The Fitzroy River, or Martuwarra, as the locals call it, is one of the most important and iconic waterways in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Flanked by soaring hills and brilliant bushland, near Fitzroy Crossing it cuts through the ancient Geikie Gorge of its Bunuba and Gooniyandi people and flows on through Nyikina and Walmajarri country downstream. It’s here that artist Lee-Anne Williams landed for her work, “Red Earth”. For the proud Bunuba and Wangkajunga woman, the land – with its infinite stories – played muse: “the dry riverbeds, like cracks in the dry mud after a big flood from my country.”

Bunuba country

Williams created the “Red Earth” print exclusively for local fashion designer, Lois McGruer-Fraser, Creative Director of womenswear label Lois Hazel, whom she had met three years prior at the Marnin Studio in Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The studio, established by Marninwarntikura Womens Resource Centre in the 1990s, specialises in printed fabrics. “In 2017, I was approached by Jenny Layton, founder of the Earthed Foundation, about being a part of a new project, now called Design Within Country,” McGruer-Fraser explains. “The project aims to connect young people of Fitzroy Crossing with city-based creatives and mentors on country to create a fashion collection. It was through this project that my interest in Aboriginal art and design really began and also my journey into learning more about Indigenous culture and the true history of this country.”

It was also the beginning of their artistic journey, the pair quickly discovering a mutual interest in creating pieces that reflected their community and country, and which today, culminates in Lois Hazel’s spectacular AW20 collection and the birth of a uniquely Australian design. Having previously worked together on other projects, McGruer-Fraser was keen to partner with Williams on something more personal. “I continue to be inspired by Lee-Anne’s artistic talent and I want to use the Lois Hazel brand as a way of sharing her talent with a wider audience,” she says. “Lee-Anne has a wonderful way with shapes, and I have always loved the prints she creates, drawing inspiration from her country.”

Leanne and Lois working in Marnin Studio

The print, with its beautiful intimacy and poetic kineticism, helped shape Hazel’s entire collection. “The beautiful bold lines, unique shapes and movement within the print immediately inspired me as I was creating the AW20 collection,” she posits. This LW print features on three styles: the Straight Pant, Scrunch Trench and Scrunch Skirt, with each piece coming in a matching drawstring bag which includes a scrunchie made from off-cuts. Reflective of this passion for the Australian landscape, their collaboration cultivates a kind of cross-cultural creativity; Hazel bringing her finesse in fashion design and Williams her gift in painting.

 

Williams began painting on boab nuts, the boab tree endemic to Australia and paramount to Indigenous culture. She then moved onto screen, then lino printing onto textile, describing art as a form of therapy, both cathartic and escapist. “Painting is a release, an escape from the world around me, it takes my mind off everything negative, it’s like therapy,” the artist explains.

For McGruer-Fraser, who has built her brand on honesty and transparency, part of the journey to creating a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry is the importance of supporting the local Australian fashion scene and building a brand that celebrates the unique beauty and style of Australia. Within this, she believes preserving traditional Aboriginal artisanship is imperative. “It’s important to recognise the huge wealth of knowledge and creativity that exists within the Indigenous Australian community, that goes far beyond traditional Aboriginal paintings and art.”

She’s also committed to working with Williams and other indigenous artists in the future, saying: “We have so much to learn, and I am excited to continue this knowledge exchange and sharing the talent of these Indigenous women with my customers”.

While the Indigenous voice is certainly not as loud as it should be in the Australian fashion landscape, the designer says there are ways we can work together to raise it.

“Through engaging with Indigenous communities in as many ways as possible and giving the space to the Indigenous voice and experience. We need to make sure the Indigenous voice is heard, we need to make sure it is more represented in our industry through models, make-up artists, stylists and so on. There are so many talented Indigenous people in this country and we need to start giving them the platforms they deserve and also the opportunities that they often get overlooked for.”

“Aboriginal culture is so rich, and there is so much inspiration that we as Australian designers can draw from. Not only can we raise Indigenous voices and culture through collaborations and partnerships, but by giving a platform to the Indigenous voice we are also celebrating the uniqueness of Australia and deepening the roots of the Australian fashion industry within the history of this country.”

In light of Reconciliation Week and the George Floyd movement, Lois McGruer-Fraser concludes with a final word on the significance of collaborations like this, and what you can do to help .

“What is happening in the world right now is extremely heartbreaking; the enormity of the issues at the heart of both the George Floyd movement and Reconciliation Week can quickly overwhelm people and make it difficult to talk about. But despite the difficulty of it, we cannot shy away from having the conversation.

For me, collaborations feel like a positive way to engage with the issues and actively support the Indigenous community, and also raise awareness. Collaborations provide a platform for Indigenous people to be heard, they are a great way to start conversations and to bring the Indigenous experience into the public space, the collective psyche.

I was lucky enough to build a wonderful friendship with Lee-Anne before we even started talking about collaborating, and through this friendship I’ve learnt so much and I think that is the key. It’s not just about the physical collaboration, but also about how we can learn from each other through working together, developing a friendship, exchanging knowledge and most importantly listening.

This was something we shared on our Instagram in response to what has been going on this week regarding reconciliation week and the George Floyd movement:

“At Lois Hazel we have been trying to find the right way to talk about George Floyd, about the protests, about institutional racism and white privilege in the US, in Australia and all over the world. We still aren’t sure of the right way to talk about this, in a way that is genuine, that helps our community come to terms with what is happening, and that isn’t just “jumping on the bandwagon”. But despite our uncertainty, we’re going to try.

As a brand built on honesty, transparency and equality, we want to use this platform to address what needs to be addressed. What is going on right now and what has been going on for years is not right, it’s not fair, it’s not equal and we NEED to change. We need to address our white privilege, we need to be uncomfortable, we need to question ourselves, our values and what makes us human. We need to listen, we need to educate ourselves, and we need to take action.

There is so much information that has been put together for us, so many fantastic causes we can support, so many ways to get involved in the conversation and the action. The least we can do is take advantage of these resources, learn, understand, grow, change and mend what has been broken.”

Shortlist of Indigenous organisations, platforms and individuals recommended by Lois Hazel:

– Marnin Studio
– Jira Models – A modelling agency run my Perina Drummond that represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. (@jiramodels)

– Kaydee Kyle-Taylor – Make-up artist (@ithinksheafreak)
– Rhys Ripper – Creative Director, Stylist and founder of Cobber Magazine (@rhysripper)
– Australian indigenous Fashion – A curated Instagram account showcasing Australia’s thriving indigenous fashion community created by Yatu Widders Hunt (@ausindigenousfashion)
– Marlee Silva – Writer, Podcaster and speaker (@marlee.silva + @tiddas4tiddas)

Each Lee-Ann Williams X Lois Hazel piece is available in limited numbers on loishazel.com.

in light of recent events Lois Hazel will be donating 20% of all sales from the LW collaboration to Marnin Studio.

thoughts?