“Moving, Empowering and All-Encompassing”: Charlee Fraser’s ‘Coming of Culture’

Instagram @charleefraser

NAIDOC Week celebrates and recognised the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It’s an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories. The POPSUGAR team is sharing stories to help educate, honour and guide in our continued to push for change, so be sure to find all our pieces here. Val Morgan Digital acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It kind of all started when I was invited to the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) back in August 2019. They were showcasing a fashion sector with a performance for the first time and I was lucky enough that I had found myself visiting Australia for work.

I remember being so excited to have found a space where my culture and career crossed over; it’s something I’d be yearning for. That’s also where I met Grace and Teagan, founder and co-founder of First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD). They had only just begun their not-for-profit journey and little did I know how aligned we’d become in the future.

I absolutely adored my time in Darwin and continued on overseas after the event until the pandemic, where I became so fortunately stuck in Australia in March 2020. During all of the lockdown, I found myself branching out to not-for-profit organisations in search of something collinear to my beliefs and values.

Enter Grace and Teagan.

I emailed Grace about FNFD, seeking out a general update on how FNFD had progressed, so we arranged a Zoom call and *BOOM*! Our conversation lasted hours and was incredibly inspiring, uplifting and encouraging.

We talked in general about our new lives within the four walls of our home before discussing what plans we each had on the horizon. For me, one of those was the official ‘Walking in Two Worlds’ launch in Cairns in December 2020. The launch was curated around FNFD’s ethos creating an ecology of Indigenous fashion through a runway show that was all-inclusive of different cultural arts including dance, music, storytelling and performances.

We spent two weeks in Cairns both on Country and in town rehearsing and taking part in cultural activities. It was the trip of a lifetime! I was deep-diving into my culture and learning so much from the community in Cairns as well as curating a fashion show and spending quality time with the now FNFD family. There were a lot of long days and lost hours of sleep (not to mention buckets of tears) but it was all worth it as a sense of belonging came over me.

As Grace, Teagan and I continued this journey into 2021, we were looking for the next big thing; and it just so happened that Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) was fast approaching. As we prepared for another show (10 times bigger than the last) myself and my fellow mentors were off prepping the up-and-coming Indigenous talent about to hit the catwalk.

The days came and went and before we know it, we were submerged in Fashion Week. Kick-starting the event with a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony, the very first in 25 years, and ending on the longest standing ovation in Fashion Week history; quite the achievement.

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The show was culturally moving, empowering and all-encompassing. It displayed high-quality Indigenous fashion, models, dancers, musicians and creatives which left the audience in tears. A breakthrough for the Australian fashion industry and global recognition, my cultural journey has been nothing short of monumental moments, not just in my life but the lives of many.

This brings me to present-day Charlee Fraser. An Indigenous Australian international model (and human) with a heart full of new knowledge that I’ll carry with me forever and pass down to younger generations. Still learning and evolving but thoroughly impressed with the journey so far.

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