In celebration of NAIDOC Week, we sat down with Culture is Life CEO, Belinda Duarte, Education Manager, Thara Brown and young Indigenous Artist, Alkina Edwards to discuss the power of the Winyarr Collection and how we can encourage people to Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!
In conversation with Belinda Duarte & Thara Brown —
In what way do you feel the Winyarr Collection collaboration inspired young Indigenous people?
Culture is Life’s work ensures that young people are at the centre of everything that we do. In supporting Alkina and backing Aboriginal practices created cultural confidence. The project modelled how young people can work with big organisations like Wittner, to be inspired by what’s produced in mainstream platforms.
So much of the campaign was grounded in young First Nations women’s creative talent and cultural pride. From Alkina’s artwork to the young models, the jewellery worn, to the women behind the video as well as the project management.
Bringing community around the project was essential and so many inspirational First Nations women is proof that we are stronger together. Aboriginal led practices means close engagement with the artist’s community on Yorta Yorta Country. Our young people being a part of the process from design and creative ideas all the way to promoting and wearing the shoes at events and on socials meant that they could learn from the process and believe that others can achieve what Alkina and the team created and that we can work and create alongside non-Indigenous brands, creatives and audiences to connect with and celebrate our First People, our cultures and place together.
What have been the main benefits of the Wittner x Culture is Life collaboration?
The Winyarr Collection initiative has been the first of its kind in this Country. Having one of Australia’s largest shoe brands, an Aboriginal led non-for profit and a First Nations artists collaborate to develop a whole range of Indigenous designed women’s shoes.
Collaborating with key influencers, like Wittner, confirms the power of working together to educate and influence non-Indigenous Australia through the power of fashion to create positive social change. Our priority is always empowering our young people to believe in themselves and thrive in their own way, with the guidance and power of our Elders, community and key allies.
How is Culture is Life planning to use the profits from the partnership?
It’s important to us that the profits are returned to programs and initiatives that support our young women culturally and through their pathways. Our intention is to support other emerging First Nations women, to build capacity in their creative expression and be mentored through similar opportunities like Alkina embraced. Stay tuned to Culture is Life’s socials for more details!
In conversation with Alkina Edwards —
What did you love the most about the collaboration?
I love seeing other women wearing my design and posting about the shoes and the project. Especially the beautiful faces of my family proudly showcased in the campaign.
I loved being able to create my artwork and share who I am and my Culture through this campaign and through the beauty of fashion. I think I will always reminisce on the amazing experience I had while working with Wittner and Culture is Life. The other biggest highlight for me was definitely having my sister girls and family apart of it and doing the shoots on Country where I’m from. So many smiles that day.
Do you think the Winyarr collection delivered an important message to the larger Australian community?
Yes, I think we did deliver an important message. I believe with the guidance of Culture is Life and myself and community, Wittner were able to deliver a culturally safe and proud campaign and messaging for our women to connect with and be proud to be a part of Aboriginal culture.
I felt valued and didn’t feel silenced through this experience as I was very hesitant when I was first asked about the opportunity. As most Blackfullas are sceptical with very big mainstream brands and companies that haven’t earned trust and respect in Aboriginal community yet.
But this wasn’t the case with this project thanks to Wittner and the cultural support of Culture is Life, Thara Brown and Belinda Duarte. It was so important to me, my family and community. It created strong relationships between Aboriginal mob and non-Aboriginal people. It started conversations and acknowledgment of the oldest living culture in the world and through one of the best ways possible – with fashion. Seeing mob and non-Indigenous people wear these shoes with so much pride will be a highlight I won’t forget. This also created so many more opportunities and pathways for me that I am so grateful for. I feel seen.
How has the campaign helped you personally?
The campaign has increased my confidence. I’m definitely not as shy as I used to be in this space and now can’t wait to take on more opportunities for the future.
Has the collaboration made a difference to your professional life?
I’m more excited to take up opportunities and have interviews this time round. I have been offered many amazing opportunities since the launch and my business has skyrocketed.
How did your family and community respond to the campaign?
I have got such an overwhelming and positive response from my family members and my community. Still to this day I have mob coming to me talking about it. Showing me the shoes, they bought in support of me. It truly is a dream come true. It warms my heart to know that so many mob are there beside me and supporting me throughout my career. I can’t wait to see the next First Nations artists get an opportunity like I did. It has really changed me as a person.
What’s next for you?
I have just recently started releasing Aboriginal Colouring pages to the local and wider communities to share my Yorta Yorta culture and community. Within my designs I feature Native Animals, Yorta Yorta Language and Traditional Dancing. My goal is to create books that fit within a certain age group. From Childcare, Primary, high school and adult years. Sharing more culture and stories.
I am currently booked out due to my busy schedule and collabs that are all a secret at the moment. But I can’t wait to share with everyone as soon as possible!