Ngali is bringing the works of Australia’s most talented Indigenous artists to the streets through high-end clothing and collectables, writes Eliza Velk.
Supporting Indigenous talent, mindful manufacturing and style that lasts are the core values at the heart of Australian fashion label Ngali. Founded in 2018 by Melbourne-based Denni Francisco. She is a proud Wiradjuri woman (of outback New South Wales), the brand showcases the talent of remote Aboriginal artists by translating their unique artwork onto high-quality clothing and accessories.
As the former owner of the popular children’s-wear label, Billiecart Clothing, Denni is no stranger to the fashion scene. However, her intention for Ngali is to address the misunderstandings about the culture and achievement of Australia’s First Nations Peoples by taking the stories of their artwork beyond wall displays and onto garments to walk the streets.
“Art is a lens through which our people see, understand and communicate with others. I want people to know who we are, who we’ve always been; that there’s more to us than what you see through the lens of 200 years of colonisation. And fashion is a good way to do this,” says Denni.
“We give our artists a bigger voice, a platform and a royalty-based income through promoting their unique talents on quality items. We celebrate the opportunity to collaborate with other Indigenous businesses in a way that serves a mutually beneficial outcome.”
Ngali’s latest collection
Ngali’s current collection features the works of Giji artist Lindsay Malay, who is based in the remote Aboriginal community of Warmun in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Lindsay works at the Warmun Art Centre, where artists are renowned for using ochre and natural pigments to denote a contemporary expression of country and culture. When Denni met Lindsay at the Darwin Aboriginal Fair in 2018, she was immediately captivated by his work and the stories he shared of his family – Lindsay uses art to connect to his ancestors and tell the story of Warlawoon country (Yulumbu or Tableland Station), which he inherited from his grandfather, and of which his family regained traditional ownership of in 2010
The pair worked together with the Warmun Art Centre to translate Lindsay’s artwork into silks and other textiles used respectfully across Ngali designs. For Denni, fashion has always been about more than just looking good – it’s also about doing good. The need to move away from fast fashion and develop more sustainable practices is becoming increasingly prevalent in the industry and is something Denni takes on board wholeheartedly. As such, Ngali products are Australian-made using high-quality fabrics that will last multiple wears so that pieces can be loved for a long time, recycled and eventually upcycled. The brand also operates a just-in-time manufacturing approach to eliminate wastage, and are always looking for ways to keep up with new sustainable ideas.
The end products, which range from dresses and pants to tops and scarves, are upbeat yet sophisticated, featuring a palette of earthy tones combined with hues of black and white. And better yet, they are great for travelling. Most Ngali products are made from silk, a relatively wrinkle-resistant and lightweight fabric, and are designed to be ‘travel ready’ so that the stories of incredible Indigenous art can be seen in a myriad of streets and resorts around the world.
‘Ngali’ – which translates to ‘we’ or ‘us’ in a number of Aboriginal languages – is essentially the embodiment of how Denni would like the world to be.
“Through Ngali, we want to create the ‘us’ we’d like to see: a harmonious, sustainable and equitable union of people – all people, regardless of background – with the planet,” she explains.
In just two years, the brand has already achieved applaudable success. Denni’s pieces were seen on the runway at Melbourne Fashion Week 2018, 2019, and soon 2020 (online); the Darwin Aboriginal Art Foundation Country to Couture runway in 2019; and the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) and Australian Eco Fashion Week in 2020. Internationally, the brand has been invited to participate in the New York, Vancouver and Milan Fashion Week runway shows – something Denni says they hope to consider in the near future.
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