Black and Indigenous Lives Matter

As events continue to unfold in the US and sister movements spring up around the world, local voices have joined the conversation. As parallels between the racial injustices experienced in America to those in Australia are thrown into sharp relief, a cadre of voices from our creative corners are expressing sympathy, outrage and anger. They remind us that we are in a country whose history includes brutal realities endured by Indigenous Australians, who still suffer in staggeringly disproportionate numbers at the hands of our current system. Using their platforms to confront the ugly truths of injustices past and present carried out against minorities, particularly the Aboriginal community, Vogue asked those who have spoken up, to tell us why, what actions they are carrying out, and how fashion communities, and we might all play a part in continuing action and conversation.

Regina Jones, founder, Ginnys Girl Gang

Tell us a bit about why you are using your platform to speak about this issue; why did you feel the need to speak up?
“I may have never met George Floyd, but I know him. He is our brother, he is our son, he is our friend, he is our uncle. What happened to George wasn’t an isolated incident. The reality is, George is one of many POC that have been murdered at the hands of police. I use my platform because, as an Indigenous person this is who I am–my platform is built on who I am. If I were to stay silent in these moments, I would be consenting to the current narrative that allows the celebration and embracement of certain elements of Black culture, whilst ignoring the harsh reality that is systemic racism, which has allowed for POC to be murdered by police both in Australia and America.”

What concerns do you hold as a brand generally surrounding this issue that you expressed on social media? 
“As a brand, I have no concerns. By being silent, I would be consenting to the continuation of systemic racism and oppression of both people of colour and Indigenous people. Our whole lives are these moments, every day. The world may be seeing this for the first, or second, or even tenth time in their lives, but this is our daily reality. I am concerned about my husband, who is Black in Georgia, USA, where we currently live. I am concerned about his family and friends. I am concerned about going to Taco Bell at 1am and worrying about whether everything in the car is okay, and the registration is okay. But, what makes this even more outrageous is that my brother, my friends, my family feel exactly the same back home in Australia. The only concern is how I walk in the world and feel safe, and making my family and friends feel safe also. My whole brand is about being proud of who we are and the colour of our skin, despite how the rest of the world may feel about it.”

Personally, do you feel creative industries like fashion should or can be part of the conversation? How would you like to see the industry take part? Why? 
“Everyone should be part of the conversation. I think right now POC need to be heard. If this issue does not directly impact you, then listen to the voices of the people it does impact. If you truly believe that everyone has a right to live, to go for a run, to write a check, to look out their bedroom window, to be safe in their own communities, to sell CD’s, to simply just exist in this world, then you should want to be part of this conversation.”

What would you like to encourage your following to do? How can individuals make a difference? 
“It’s time to decide what steps you will take to make continuous grounded change. Educating yourself is good. Having important and uncomfortable conversations is imperative. Getting on the streets is good. Being upset is good. But also, what is your plan to continuously work on making change happen? If you are shocked at what is happening in America, then you will be enraged to hear about what has happened, and continues to happen in Australia. It’s easy to get angry and sad once a year and then put your rage on the back-burner – that’s what privilege allows non POC to do. You have to do better and you have to do more. Rest in power, George Floyd.”

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Sianna Catullo, project officer of spark health, and chief creative officer of Clothing the Gap

Why are you using your platform to speak about this issue? Why do you feel the need to speak up?
“As an Aboriginal-owned and led fashion label, we feel the need to speak up about social issues that First Nation people are affected by daily, not because its ‘trending’ because it’s the right thing to do. As Aboriginal people we don’t have a choice to be political. We are born political. Currently, while the system fails us and mainstream media doesn’t represent us, we use our platform to educate, raise awareness and seek support from wider Australia. While the system silences us, we use fashion as a contemporary way to rise up and have a voice. Systematic racism and oppression of Aboriginal people is prevalent in Australia. It is one of the highest causes for deaths and suicides amongst our community. There has been over 400 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in 1991.”

What concerns do you hold as a brand generally surrounding this issue that you expressed on social media?
“We are a social enterprise creating a ‘fearlessly progressive’ community who have the confidence and knowledge to speak out against racism and to celebrate Aboriginal Australia. We hope this initial engagement of new people in this space will be the start of an ongoing movement to dismantle white supremacy systems in Australia that continue to oppress First Nation people. We want people wearing our clothes and talking about these issues all the time. Not because its ‘trending’ or National Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC week. Your values must align with ours. ‘Wear your values on your Tee’ not what’s seen to be popular to tick a box.”

Are there any actions you have taken as a label that you would like to share, or any ways your label generally embodies a message of positivity around this issue?
“We are passionate about showcasing bla(c)k excellence. While mainstream media represent us wrongfully, we are proud to platform and celebrate Aboriginal role models in our community and give them a platform to speak on issues, be heard and fight for justice. We are leading National campaigns such as the Free the Flag and Shades of Deadly campaign.”

Personally, do you feel creative industries like fashion should or can be part of the conversation? How would you like to see the industry take part? Why?
“Fashion gives Aboriginal design, culture and messaging visibility in the world. It makes Aboriginal people feel seen and heard in Australia. It is a powerful vehicle for starting conversations…If the industry wants to meaningfully take part in these conversations or campaigns, there needs to be more POC, specifically First Nation people working in the space, or collaboration with Aboriginal platforms, businesses and NGO’s. It is important that the fashion industry’s impact is meaningful and sustainable and they are in it for the right reasons.”

