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Ailan Pasin – An Island Fashion journey

Lynnette Griffiths discusses the growth of a new Indigenous fabric and fashion enterprise….

Sitting at the Australian Indigenous Fashion Week (AIFW) forum, Sydney, my thoughts centred around the Ailan Pasin (Island Fashion) journey so far. As I listened to Sarah-Jane Clark (half of the Sass and Bide duo) describe their journey as fun, massive amounts of hard work but definitely not brain surgery. I thought, we can do this, as a team we can take this further. Just like Sass and Bide none of us have a fashion background, yet Ailan Pasin as an Indigenous label has something unique. We are creative, responsive, and hardworking and from a tiny island in the North East of the Torres Strait – this can work.
Since Erub Arts started printing fabric and T-shirts seriously around seven years ago group discussions had centred around creating a brand and products that would sell at a local level (items for Islanders) as well as nationally and even internationally.
Various workshops – funded by Arts Queensland (AQ) and the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA)– have been undertaken, partnering with institutions as well as collaborating with experts to gain knowledge and build skills. This has taken time but has allowed the artists to experiment and find direction.  Finally as a separate entity under Erub Arts, Ailan Pasin was created late last year.
As an art centre we had not been successful getting accepted into the AIFW program because the model was designed for mentoring individuals. That changed in August 2013 at the UflaUpla textiles and fabric forum where the artists, Diann Lui (Erub centre manager) and I met with Krystal Perkins and Sophie Nixon, the organisers for AIFW. The forum was pivotal, creating an entity that allowed people nationally to see what was developing in Indigenous fabric and fashion in Far North Queensland.
Time, time, time was against us as we rushed to bring all the ideas together. Already the group had discussed deconstructing and reinterpreting the traditional island dress so after a meeting with young indigenous designer Grace Lillian Lee we ploughed on. Grace started sketches for the collection and with the aide of skype and emails these designs were developed and photo-shopped with the fabric designs to create the collection.
TAFE came to the rescue with space and equipment while Grace and two amazing volunteers, helped cut and sew the garments. Collaborations are exciting but in a cross-cultural environment and over vast distances, keeping everyone informed is challenging. As well as working with the artists to ensure they were happy with the digital interpretation of their original artwork I acted as the ‘middleman’.
The collection is aimed at a resort market; everyone involved lives in Far North Queensland so relaxed lifestyle and the tropics is our backdrop. The artists felt from a very early stage that the garments must suit island women as well as have mainstream appeal.
It is early days yet but after fashion week and the huge spike in the Erub Arts facebook page it became obvious this is not just a project, this is business. Ailan Pasin will now be shown at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in July, where the collection will be modelled by Erub models in a fashion performance and some garments from the collection will be available for sale.
The management team under Diann have been working hard to secure funding to expand production. The strategy to take the business forward is to create a garment construction-training centre on Erub island sewing for the local market, while mainstream garments will be produced in Australia.
The styling team at AIFW gave us great feedback on the commercial aspects of the range. So Ailan Pasin feels comfortable moving forward with Indigenous design, created with meaning for those interested in wearing art, story, and sharing culture across borders.  To share their ideas and unique island culture with the world, to do this they are happy to work with others in a respectful collaborative way.

Lynnette holds qualifications in graphic design, ceramics and education from the Queensland College of Art, QUT and Monash. She has lived in indigenous communities for more than 20 years as a TAFE teacher, arts worker and is currently manageing artistic development on Erub (Darnley Island). Her role at the art centre includes conducting workshops with artists to develop arts practice through research and material innovation. Lynnette strives to facilitate creative connections and learning, which step outside formal educational systems. 





Feature photo: Models wearing Ailan Pasin, photographer Lynnette Griffiths

Other photos: Ailan Pasin parade, AIFW, photographer Hamish Gregory