Eco Fashion at Australia’s Indigenous Fashion Week: Interview with Amy Tracey of Flannel Billy

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Ed Note: This post appears courtesy of Yatu Widders Hunt, and originally appeared on Thinking Fashion Australia

Amy Tracey is one designer who is going places. She is currently being mentored to show a collection at Australia’s first ever Indigenous Fashion Week in April next year, but is already making her mark as an accessory guru, even designing for Roopa Pemmaraju. I actually first spoke about Amy, on my regular eco fashion segment on ABC radio the other week, when she had just launched her label, Flannel Billy into the online world. She is a fashionista, florist and alumni of my old stomping ground, the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). So here’s Amy’s story in her own words. IMG_3298 Can you tell us a bit about how Flannel Billy started and what the label is all about?

As an Indigenous woman, I have always felt a strong pull to the land and living in the middle of the city of Sydney whilst studying fashion at UTS was, to be honest, a real struggle for me. I missed the trees, the flowers, the birds and the open plains that I was so used to being around my entire life. But more than just missing the land, it had a real impact on my state of mind and I soon realised that I wasn’t a happy person in the city environment. So after graduating from University, I decided that I wanted to do something that meant I could be around nature on a more regular basis. On a whim, I started studying floristry and I fell in love.

And that is how Flannel Billy was born. It’s a fashion label which incorporates accessories constructed from native Australian flowers and aims to give Indigenous Australians living away from their country and their communities like I am, a chance to carry a small piece of the land with them for that special occasion. We live in a nation that has regrettably been letting its Indigenous culture slip away and many young Indigenous Australians of mixed cultural background, are finding themselves lost and not quite fitting into either side of their heritage. Through Flannel Billy, I really want to try and create an attitude that encourages young Australians to accept their heritage, both the Indigenous and non Indigenous parts of it, while urging older Indigenous people to continue to share their knowledge of Indigenous culture and mythology. That’s how I came up with the name Flannel Billy. It comes from the English words for two native flowers which grow on Wiradjuri country- the flannel flower billy button.

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How have you found being part of the mentoring program for Australian Indigenous Fashion Week?

I find it hard to put into words, just how grateful I am for every moment I spend in the mentoring program. I have met some of my greatest inspirations and people I have looked up to for so many years. Some of these people have even become friends. I have sat and discussed my dreams and plans with industry experts that I thought I would honestly never get to meet within the next five years. The wealth of knowledge that was placed at our fingertips every step of the way throughout this entire process, is unprecedented.

More precious than anything, has been sitting month after month in a room full of empowered and passionate Indigenous women, chasing and fighting for their dreams. The fact that they all happen to be chasing a similar dream to mine is an added bonus. Some of the people in that room tell stories of endurance like I have never heard. Seeing them chase their dreams after all they have been through, makes concrete in my mind, just how resilient our people are and how proud we should be of that. I will be forever grateful for this experience. It has been a true gift and I hope that many more young Indigenous designers are able to become part of the same process.

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Why do you think it’s important that we have an Indigenous Fashion Week in Australia?

I understand that many people will ask why Indigenous designers can’t be part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and the answer is they can. I am confident that as time moves on, Australia will see more and more of its Indigenous designers reach a level where they can participate in Australian Fashion Week, but the fact is, we aren’t there yet.

Australian Indigenous Fashion Week will be a national platform through which we can showcase to our nation and the world, the wealth of creative talent and traditional craftsmanship that can be offered by Australian Indigenous fashion designers and why shouldn’t that be celebrated? I believe the fashion world is experiencing a global movement at the moment and people are ready to learn about Indigenous cultures and traditional practices and more importantly, they want to learn these things from the people who own this knowledge. Indigenous Fashion Week is our chance to do this and personally, I can’t wait!

What are your future plans for Flannel BIlly and what can we expect from you next?

Well, in the immediate future I will continue producing custom floral accessories and fashion pieces while working to produce the collection for AIFW in April 2014. If all goes well with this collection, obviously the dream is to churn out another soon after. Long term, I’d love to be able to get to a point where I could employ some Indigenous staff members and travel out to communities where I grew up, to teach simple floristry skills to women so that they have an additional choice for a career path, if they chose to follow me down that road. I was very blessed growing up and have come from a very nurturing and inspiring family.

Most of the help and assistance I took advantage of to get to this point is available to all Indigenous women, but living on country far away from the city can prevent access to these opportunities. The fact that I have been able to reach the point that I have today and am staring down the barrel of what may well be a successful career in my chosen industry, makes me want to give back and help others who haven’t been as fortunate as I have.

Check out more eco fashion from Down Under on Yatu Widders Hunt’s site, Thinking Fashion Australia.
You can follow her on Twitter: @yatuwhunt and on Thinking Fashion Australia’s Facebook page

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About Starre Vartan
Starre Vartan is editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life.

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