When the Liberal party won the state election last March, those of us working in the local arts sector knew we were on borrowed time before funding cuts began. So it was no surprise when an email came through announcing the cancellation of the Adelaide Fashion Festival (AFF) last week. But it still left many of us devastated, bewildered and angry.
Adelaide Fashion Festival was not just a celebration of fashion, it was a program built to showcase incredible emerging designers making waves across the globe alongside established and iconic local brands. It had become a moment in our year to stop and celebrate the raw design talent from fashion graduates and couture royalty alike. The event put our state on the map with global influencers such as Vogue Australia and created a vital platform to share stories, to innovate and learn from each other. At its essence AFF was about fusing fashion with pioneers in the fields of art, music, food and wine. It afforded opportunities to local creatives – photographers, stylists, staging experts, make-up artists and more – on a national stage.
But AFF was not without its critics. In the past the program has been dubbed elitist and inaccessible to the wider community, but in recent years I observed a growing effort to create a more inclusive and diverse festival. With Chris Kontos at the creative helm, a unique and internationally recognised festival brought our streets to life every October in the name of art and for the love of this state.
My earliest contribution to AFF was with my brand Good Studios in 2016 when I was invited to be part of the SA Showcase, and since 2017 I have worked with Emily Sheahan (The Commons) and Natalie Ivanov (Re-Swim Club) to found Slow, a platform championing more environmental practices in this industry. Our hope was to generate a more substantial representation of sustainable fashion in this state by bringing together incredible brands that set the example, and educating guests to AFF about the impacts the fashion industry has on our environment in its wasteful and dangerously outdated structure.
Slow began its relationship with AFF when it came on board to support [our inaugural fashion parade and included us in their main program. The show was a sell-out success, and based on the growing interest in this area AFF offered to fund our 2018 program and officially bring us into the AFF fold. We worked closely with the AFF team to create an elevated and exciting showcase of local and interstate brands while raising awareness around deadstock and a more conscious relationship to fashion. The AFF team was passionate and uncompromising about bringing our dream to life and toiled far beyond their working weeks to accomplish it.
It is the way the state government dropped this festival that hurts the most. There was no opportunity to launch a version of AFF with scaled-back funding, a chance we would have jumped at to prove it could be done. Cancelling the festival without open conversation or acknowledgment of what it brought to our city sends a message that we are not important enough to be heard; our local fashion industry is dispensable and not worth preserving, let alone celebrating.
Culture and the arts, which colour our days and give meaning to our lives, are a luxury that it sees no benefit in supporting unless it can make a significant profit. Our young people will continue to leave. Our talented designers will look once more to the eastern states for a place to base their brands, where they have a platform to be discovered. Because the sad truth is that it will be incredibly hard for the small independent and emerging brands to endure without AFF’s support.
Those of us who are passionate about contributing arts to this state are determined to help foster local events that are inclusive and celebrate our own, with or without the government's support. We’re told the government is investigating a revised AFF format, which in the interim will focus on supporting an expansion of Vogue Festival with significantly less funding. Vogue Festival, which has been part of the AFF program for the past few years, is run by Adelaide City Council and Rundle Mall Management Authority to the benefit of East End retailers, many of which have interstate and overseas owners. It does not have the scope to replace the progressive and far-reaching platform for local creatives that was AFF.
As for Slow, we will continue to raise awareness around sustainability and better practices in this industry and beyond in a bold new independent program coming this September.