Photography by Victoria Zschommler

this collaboration brings melbourne fashion and the kimberley's rural communities together

Design Within Country participants Lauren Cassar of Mirador and Kimberley artist Lee-Ann Williams tell us how women from a multitude of worlds can come together to create.

by Roya Azadi
30 October 2018, 5:18am

Photography by Victoria Zschommler

Fashion has long been using collaboration to bring together different craftspeople to create something special, but rarely is it used as a platform to bring communities together. That’s where Design Within Country comes in, the Australian cross cultural fashion collaboration sees emerging Melbourne labels travel to Western Australia’s rural Kimberley region and spend a few weeks with the women of Djugerari. Together the groups of women collaborate on a collection inspired by rural surroundings that shows at both the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Melbourne Fashion Week.

This year Melbourne-based art therapist and creator of textiles brand Mirador Lauren Cassar was invited on the program where she met local artist Lee-Ann Williams. Here they tell us about how creating together can transform the soul, how production can affect change in a community, and how women from a multitude of worlds come together to create more than the sum of their parts.

Lauren Cassar, art therapist and creator of Mirador

Did you find the project or did the project find you?
Gratefully, the project found me. The two women behind the project, Jen Layton of Earthed Foundation and Jen Sharman of Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre (MWRC), were seeking a designer who specialises in textiles and one of the other invited designers put my name forward. The stars aligned, as I am in my final semester of a Masters of Art Therapy and am currently working with children in a therapeutic manner in an Aboriginal organisation in Melbourne.

What were your first impressions of Fitzroy Crossing and Djugerari, where you spent most time?
We first arrived in Fitzroy Crossing, which comprises of a couple of streets, flat, rugged, poor, an overpriced IGA, burning off on the side of the road and long sunsets. We were introduced to a few hearts of the town: a vibrant footy oval which hosts both mens and womens games, the oasis MWRC, one of the most inspiring, safest, creative places I have ever stepped foot into, and Mangkaja Arts, Fitzroy fine arts center, with artists who create paintings so true to The Kimberley it kind of hurt my heart.

We gathered our convoy of women in troopies and headed out to the community of Djugerari. This place, the country opened up to an expanse, pushing far the capacity of what my eyes can see. The community built their homes in a shape of a horseshoe. It’s tiny and only a few family groups live there. The land is flat, and have escarpments of great height extruding from the flat land. Beautiful mulla mulla, a lilac coloured flower sits softly against the red. Spinifex looks like a soft pillow of grass, but in fact it is so spiky, and it covers the rangelands.

What affect did you see this project having on both the locals who were in the program, and those of you who were running it?
The not so tangible, heart-holding intention of the project is to connect women in the Kimberley with women from the city. Focusing on the unforgettable encounters we each experienced made this project unique and life changing. I now have close friends in the Top End, who taught me how to always take five minutes to “shake hands” with the country, you know, to introduce myself to a place rather than trample all over the ground without taking a moment of acknowledgement.

The women in the community are so motivated, but haven’t necessarily had resources like we do here in the city to pursue their creative passions. Everything is expensive, there isn’t anywhere to work to pay for materials, and the government cuts funding far too often to foster a continuous development for a sustainable business for these women. That’s where MWRC and Jen Layton have really stepped it up. The MWRC, and Jen have dedicated themselves to be a constant source of information and support for these women. The support is flexible and is culturally respectful.

What is key about the project, us designers are there for three weeks, but both Jen’s are on the ground, they know how these communities work, they know the complexities of integrating both cultures. This is important — the project makes decisions with the people not for the people, rather than the all-too-common funding body in Canberra who cut funds to a project because cultural responsibilities “got in the way” from delivering “real outcomes”.

What will happen next for the project?
Well, we have had a big year. The women headed to Darwin Art Fair, and sold out of every piece they made, as well as many pre orders, so they are keeping busy making throughout the year. This is an annual project, so we will spend time with women in The Kimberley in 2019 and they will also visit us in Melbourne.

Lee-Ann Williams, Marnin Studio Fitzroy Crossing

Working with Marnin Studio over the years, Jen Leyton and the Design Within Country team for the last two years has brought so much positiveness to me and the community I now live in. The things I've learnt working in the studio has given me the right tools I need to take back to community, so every women that is out there has the chance to come to the office to make some creative stuff for their homes, as gifts for family or to even sell.

We do have a lot of artistic people here in the Kimberley and to take that talent and then put on fabric, gives you the sense of accomplishment and that's a really great feeling to have especially if you come from or live in a small town like Fitzroy Crossing where there is hardly nothing much at all to offer! It’s a good opportunity for all. Making furniture's is one of our options we're still thinking about now, to have that started would be really great it would mean more work in the community for everyone.

My hope for future would be making beautiful clothes to share with Australia and having our own Kimberley girls travel with us to wherever the fashion show is in the future!

The 2018 Design Within Country project was also carried out with the dedication, love and hardwork of Briedi McCrosite of Lott Studios and Lois Hazel . Design Within Country created by Earthed Foundation and Fitzroy Crossing’s Marninwarntikura Women's Resource Centre. It houses Marnin Studio, a women's arts centre in the southern part of The Kimberley, a coming together of women who live in either in the city and in The Kimberley. You can donate to the Women’s centre to keep the good work going.

Indigenous Australians
melbourne fashion week
Design Within Country