While the modelling industry has come a long way in certain aspects, it undoubtedly has miles to go in its inclusivity journey. Among its key shortcomings, is a lack of representation of First Nations models. Bursting with homegrown talent, Australia is teeming with potential when it comes to the Indigenous community, and it’s about time we took notice. After the First Nations Fashion + Design Show made history at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, it sparked a wider conversation about how we can support our Indigenous talent.
A new generation of Indigenous models are rising through the ranks, with Australian modelling agencies battling it out to sign them. Even more exciting, was the creation of Jira in 2017 — a modelling agency exclusively dedicated to creating career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the industry.
Below, we round up the 12 Indigenous models set to revolutionise the international fashion world. From the names you already know to the promising up-and-comers, there’s no shortage of talent to change the modelling landscape for the better.
After making her debut at New York Fashion Week in 2016, Charlee has gone on to walk international runways for the likes of Dior, Prada, Balenciaga and Alexander Wang, to name a few. Fraser is of Awabakal Australian heritage, and has become a strong voice for change, especially when it comes to inclusivity in the modelling world. In 2020, she was announced as an ambassador and industry mentor for First Nation Fashion and Design, a not-for-profit organisation which seeks to nurture and support Indigenous creatives. She was also named one of marie claire’s women of the year in 2021.
Sam Harris is a name you’ve undoubtedly heard of, given her longstanding history in the modelling world. After winning the Girlfriend Magazine Covergirl at age 13, Sam quickly became one to watch. She went on to appear in a record number of shows during Australian Fashion Week in 2010 and was the second Indigenous model to grace the cover of Vogue at age 18. Her mother is a descendant of the Dunghutti tribe, and Sam has proudly embraced her Indigenous heritage, pushing for a greater celebration of Aboriginal culture. In 2021, she walked the runway for Indigenous-swimsuit label Indii Swimwear and sat front row at the dedicated First Nations runways on Gadigal country during Australian Fashion Week 2021. She also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund on their Indigenous Ranger Management plan, working alongside hundreds of Indigenous female rangers on vital conservation efforts to preserve the integrity of our country’s land.
Cindy Rostron is a Rembarrnga Dalabon woman from the Bonngu clan. She was discovered by First Nations Fashion + Design in June 2021, and walked in their Barungra Festival show. Later, she received mentorship from Magnolia Maymuru. The 16-year-old was later photographed for the clothing label, North, whose campaign to support a lineup of Australian designers saw them feature an incredible range of Indigenous talent. While she may just be starting out in her career, we have no doubt that we’re going to see a lot more of her.
Serene Dharpaloco Djapunun Yunupingu (also known as Dubs), comes from the Boorooberongal clan of the Dharug Nation in western Sydney and the Gumatj Clan in North East Arnhem Land, Yolngu people. She has worked for major Australian retailers including David Jones and been photographed for several brands, including Country Road and The Upside.
Kiesha is a proud Kamilaroi woman living on the Central Coast of New South Wales. The young model has already been photographed for the likes of Poppy Lissiman and Man Repeller and is well on her way to shooting more campaigns. She also walked in the First Nations Fashion + Design show. Kiesha is passionate about supporting Aboriginal artists and fashion labels (like Clothing The Gap), and continues to educate others about white Australia’s Black history.
Shaneiva is a proud Gamilaroi woman and talented artist who uses her work to illustrate the challenges her people face, and inviting us to have a wider conversation about these topics. So far, her modelling career has seen her shooting for big name Australian brands including MIMCO and Nivea, and she was also a part of the 2021 Australian Fashion Week, proudly walking in the First Nations Fashion + Design show.
Billie-Jean grew up in Ngurturwarta, an Aboriginal community in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, and is now based in Bondi. She has fronted modelling campaigns for iconic Australian brands like Bec + Bridge, SIR The Label and Country Road. Her down-to-earth lifestyle and dedicated to wellness has seen her land her latest gig as an ambassador for Wanderlust Wellness — a brand which offers organic wellness supplements to promote holistic living.
Born in the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands (a remote community of less than 500 people), Cassie was scouted by Perina Drummond of Jira Models (all-Indigenous and –Torres Strait Islander modelling agency) after arriving in Melbourne in 2016. Come 2018, she would be walking barefoot in a sold-out show in Federation Square alongside two other newly-scouted Indigenous models. In 2021, she walked the runway for Liandra Swim and Kirrikin during Melbourne Fashion Week.
After winning the 2016 Aboriginal Model Search, Kaitlen was quickly named as the new face of the South Sydney Rabbitoh’s in 2017. That same year, she represented Australia at World Indigenous Fashion Week in the Seychelles, East Africa, saying she had her sights set on being Australia’s first Indigenous supermodel. She is a proud Kamilaroi woman, and is keen to change the world’s beauty standards through Indigenous representation.
Sarsha solidified her modelling career when she starred in Myer’s Spring/Summer Campaign in 2020, cementing herself as one to watch in this space. She has since appeared in campaigns for Kmart, Bondi Sands and Rove. Speaking to Perth Now, she said is proud to be championing her rich heritage through her work, and hopes she can be a role model for aspiring Indigenous models.
Model-turned-actor Magnolia Maymuru was born in Yirrkala in the Northern Territory and is a proud Yolŋu woman. She was spotted as a teenager in 2014, and by the age of 19, became the first Aboriginal woman from the NT to enter the Miss World Australia beauty pageant, reaching the national finals in a major win for Indigenous representation. In 2019, she won Best Supporting Actress at the 9th AACTA awards, for her role in The Nightingale. Most recently, she fronted the David Jones #WeWearAustralian campaign, which supports and amplifies homegrown talent.
From walking three shows at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week to working with huge Australian brands like MECCA, Bec + Bridge and Sportsgirl — Lisa is just getting started in her modelling journey. Her first show was walking in the First Nations Fashion + Design launch show in Cairns in 2020. She then walked again for First Nations Fashion + Design at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021, before being elevated to a mentorship role for their BRISFEST show in September 2021. Lisa is also a proud ambassador and mentor for the Aspire to be Deadly program, which works with young Indigenous women from the Torres Strait Islands, Cape York, Cairns, Tableland and Gulf Savannah to provide education, wellbeing and leadership through hockey.