Indigenous Designer of the Year: Julie Shaw

Yesterday the Australian Fashion Laureate Awards winners were announced. Amongst them is renowned Indigenous designer Julie Shaw, who won the Indigenous Designer of the Year award. Through her brand Maara Collective, her work has been a part of the growing recognition of Indigenous designers creating luxury and ethical fashion.

Shaw is a proud Yuwaalaraay woman who grew up in the rural opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge in Northern NSW. The Yuwaalaraay people are the traditional owners of the land around Lightning Ridge. You might be wondering how Shaw growing up in rural NSW was able to garner interest in art and fashion, don’t worry, she also has this question. Growing up in Lighting Ridge, there wasn’t anyone in particular, she could look up for her fashion passion. However, she has always had a passion for art, design and fashion. One trip of particular inspiration was to North-east Arnhem Land to the land of the Yolngu people. While she lived on country and in the community there, she learned to harvest materials and traditional weaving techniques with the Yolngu women. These techniques and materials inspired her, and she began thinking about putting them into contemporary fashion. She took her passion and went to study fashion at the University of Technology Sydney.

The Maara Collective was founded in 2019 by Shaw. She aimed to create a brand that would showcase the skills of Indigenous artists, weavers and textile designers. Prints are commissioned from Aboriginal artists, which Shaw will use on designs, and many of Maara Collective’s accessories are made using traditional weaving techniques. Furthermore, Shaw draws creative inspiration from country and culture, with many of her designs reflecting her love of Australia’s long summer and waters, as well as the landscape and light’s interaction with it. The word ‘Maara’ comes from the word for hands in the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language groups and is used to honour the many hands involved in the production of the Maara Collective’s fashion.

Shaw’s Indigenous heritage and culture are one of her main drives in life, and this is demonstrated in so much of what the Maara Collective accomplishes. Alongside their collaboration with Aboriginal artists, they are immensely supportive of Aboriginal communities. One of their initiatives is their partnership with Buy1 Give1, which helps them support training initiatives in remote Aboriginal communities; it works by donating proceeds from every product purchased.

At the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards in 2020, Shaw was awarded two awards across the six categories: the Community Collaboration Award for Maara Collective X Bula’bula Arts and the Fashion Design Award. As stated above, she recently was awarded the inaugural Indigenous Designer of the Year at the Australian Fashion Laureate Awards.

Julie Shaw is certainly a designer to continue looking out for. Her luxury fashion brand Maara Collective’s prestige is quickly increasing amongst the Australian luxury fashion circle.