What would you like to encourage your following to do? How can individuals make a difference?

  • “Educate yourselves. Don’t lean on First Nation people and expect them to do your own research.”
  • “Listen to First Nation people and work alongside them.”
  • “Celebrate Aboriginal culture and speak out against injustice.”
  • “‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor’  – Desmond Tutu.”
  • “Aboriginal history is Australia’s history. White Australia has a black history. Aboriginal issues are Australian issues. Use your voice and speak out.”

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Laura May Gibbs, founder and director, Nagnata

Tell us a bit about why you are using your platform to speak about this issue; why did you feel the need to speak up?
“I felt it was important to send a message of unity, love and support to our brothers and sisters of colour, all over the world. It’s hard to find the right words to discuss racism, as a woman who grew up with white privilege, but saying nothing, is to not acknowledge the injustice and dehumanisation of black, Indigenous and people of colours’ lives, at the hands of white people…I will never understand what it feels like to walk in a black woman’s shoes, but my heart feels pain, compassion, outrage and grief when I see, read and learn about the stories of abuse and discrimination based on the colour of someone’s skin.”

Are there any actions you have taken as a label that you would like to share, or any ways your label generally embodies a message of positivity around this issue?
“Earlier this year we created a grass roots art and activism movement ‘Everything Comes From The Bush’. The phrase comes from an Aboriginal proverb. We started a t-shirt fundraiser during the Australian bush fires to raise money for the NSWFS and protested to government over Climate Change action and policy. The phrase is now on organic cotton bush tote bags and $10 from each sale goes towards the Indigenous Charity Children’s Ground who support Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. During this time the money is going towards resources, education and prevention for Covid-19 in their communities.”

Personally, do you feel creative industries like fashion should or can be part of the conversation? How would you like to see the industry take part? Why? 
“As creatives we have the power of using our art for activism. Fashion plays an important role in spreading messages to people from all kinds of backgrounds, because it can be a universal language. We can spread images of unity through our campaigns or lead by example working with communities outside of our own, on all kinds of fashion projects and highlighting them through our digital channels. When the violence settles, the world needs the artists to lead the way for healing and inspiration and to make sense of what we’re moving through. If designers, brands and fashion media can work together in sharing stories I think this will be a positive move forward.”

What would you like to encourage your following to do? How can individuals make a difference? 
“Start within your own community, friendship groups and family – have the conversation about racism and what is going on in the world. Then look at what you can do to take action whether it’s through your business or social networks or create art, music, poems. Yes, we need to heal and educate ourselves, but I feel this is more about reaching out to bring people together outside of our immediate circles, so we can share the wisdom and help heal together.”

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Maggie Hewitt, founder and designer, Maggie Marilyn

Tell us a bit about why you are using your platform to speak about this issue; why did you feel the need to speak up? 
“What is our platform for if it is not a force for good? It is my responsibility as a white woman with privilege to stand up and speak out. I have to be an active part of doing the work to dismantle systemic white supremacy. As a brand we cannot and must not ignore the intersections between environmentalism and social justice.”

What concerns do you hold as a brand generally surrounding this issue that you expressed on social media? 
“Firstly I was inspired by my friend Chrissy Rutherford’s video where she spoke directly to her audience saying, ‘How can you be scared to speak out about what is right’ and I think these words really hit me – and has since amassed three million views, so it has also resonated with many others. As a white woman how can I add value to this conversation? Well, by starting to say something, then starting on the journey of educating myself, my team, listening and then learning again and not remaining silent going forward both during pivotal cultural and political movements, and in the just as important times in-between.

I am also inspired by Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah) and her dialogue around intersectional environmentalism. She describes this as ‘An inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected.’”

Are there any actions you have taken as a label that you would like to share, or any ways your label generally embodies a message of positivity around this issue? 
“I would like to acknowledge that as a leader I have not done enough to be an active part of dismantling the system of white privilege. As a brand we talk about empowering our customers and everyone throughout our supply chain, but I now understand that we cannot stand behind that mission if we do not stand up for the basic and equal rights of all  people that make up our vital multi-racial global supply chain, our customers, our audience and really everyone beyond that. I understand though that simply just using my voice and the brand’s platform is not enough. Going forward I want to create inclusivity beyond solely our brand imagery and content. Do I know exactly what this looks like yet? Honestly, no, but I do know the first step is to keep diving deeper into the resources available to me.”

Personally, do you feel creative industries like fashion should or can be part of the conversation? How would you like to see the industry take part? Why? 
“Every white person should be a part of this conversation, whether you have 50 followers or one million followers. Silence is no longer good enough. To quote my friend [communications consultant] George MacPherson, ‘We have to be outspoken, loud, compassionate, empathetic and above all anti-racist, allies and accomplices.’”

What would you like to encourage your following to do? How can individuals make a difference? 
“We are strong believers at Maggie Marilyn that everyone has the power to make a difference. The world needs your voice and your action, not your silence. Educate yourself, your friends, your family, your acquaintances. Challenge the brands you buy from and the businesses and organisations you work with and for. Demand more of them and yourself. Here and now you have the power to be on the right side of history.”

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