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Meet the gay, Indigenous designer who is changing the rules of fashion

Written by gaytourism

Shaun Edwards is an artist, a business man and has a pretty decent fashion sense too, but that gets him into all ‘sorts of strife’.

But after years of trying to manage all of his interests, he eventually decided to bring them all together.

So he founded WildBarra. It’s a fashion label inspired by Edwards’ art, which in turn were inspired by his home lands in northern Australia.

He is the only Indigenous man in Australia making fashion of this kind.

Originally from an Aboriginal community in the very remote Cape York at the tip of Australia, Edwards was forced to move south to pursue his thirst for fashion.

What started as an active wear company in 2014 has evolved into into a chic fashion label. All the while Edwards has managed stay true to his ‘story place’.

‘The new designs represent a collection of black, white and pink body painting lines and symbols that tell story of the Kokoberrin people of the Staaten River area. More specifically of Ma Wunjibung Pukun, near the mouth of the Staaten River in Cape York. My story place,’ he tell Gay Star News.

‘They’re made up of evening, day, by the pool, special engagement style dresses and a new V-neck one piece with frill top. I’ve also made a selection of new quick dry style shorts for the gym, music festival or for swimming.

‘I’ve been able to create a collection that shows strength, beauty, connection to country and spiritual connection to ngen ma Wunjibung Pukun.

‘The garments have been inspired by sleek, slender European styles that are flowing, gentle and make you feel beautiful.’

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Pride in design

On top of being a talented designer and the only Indigenous man in his field, Edwards also identifies as gay.

Queer Indigenous voices aren’t very well represented in media and Edwards is glad WildBarra has inspired young LGBTI people.

‘My gayness is not what the brand is about but people have found out I am gay and associated the brand as a gay brand, which was not my aim,’ he says.

‘But I am thankful to the many LGBTI people who have supported me over the years and worn their WildBarra with pride. It really does make my heart skip a beat.’

A new journey after struggle

WildBarra has had its ups and downs in the competitive fashion industry.

It has been especially hard as an Indigenous brand trying to remain authentic.

‘Building a brand isn’t easy and you learn from your mistakes. It’s especially not easy being an Indigenous brand with suppliers not willing to stock Australian made because of the cheaper made garments from Bali and China,’ Edwards says.

‘Unfortunately Australian law does not currently protect Indigenous artists from this and so they either stumble across a product that does well or they’re forced to close because they just can’t get any orders to keep the business running.’

One of the pieces in the new WildBarra range. | Photo: Supplied

But those challenges haven’t stopped Edwards who is determined to continue the WildBarra brand.

‘My mind is constantly in need of space to stimulate and create that next project or design. I love fashion,’ he says.

‘My maternal father was of Mediterranean decent and so I had Italian, Spanish, Sicily adds to the mix with an age old Aboriginal ancestry from Australia’s Cape York.

‘I love all things well made, slick and fine tuned.’

Fashion week dreams

Edwards has slowly been trying to rebuild the WildBarra brand from a unique active wear company to chic fashion house.

But that takes a lot of work and is a very hard slog for a company starting from scratch.

WildBarra has showcased its works at fashion shows around Australia, but it still has to keep building awareness of its new looks.

Inspired by his homelands in Cape York, Shaun Edwards paints from his ‘story place’. | Photo: Supplied

But Edwards also uses the fashion shows to build the Indigenous fashion industry. It’s also a pathway to showcase upcoming models.

Edwards hopes to hit the next big fashion week on the Gold Coast in the eastern coast of Australia.

‘It’s taken a while to start getting invited to mainstream shows. Our first group show invitation was the Australian Indigenous Fashion Week in Sydney and more recently in Byron Bay at the Byron Bay International Fashion Festival,’ he says.

‘We’ve recently come on board with the re-invented Gold Coast Fashion Week and I feel this Fashion Week will for the first time enable me to come face-to-face with buyers and media. Something that’s never happened before.’

Help Shaun get to the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast Fashion Week is a critical opportunity for Edwards to share his unique concept with powerful fashion industry players. This direct interaction with buyers will be crucial to the future of WildBarra. 

‘We need help to be more visible to meet the buyers face-to-face, we need to educate buyers and media about the hard work we are doing to build Australian brands,’ he says.

The cost of flights and accommodation from Cairns to the Gold Coast isn’t cheap and you can only use so much of a day job wage to contribute towards the costs,’ he says.

‘I am saving up to pay the registration of $1800.00 (US$1300) but the other costs I just do not have the funds for so need the help or crowdfunding.’

Edwards hopes to not only rebuild his brand, but also be an example to other Indigenous designers and artists.

To help get this fabulous, LGBTI, Indigenous brand to the Gold Coast, you can donate here.

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