A party-like atmosphere at the Emerging Mob in Fashion show had the crowd out of their seats.

In Naarm’s Grand Royal Exhibition Building with its domed fresco-painted ceilings, First Nations fashion designers have been hand-picked to show off their new collections.

Of the 11 premium shows at the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Thursday’s event was the only one dedicated solely to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs.

A male and female model are walking to the end of the runway wearing all white with traditional aboriginal jewelry

Cousins ​​Preston and Aavaisha at the Melbourne Fashion Festival.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

Cousins ​​Preston and Aavaisha Cockatoo-Collins fist-pump at the end of the runway.

They’re wearing red-tailed black cockatoo feathers in tribute to their family name.

Preston’s mum and Aavaisha’s aunt, Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, says her designs are personal to their home in North Stradbroke Island, Queensland.

“The design is informed by moments with my mother, written words from my grandmother, and also our beautiful natural environment from the island,” she says.

“I grab all of that, with permission, and put that into my patterns and the way that I shape my garments.”

The “Under the Full Moon” collection pays homage to the light that flickers off the shell middens.

“I feel like it’s so important that we bring culture into modeling and the scene is growing, this is just such a great event for mob, Indigenous artists to get that recognition. It’s an amazing opportunity,” Aavaisha tells the ABC.

First Nations models Preston and Aavaisha

Preston, Delvene and Aavaisha share the limelight at the Melbourne Fashion Festival.(ABC News: Darryl Trophy)

Making space for First Nations creatives

Nathan is wearing a green khaki jacket and a black t shirt smiling at the camera.

Behind the scenes with Noongar Whadjuk model, Nathan McGuire.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

Whadjuk Noongar man Nathan McGuire has been modeling for a decade – and he says for a long time he was the “only Aboriginal person in the room”.

“It can be difficult, traditionally the mainstream fashion industry, unfortunately, has not been so open to First Nations talent. There was a different look that was desired.”

The 34-year-old attributes the change in attitude to the Black Lives Matter movement. While it has been a positive shift, he believes the industry needs sustainable growth.

“How do we cultivate an industry that is our own and exists in the space, alongside mainstream fashion?

“As we get on, it’s about really curating and finding the designers that can have longevity, or the models that can have longevity,” McGuire says.

That is why he founded Mob in Fashion to create paid opportunities at events for First Nations, including roles in photography, styling and makeup.

A woman wearing a moss green Indigenous designed dress.  She is posed with her hands on display underneath her neckline

Yapa Mali “encourages the presence of Culture in fashion”.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

Behind the scenes at Melbourne Fashion Festival

There’s a sense of anticipation for the run-through of the show, as the models line up is ready to walk out on the runway.

This 45-minute show has been four months in the making.

Grace-Evans Craig

Wiradjuri woman Grace Evans-Craig is now an Executive fashion assistant for Mob in Fashion(ABC News: Darryl Torphy)

Grace Evans-Craig says it’s not easy to crack into the industry, but she says she feels supported by other First Nations creatives to bounce ideas off.

“I think having a space for Indigenous creatives is super important, I think it’s something that has been under-represented for such a long time.

“It’s such an intense industry and some people aren’t very forgiving… so to be a part of something that creates those spaces means a lot to me.”

Stylists and dressers buzz around the dressing room ensuring that the models are ready – the designers tweak headpieces and makeup artists apply final touches to the bold makeup – it’s time for the main event.

The celebration of First Nations creativity

Men wearing swimwear featuring bright blue and white are walking up and down a white runway.

Bright and colorful designs captivated the audience as they watched the male fashion line-up.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

Kicking off the runway two vogue dancers – doing modern house dance – and the mood is set for the crowd, as phones are poised to capture the first looks.

Nine designers, some just starting in the industry, are showing their new collections.

It was only last year that Renee Henderson graduated from fashion school. Now she’s shown her first-ever collection on a premium runway in front of influencers and fashion writers.

“I feel very excited and very welcomed,” says the Wiradjuri designer of Lychee Alkira.

“I just want to enjoy the Melbourne Fashion Festival, get my name out there, keep learning and then yes I would love to be able to share my collection with the rest of Australia.”

Renee is looking at the camera while steaming a colorful blue and orange dress.

Renee Henderson is new to the fashion scene and plans to start small before dreaming big.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

From those in the know, seeing a performance during the runway is rare, but Kamilaroi Samoan dance-pop artist Becca Hatch lifts the room, getting the well-dressed audience out of their seats, as the final looks emerged on the catwalk.

Rebecca is wearing a two piece matching outfit dancing on the runway as the crowd is standing and cheering

Kamilaroi artist, Becca Hatch livens up the audience with a performance on the runway.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

What is the line between support and appropriation?

This festival is all about getting the look – unlike other festivals, the clothing here can be bought by anyone, not just the buyers and rich and famous.

But when it comes to First Nations designs what do non-Indigenous people need to be aware of when they shop?

An Aboriginal Model is wearing white and black clothing with black painted on their face

First Nations model wearing earrings, that say ‘Minjerribah’ which is the traditional name for Stradbroke Island.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)

McGuire says it depends on the clothing people are looking for – clothing companies in the advocacy space are usually clear on who can wear what, while clothing designed for the runways or in retail stores is meant to be bought and shared.

But he says it’s about education.

“It needs to be sellable, and it needs to be marketable, and your culture can influence your design in many ways.

“As First Nations people there’s things that we keep — culture and what’s appropriate for us. It’s about the designers or whoever it is, learning what their limits are with what cultural knowledge they share.”

Cockatoo-Collins agrees: “Our allies need to be out there telling the stories too, just as we are, and it’s a way to continue those old stories, please wear them.

“Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are wearing them, male, female and non-binary, all different kinds of people are wearing my work, and I feel like it does bring us together.”

Saturday is the last day of the Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Models in colorful dresses are strutting back down the runway as a group to finish the show

End of the runway for Emerging Mob in Fashion show.(ABC News: Stephanie Boltje)