Five Questions With North

Written by Crystal Thomas
on 12 September, 2019

We are exceptionally chuffed to have North back at Finders Keepers after their debut in Sydney as our Indigenous Program recipient last year. Gearing up for her first Melbourne market, we spoke to Crystal of North on the development and challenges behind her Not For Profit social enterprise and took a moment to celebrate and support the exposure of textile design by Indigenous artists. 

Be sure to revisit North’s first feature interview for more here. All images by Photographer Hilary Faye.

We are absolutely obsessed with the Tiwi collection! Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind these pieces and the artists involved? 

The Tiwi collection is truly the Strong Women’s Collection – and the vision for it was really driven by senior Artists from Munupi, Jilamara and Ngaruwanajirri Art Centres. (Particularly Bernadette Mungatopi and Nina Lydwina Puruntatameri.)

The Tiwi ladies we have collaborated with are all established artists that beautifully paint their Jilamara (Design).  

Artist, Bernadette really wanted to see screen-printing revived at Munupi Arts, and across Melville Island. Both Munupi & Jilamara Art Centres had started out as screen printing studios, however, the practice had ceased, The dream was to see her designs and her family’s designs back on the fabric.

“I’ll feel happy when people start wearing my design, I’ll be proud. When you wear our designs and you feel proud, send a photo back to us and we can feel proud too.” Bernadette Mungatopi 

Read more about the story for each design and the meaning of Jilamara for Tiwi people is here.

What does the Tiwi Strong Women’s collection mean to NORTH and how long has this collection been in the pipeline?

This collection has been in the pipeline since 2017, knowing that the desire was there and the community wanted this project, it was simply a story of capacity. It means a lot that through the development of North as a social enterprise we have developed the capacity to work so closely with the community and for this collaboration to engage artists in putting brand new designs on screen.

The Tiwi Islands hold a very special place in the hearts of most who visit. It’s really exciting to see these stories and this fabric shared, it feels wonderful to be sharing that excitement with the artists and their families.

Biggest challenge as an enterprise vs best thing about being an enterprise?

The most common challenge facing any small brand working in fashion or textiles is creating a sustainable enterprise that supports slow fashion. It’s also difficult producing collections to support production at a larger scale – which often requires unsecured investment.

The best thing about North, particularly The Tiwi Collection, is a powerful community presence. Due to a strong collaborative design process, a sense of ownership and pride over NORTH is felt by the communities we work with.

You recently showcased at the Darwin Art Fair! Tell us a bit about the process of preparing for a fashion show. 

North took part in the “From Country to Couture” (run by DAFF) which celebrated the marriage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary fine art and high-end fashion, collaborating with well known Australian designers. 

The production and creative direction was lead by artist and designer Grace Lillian-Lee who is a force of nature and an inspiration. Founder of First Nations Fashion and Design.

The DAFF team organised the entire show! We simply needed to deliver our garments.  I also helped out backstage which involved quick changes and general assistance.

What can our community expect from NORTH this season at Finders Keepers?

The Tiwi Strong Women’s Collection as well as fashion and a small collection of home furnishings!

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