magenta, yellow, pastel pink and pastel yellow. Black garments provide a distinct contrast. I have adapted some of my original designs including the addition of a waterfall sleeve to the wa-ring fit and flare dress and I’ve transformed my wa-ring waterfall sleeveless vest into a long sleeve dress/jacket worn with a belt,” she said.

“I work with our Fair Trade Fashion Team in Kathmandu Nepal, connecting via zooms to discuss design concepts. My Aboriginal designs are screen printed by First Nations Nepalese Artisans, on linen fabric and then sample garments are created. In Narrm I work together with the Spacecraft team to develop my paint pigments. I hand-painted a select number of white garments for this runway.”

Expanding on her collaboration with talented First Nations artists for this collection, Sax emphasized that it was the collective skills of many artists coming together.

“Thrilled to be collaborating with Kamilaroi Artist Priscilla Reid-Loynes who created stunning Adornments made from materials she and her Mum foraged up on their Homelands near Walgett in NSW. Hand-dying linen in urah medicine plant and collecting large wattle seeds links Priscilla and Aunty Patty to their Old People as they keep alive their cultural practices,” she said.

“I met Māori Artist Anna Hayes from New Zealand at the Worlds Indigenous Business Forum, Vancouver Canada in 2019. Excited that Anna accepted my invitation to collaborate creating extraordinary Adornments made of natural and hand-dyed plant fibres including Piupiu earrings, necklaces and Kupenga woven bags that represent a fishing net.”

Dedicated to immersing in the storytelling and communal traditions of Taungurung land and waterways, Wa-ring left audience members awestruck at the recent Global Indigenous Runway presentation.

“I am so excited to see the growth of First Nations Designers presenting at this year’s MFF. There is amazing diversity in our industry and many more opportunities within our industry. I am looking forward to seeing deadly collections in the Emerging Mob In Fashion Runway, especially Solid Ochre by Nathan McGuire. Proud of our Sista Cassie Leatham from Yanggurdi and intrigued to see her collection that will feature on the Thread Lightly x Deloitte runway,” Sax said.

Reflecting on the Global Indigenous Runway (GIR), Sax emphasized the pivotal role of Tina Waru, founder and CEO of the Global Indigenous Runway Project (GIRP), in her fashion journey.

“Tina Waru Māori woman and manager of Global Indigenous Management has been a wonderful supporter during my short fashion design career,” she said.

Since its inception in 2012, GIRP, under Waru’s leadership, has been dedicated to empowering Indigenous youth by offering them opportunities for growth and knowledge expansion in the fashion industry. Through various programs providing pathways to scholarships, internships, and connections with industry professionals, GIRP has been instrumental in nurturing Indigenous talent.

In 2013, Waru expanded her vision by establishing Global Indigenous Management (GIM), which quickly became a prominent fashion, events, and entertainment agency. GIM produces three annual global Indigenous fashion runway events, including one for Melbourne Fashion Week, another for the Melbourne Fashion Festival’s independent program, and New Zealand’s global Indigenous Fashion Festival.

GIM’s initiatives extend beyond runway events, offering comprehensive support to designers across Australia and globally in various aspects of design and business— from launching a label to campaign management, creative concept development, retail, and beyond.

Thanks to the support and exposure from GIRP and GIM, Sax and her brand have gone from success to success.

“The end of 2023 saw Wa-ring being involved in two major runways which was an amazing experience! I had the privilege to be part of the First Nations Runway ‘Ganbu Marra’ runway at The Lume, Melbourne Fashion Week. ‘Connections’ was an incredible backdrop, magnifying our Collections which were styled by creative Anatasia Keshan,” she said.

“I loved the interconnection that developed between myself and Aboriginal and Maori Adornment Artisans Priscilla Reid- Loynes (Kamilaroi) and Anna Hayes. Highlighting other women’s talents and bringing them along with me on this path has been a joy.

“In that same week my business and life partner Bob Williams represented wa-ring at Jarkarta Fashion Week. This opportunity was supported by The Australian Embassy Jakarta and Government of Victoria. It was surreal watching my Nagambii Collection on the live stream, I felt so proud seeing my designs included in my first International runway. I collaborated with Taungurung Adornment creator Cassie Leatham.”

Being a Taungurung badjur (woman) from the Kulin Nation, Sax has always been naturally inclined towards culturally inspired fashion design.

“I have 20 years of experience designing and manufacturing Aboriginal eco toys and 10 years of practical knowledge designing fashion accessories and homewares with our fair trade partners in Nepal,” she said.

“Early in my career under the guidance of my Taungurung Elders I learnt the art of collection Ochre and Wattle Sap – skills that have become integral to my craft. In 2021, I joined the Kin Fashion and Design Program where I developed a capsule inspired by my Taungurung Creation Stories and innate connection to my scared waterways.”

With her burgeoning interest in design and a thriving business, Sax eagerly announces the upcoming opening of Wa-ring’s first boutique in the city of Narrm.

“Ecstatic to be moving Wa-ring into a home of her own! A boutique in the city of Narrm, 516 Elizabeth Street, opposite the Queen Victoria Market. My son Iluka Sax-Williams is project managing to transform this space which is part of a new Art Precinct through Creative Spaces and City of Melbourne,” she said.

“We will keep everyone updated of our grand opening via our Wa-ring Instagram and Facebook.”

With unwavering passion, the imminent boutique launch, and a steadily growing presence on the runway, Annette Sax is poised to become recognized as the driving force behind one of the foremost Indigenous-founded fashion brands.

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