Almost a month on, we reflect on the period that was Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021. Mirroring its international counterparts, the event had a brief hiatus last year as we reckoned with the pandemic. The pause to normal scheduling granted time and space to designers to reevaluate, plan and redefine. What emerged this year was a testament to the power of reflection. We saw an industry committed to working on itself with a clear and renewed focus on inclusion and accessibility.
This commitment manifested itself in doing away with designer fees, which are a known barrier to smaller labels looking to participate. It also meant the public were given access to the events of the week, in an effort to tear down the aura of exclusivity Fashion Week historically touted.
At long last we had the very first, First Nations Fashion + Design showcase, giving a moment for celebration but also reflection. Yet, in some moments, the week did bring to light the gap between performative and genuine inclusion in, signalling there is still work to be done.
Sophia McMahon of independent label Autark recalls the joy it brought her to be part of the “reawakening” of the Australian Fashion industry at AAFW, especially as an interstate designer divided by the pandemic. “It really was electrifying”. One moment that encapsulated this was her attendance of the Indigenous Fashion Projects show “which felt very significant to witness”.
McMahon represents a new face of designers where slow fashion principles are at the heart of their process. She incorporates natural fibres like silk, linen and cotton to make garments with limited production in order to minimise wastage. This manifesto echoes the spirit AAFW is looking to champion.
For Sophia, AAFW’s support of smaller, independent and Indigenous Australian designers is “imperative to continuing the long term growth, creativity and life of our industry”.
To designer Erik Yvon, AAFW was an important opportunity for emerging designers to showcase their artistry. “Showcasing at AAFW was amazing and it has definitely been the push that I needed to reinvigorate my label after last year and the impact of COVID-19.
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Yvon's appearance at AAFW brought joy to the runway. The collection oscillated between graphic pastel flowers and prawns, and tar-like jackets and dresses with ballooning sleeves. One sweater featured the marine-invertebrate knitted boldly across the chest as though it had recently arrived from the set of Kath & Kim. His show was thankfully devoid of the strangling self-seriousness so often found on Australian runways.
The show allowed the Melbourne-based designer to showcase his work outside of his usual circles. Yvon also noted how important it was for AAFW to signal to graduates that there is an industry in Australia for them. That people are buying Australian designers still and that they have support.