Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) took place from May 31 to June 4, and it was a colourful return to Sydney’s Carriageworks for the country’s leading fashion designers. It was also the first year Fashion Week opened with welcome to country in its 25-year history. More First Nations designers were included than ever before, and an effort to feature more diverse models on the runway led to criticisms of tokenism, especially in relation to its closing show. It was also the first time “ordinary people” could purchase tickets to shows, usually invite-only.

Two women who saw and experienced it all were Caitlin Judd and Anna Mackenzie, hosts of the Melbourne-based podcast Lady Brains – the first and official podcast partner for AAFW. “It was the first live podcast recording at an international fashion week. We interviewed brand founders including Rebecca Vallance, Mary Lou Ryan from Bassike and Dale McCarthy from Bondi Born,” say Judd and Mackenzie.

The podcast specialises in entrepreneurship, interviewing women from around the world – including Gritty Pretty’s Eleanor Pendleton, Bread Beauty Supply’s founder Maeva Heim, the Design Files’ Lucy Feagins and DJ, author and influencer Flex Mami.

After spending the week based at Carriageworks, Judd and Mackenzie share the conversations that have stuck with them most.

Women’s health was a huge talking point for designers
“The event was a platform and an opportunity to discuss broader social issues, such as female health and wellbeing, sustainability and First Nations designers. Camilla and Marc’s founders [siblings] spoke to us about their campaign Ovaries. Talk About Them; their mum died of ovarian cancer when they were 11 and 13. Camilla Franks (from label Camilla) spoke about her struggle with breast cancer and how the experience has given her a higher purpose beyond building a fashion label. She told us her clothes were her armour and a shield while she was going through her darkest days. Brands are using fashion as a force for change – and we’re here for it.”

Sustainability: no longer a buzzword?
“Every day there was a conversation about how the fashion industry is contributing to the pollution of the planet. Also how fashion brands need to be part of the solution. There was a sense, among the founders and brands we spoke to on the podcast and backstage, that if you don’t do something now you’ll be left behind. Consumers care about the supply chain and brands are trying to find authentic and relevant ways to communicate what they’re doing to the broader market. We were excited to see Glam Corner, a clothing rental business, as the official sustainability partner at AAFW. We were surprised and excited to see Face Halo there too – a company whose mission it is to ban single-use make-up wipes. Byron brand St Agni’s models used the reusable make-up removers backstage. Our second live podcast featured the founders of Bassike and Bondi Born, who spoke about ethical production. The feedback to that show has been incredible.”

Finally, First Nations fashion was celebrated
“We were happy to see the significance of the location – Carriageworks in Redfern – honoured with a welcome to country for the first time at Fashion Week. There were two runway shows featuring Indigenous Australian fashion designers. We were backstage before and after the First Nation Fashion Designers runway and met with many of the designers, models and production crew. There was a sense of pride that they were showcasing their culture and creativity. It’s a positive step that will help create pathways for others.”

Tech helped bring the shows to more people
“Given Fashion Week was cancelled last year due to Covid, there was a sense of elation that the industry was getting back on its feet. People around the world were able to tune in and watch the runway shows, talks and our podcasts via Fashion Week’s digital platform. This was not only great for consumers who traditionally haven’t been able to attend, but also for the Melbourne fashion community – as many people couldn’t fly up because of lockdown. From the brands to the production crew and guests, it was all about celebrating creativity, no matter where you viewed it from.”