Australia

Deadly Denim forges path for First Nations designers

Community, culture and sustainability.

These values are at the heart of everything Rebecca Rickard does — and then she adds her keen eye for style and passion for creativity.

The Whadjuk woman from the Nyungar Nation is the force behind Deadly Denim, a fashion label and social enterprise that has garnered international recognition since its launch two years ago.

It all began as a hobby, with Rickard sourcing denim pieces from op-shops and adding textiles from Aboriginal artists to the panels and pockets.

But the concept soon took on a life of its own, giving rise to multiple artist collaborations with Indigenous makers around the country, interactive workshops, including a series at Pullman Bunker Bay Resort, and a strong social media following.

Camera IconA model wears a Deadly Denim jacket Credit: Lil’ Ohana Photography

Deadly Denim was even invited to present at LA Fashion Week this year, until COVID-19 derailed the planned runway event.

Rickard says she never expected her obsession for op-shopping could become a platform for showcasing her culture.

“I didn’t have a lot of cashflow when I started the business, so I was buying textiles online from two remote Aboriginal art centres,” she says.

“Now I really love the ideal of collaborating with individual artists. The seed has been planted for a project next year for a First Nations fashion and textile hub. We want to try and encourage more Nyungar artists into the textile sector.

“There are many perspectives you can take with the artwork; we are still sharing the stories and connection to country but in a contemporary way.”

Among the creatives who have joined forces with Deadly Denim are Menang Gnudju Nyungar artist Kiya Watt and Kalkadoon painter Mikayla King, whose vibrant designs make each garment a one-off masterpiece.

Rickard only uses recycled clothing and minimises waste in production, with scraps donated to a sewing project at Boronia Pre-Release Centre for Women and other offcuts used to make bags for women’s hospitals.

Artists Paige and Perelle Pryor with Deadly Denim designer Rebecca Rickard.
Camera IconArtists Paige and Perelle Pryor with Deadly Denim designer Rebecca Rickard. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

Ten per cent of Deadly Denim sales are also sent to the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund, which supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwifery students.

Despite the label’s early success, Rickard intends to keep production local and small batch.

“I don’t know if I will ever be able to go commercial,” she says.

“I think this will always be slow-fashion, one-off customisation pieces. So many people are wanting to jump on the sustainable movement and that’s great to see.”

Collaborations will continue to be Rickard’s main driver, as she champions other Indigenous fashion labels.

“In Australia, only 0.05 per cent of designers are First Nations. There is a severe under-representation,” she says.

“But there is so much happening in the First Nations fashion sector at the moment.

A model wears a Deadly Denim jacket.
Camera IconA model wears a Deadly Denim jacket. Credit: Lil’ Ohana Photography

“Connecting with one another, collaborating and growing the sector together is my favourite part. Sharing what I have learnt with the younger ones and being able to showcase the world’s oldest living culture is a great thing to be a part of.

“When I collaborate with other Aboriginal women in business, I realise it is much bigger than me.”

Find the brand on Instagram via @deadly_denim_

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