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Thought leadership

09 MAR 2018

Lessons from Indigenous women: Let’s create with, not for

A few years ago I went to the very first Indigenous Fashion Week in Sydney and heard Indigenous designer and creative Alison Page speak on a panel.

Someone asked her a question about sustainable or ‘slow’ fashion.

She instantly quipped, “it’s not slow fashion, it’s Aboriginal design...”

It’s something that has always stayed with me, because the idea she was getting at is that so many modern ideas are founded in the most ancient traditions.

For her, sustainable fashion, which is about designing with the environment in mind, is simply how we as Aboriginal people have lived for tens of thousands of years.

I’ve been reminded of this recently because I hear a lot of phrases in my day to day agency life like ‘human centred design’, ‘co design’, and the ‘power of storytelling’.

I have to smile when I hear this, because like Alison, as an Aboriginal woman, I realise that these are far from being new ideas or current ‘trends’, but things we have just built our way of living on.

For me, on International Women’s Day, it’s important to reflect on the incredible Indigenous women in creative industries, who continue to remind us that these ideas are anchored in one of the strongest, surviving traditions of human engagement.

These women are people like Rachel Perkins who founded Blackfella films to give voice to Indigenous peoples, Julie Shaw who founded fashion label Mayrah to reflect remote Aboriginal landscapes and Emily Wurramara who weaves language and identity into stunning melodies.

These women remind me that cultural principles are carried with us, into the most contemporary of environments…into film studios, digital companies, fashion houses and agencies.

And as Indigenous women, these are the principles we are taught from a very young age:

  • We create ‘with’ and not ‘for’
  • We put people at the centre of all of our decisions

Storytelling is the most powerful way to connect.

Working as an Aboriginal woman in the industry, particularly in an Indigenous agency, it is empowering to bring a cultural lense to the way we do business.

What excites me is that what I see across the broader sector, is that we are all coming back to these basic principles; ones that support working in partnership with both clients and communities, designing for social good and telling human stories to shine a light on critical issues.

I hope that in the years to come, we acknowledge that in many ways, how we work and what we achieve, are the foundations on which the oldest culture in the world has evolved, innovated and shared.

On International Women’s Day, I look to my cultural leaders for inspiration. Not just for what they have achieved professionally, but for the practices and values they are driven by to get there. They don’t just bring Indigenous stories into the mainstream consciousness, they actually embed Indigenous ways of doing things into our modern world.

And the most exciting part of it all, is that often without even knowing it, we too are continuing this 60,000 thousand year old story.

By Yatu Widders Hunt, senior consultant at BWM Dentsu's Cox Inall Ridgeway

Thought Leadership, Opinion, Yatu Widders Hunt, Leader, Cox Inall Ridgeway

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