It's tricky to pinpoint precisely when fashion fell in love with First Peoples design. But, safe to assume it's not a fleeting crush.

three women walking down a runway

A spate of wildly popular First Peoples runways in recent years and fashion weeks' plans to mount them as permanent fixtures, prove it.

Scott McCartney, a Wotjobaluk man and CEO of the Kinaway Chamber of Commerce Victoria however, remembers one show that got him thinking, worrying, and then nutting out solutions to an odd fact.

"It was a fashion show, sold as indigenous, but most of the designers were actually non-aboriginal," he recalls. "It set off alarm bells. The common (business) model was a non-aboriginal designer acquiring rights to aboriginal artwork, then applying it to their garments..."

Why, he thought, were there not more First Peoples artists selling their own work via their own brands? Scott surveyed Kinaway's 380 members. "One of the things that came out heavily was the number of artists who wanted to do fashion, but didn't know how to go about it," he says "They'd be: "I'd love to bring out my own range of shirts, or my own range of dresses - but..."

The "but" was a tantalising challenge. Scott met with Creative Victoria, Global Victoria and award-winning designer, Denni Francisco of Ngali, also a member of Kinaway and its board.

The solution quickly crystallised. "A hub," says Denni, "a place to support the incredible creative talent we have in our First Nation space."

It's called Kin, located in Kinaway's Richmond headquarters, a vibrant, collaborative, learning and work space planned to bristle with everything an artist could possibly need to launch a viable fashion brand.

"We'll be accelerating about 10 visionary artists to start," Scott says, "From absolute basics like designing, all the way through to every aspect of business, profit and loss, cash flows...We'll look at manufacturing items here in Melbourne too, and at marketing and export..".

Wiradjuri woman, Denni Francisco is in Kin's first intake with Annette Sax, Corina Muir, Laura Thompson, Merrill Bray, Cassie Leatham, Tayah Cole and others picked through a tough selection process from more than 30 applicants across the state.

"When I started Ngali in 2018 I pretty much had to learn all those challenges of starting a new business myself," Denni says. "I did get a small amount of funding from Creative Victoria and IBA (Indigenous Business Australia) but other than that I was on my own."

Ngali's evolution was typically tricky - "I didn't even know how to meet minimums for manufacturing..." - but its stellar success, not so much. Denni steered Ngali into a mellow collection of liquid silk separates (pictured) animated by the evocative artwork of Ginja man and artist, Lindsay Malay. She's taken it to Australian Fashion Week's spectacular Indigenous runway, and to the top award for design at the recent National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Darwin (pictured). Vogue reporter Alice Birrell dubbed Ngali, "A name to get to know".

Among Kin's creatives, Denni will be unique, able to mentor, and be mentored, as she takes Ngali to the next level of her dreams.

"We're addressing something that was really missing," says Scott. "And we feel, almost creating a new industry in Victoria."

More information at www.kinaway.com.au

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