a proud Wiradjuri woman, is spearheading change and a rising awareness of First Nations inventiveness in the fashion industry.

Growing up in the remote NSW mining town of Cobar, fashion was rarely on Denni Francisco’s radar. It was only when she moved to Melbourne, aged 13, with her mother and younger brother, that she became smitten. “It was a whole new world,” she says. “It was scary at the time but also fascinating looking at what everybody was wearing, discovering what people were doing.”

A Ngali dress with print by Lindsay Malay, shown at Country to Couture 2021.

Nearly five decades later, Francisco, a proud Wiradjuri woman, is spearheading change and a rising awareness of First Nations inventiveness in the fashion industry. Her award-winning fashion label Ngali, heralded on runways at Australian Fashion Week and the Melbourne Fashion Festival earlier this year, celebrates and shares Indigenous Australian artwork in its range of silk prints. In 2022, for the second year running, Francisco has scooped the fashion designer award at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards.

“Fashion has a purpose in the First Nations space,” she says. “It’s not just about fashion: it’s a vehicle for highlighting our expressiveness. More and more, we’re being invited onto general runways rather than always being segmented into First Nations designers on one runway.”

After leaving school at 15 to help support her family, Francisco’s career has encompassed a fashion director role in Los Angeles, a successful children’s clothing label, Billiecart, and now Ngali, meaning “we” or “us”.

Partnering with Indigenous Australian artists, Ngali encapsulates Francisco’s yindyamarra philosophy – which means to show respect and be thoughtful, kind and gentle. “Fashion through the lens of yindyamarra is about being inclusive, treading lightly on Country and always being aware,” she says. “It’s in every part of Ngali. Seeing the art on each piece of clothing starts a wider conversation that helps empower and connect our communities.”

Ngali designer Denni Francisco.

Ngali designer Denni Francisco.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

Franchesca Cubillo, executive director of First Nations Arts and Culture at the Australia Council for the Arts, says Francisco’s inspiring work, along with organisations such as Indigenous Fashion Projects, is vital in helping creativity to flourish. “The Australian fashion industry is a $27 billion industry annually,” she says. “If we can find respectful and empowering pathways for our people to be employed at every level, we’ll start to see real change taking place in our communities.”

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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