We are an independent National Indigenous Corporation. We are a Not For Profit who’s core business is in supporting the growth of Indigenous Fashion + Design. Our voluntary board of Director are supporting and assisting with their knowledge and time to grow First Nations Fashion + Design.
We are not about one off projects we are about strategic and systemic growth for our people.
We aim to maintain cultural relevance in the areas of Custodianship of design , Collective knowledge ownership + connection to country.
Grace Lillian Lee, the founder of First Nations Fashion and Design, Grace is a graduate of RMIT University with Honours in Fashion Design and has established herself as one of Australia’s leading Indigenous artist and designer with works collected by the National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Art Gallery of South Australia, Cairns Art Gallery, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Studies and Kluge-Ruhe University of Virginia. She has personally showcased her works overseas in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and San Francisco.
She is the founder of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Indigenous Fashion Performance that began in 2013 and has also curated and produced ‘From Country to Couture’ in Darwin since 2017- 2019. Grace also produced fashion shows in Papua New Guinea, Melbourne and Adelaide. Under her established company, Grace Lillian Lee Productions Pty Ltd, produced ‘Intertwined’ Fashion Performance at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.
With a strong desire to work with Communities and to encourage creative expressions, her purpose is to guide members towards developing their practice into wearable art and adornment in a contemporary platform. As consultant and mentor, she has worked with Darnley Island + Moa in the Torres Straits, Northern Territory communities Nuiyu and Katherine as well as Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria , Waringarri in Kununurra + many independent creatives.
Grace has also been appointed to be a member of the of the advisory board for the Swayn Centre for Australian Design at the National Museum of Australia to represent Indigenous Fashion Design + Textiles.
TJ Cowlishaw’s family kinship lies with Nyikina people and paternal connections are with Bardi and Nyul Nyul people on the Dampier Peninsular, WA. (Grandmother's ancestry - Family name: Hunter). She is also a descended from the Chinese Pirates of Shanghai (Grandfather's ancestry - Family name: Jan).
Her First nations heritage has led itself to the naming of her label. AARLI meaning fish, in Bardi language.
At a young age, TJ Cowlishaw witnessed the emergence of the Indigenous fashion industry, through designs by Ron Gidgup, Lenore Dembski and Linda Jackson. These fashion designers continue to inspire her.
Major milestone, AARLI working with Channel Seven and Bonnie Sveen to design and custom made a eco couture gown for TV Week Logie Awards in April 2017.
AARLI creations were on display at selected exhibitions including being recognised as part of national survey taken by Jefa Greenaway in ‘Blak Design Matters’ was held at Koori Heritage Trust, Melbourne VIC and ‘Bibbullmun Bardi’ exhibition held at State Library of Western Australia.
Being selected as part of the designers to be showcased as part of 2020 Piinpi contemporary fashion exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery to being featured at National Museum of Australia fin Piinipi Touring exhibition.
Founder and Designer
Fast forward to September 2021, when a representative approached Elaine from First Nations Fashion + Design to model in the organisation’s Brisfest show, Walking in Two Worlds. Familiar with the work that FNFD are undertaking to advocate and elevate First Nations creatives in the Australian Fashion Industry, Elaine immediately agreed. During rehearsals, Elaine’s role as a model became a model mentor, sharing her years of experience with a fresh new cast of model hopefuls.
In 2022, Elaine’s role with FNFD evolved, becoming a cultural ambassador and mentor for the organisation and the creatives moving through the FNFD community. In May, Elaine created history once again when she appeared alongside models Charlee Fraser, Magnolia Maymuru and Cindy Rostron on the cover of Vogue magazine’s ‘Power of Now Unity With First Nations Voices’ and featured in the 21-page editorial dedicated to FNFD and the designers who were showcasing in FNFD’s Afterpay Australian Fashion Week closing night show.
As an ambassador for FNFD, Elaine has firsthand experience of how the organisation is bringing real and meaningful change to the industry and how safe cultural spaces and finally opening up for First Nations creatives. Secure that change was afoot, Elaine decided to return to the industry, and her presence at AAFW was heralded as a triumphant return. Clad in a custom-gold power suit, designed by AARLI Fashion and ZHIVAGO, encrusted with the word DEADLY on her back, Elaine drew thunderous applause when she opened the Future of Fashion section of the FNFD AAFW show.
Elaine now balances her job in child protection with her job as a highly sought-after working model, and she continues as a cultural ambassador for FNFD, where she is lovingly referred to as Aunty Vogue and provides inspiration for women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Born in Newcastle (the mid-north coast of New South Wales) an Awabakal woman. Charlee knew little about the industry when she began booking her first jobs but quickly became a favorite at Australian Fashion Week and subsequently scored overseas shows. In 2016, her career took on a new breath after iconic stylist Guido Palau lobbed her long tresses into a chic bob right before she hit the Alexander Wang catwalk during her first New York Fashion Week.
Following the new length, Charlee caught the eye of top casting directors and that season walked 40 shows; some of which include Prada, Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Céline. Her first fashion week thus doubled as a historic moment as Charlee became the first Indigenous Australian model to majorly cross over into the international fashion scene. In addition to multiple appearances on the runway, Charlee has also fronted campaigns for Tom Ford, Brandon Maxwell, Céline, Stella McCartney, Givenchy and Giorgio Armani and has been photographed by the likes of Mario Sorrenti, Mert & Marcus and Juergen Teller.
Charlee has also appeared on the cover of INPRINT, Russh and Vogue Australia. The lauded international edition of Vogue has only featured two Indigenous models on its cover in 56 years, Elaine George in 1993 and Samantha Harris in 2010. In early 2018, Charlee shot the cover of Vogue Australia alongside iconic Aussie superstars Fernanda Ly, Akiima Ajak and Andreja Pejić and another all Indigenous cover early 2022 side-by-side Elaine George, Magnolia Maymuru and Cindy Rostron. Other select editorials for Charlee include Vogue Me, Dazed, American Vogue, W and Numéro.
Following the pandemic back home to Australia, in 2020 Charlee became the ambassador for First Nations Fashion and Design, a not-for-profit Indigenous organisation that aims to cultivate an ecology of Indigenous creatives within the fashion industry, and in 2022 accepted the role as an official board member.
Charlee also produced her very own sustainability campaign during Sydney Fashion Week in 2021 called ‘NOT JUST TRENDING’. She promoted fashion brands and labels as well as beauty products and electric cars all with a sustainable ethos, manufacturing process and product line. Shortly after the launch of ‘NOT JUST TRENDING’ Charlee wrote a sustainable fashion guide that aims to assist consumers on mindful consumption.
Considering her trajectory, and with culture and nature now at the forefront of her career, it's fair game to expect many more big things from Charlee.