Descendant of the Bardi mob, Teagan ‘TJ’ Cowlishaw is more than just a brilliant designer; she has a vision for the future of a sustainable, ethical and Indigenous fashion industry.
Amazingly, apart from some short courses ahead of Australian Indigenous Fashion week, TJ has had no real experience in the fashion industry. Her professional background is in visual arts and events management.
After recently completing the Australian Indigenous Fashion Week design program and workshops with Whitehouse Institute of Design TJ was able to transfer those skills into sustainable fashion.
“I’ve always had a passion, and because I’ve never had any money, I always wanted to look flash when I went out, so I would take second-hand and vintage clothing and I would change them and reconstruct them,” TJ explains.
“It’s kind of up-cycling, where you take something that is considered waste and change it into a new product.”
While she has been influenced by other designers to take an organic and biodegradable approach to her products, her style has stayed much the same – TJ refers to it as freestyle.
“I think my influence really comes from freestyle. I don’t really follow trends and I don’t really watch what the catwalks are bringing out, or anything like that. I just look at what’s fashionable, what do I feel comfortable in and what looks deadly I guess,” she laughs.
TJ doesn’t believe in ‘fast fashion’, which is generally when an item is constructed in cheaper places, such as Asian countries in a short amount of time. She would like to see mobs across Australia skilled up to do the job and keep the fashion industry’s money in Australia, and particularly within communities.
“I want to create an Indigenous fashion incubator where we skill up our people in community and, instead of us going to China and getting it factory made over there, I want to get Indigenous mobs skilled and we make our own clothing. We keep the profits in Australia and we keep our economy strong,” TJ says.
“It’s where I come from, you know. I want to follow ethical and fair trade principals, I want to create garments that are individual and are made from recycled stock. I don’t want to do fast fashion anymore.”
TJ is currently waiting to see if she has been successful in gaining certification from Ethical Clothing Australia. If she does, she will be the first Indigenous label, and the only Western Australia label to be accredited.