Model Nathan McGuire On Mob in Fashion: Melbourne Fashion Festival 22 – Harpers Bazaar Australia

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HAVING MODELLED LOCALLY for the likes of Country Road, David Jones, and R.M. Williams, and internationally for huge brands including Tiffany’s, Dior and Nike, it’s safe to say that Nathan McGuire has carved out a successful space for himself within the fashion industry.

And now, with a thriving career under his belt, McGuire — a Whadjuk Noongar man from Boorloo (Perth) — is keen to use his platform and experience to raise the voices of other First Nations creatives.

“I started modelling probably eight years ago, and I’ve kind of just been in the space of fashion, as the only Aboriginal person in the room — or only counting as many models or creatives on one hand that were, you know, my contemporaries,” he tells me one morning over Zoom, speaking from his current location in Naarm (Melbourne).

For many years he’s used his platform to push against the lack of First Nations representation within the local industry. But it’s only in the past five or so years that he has finally started to feel like his voice is being heard.

“Because of the Black Lives Matter movement, the industry really had to look at itself, and the state of the world made us look at our own country. It was a big wake-up call for everyone, but it just made it clear that the messaging that I had been putting out to the industry for so long actually had space, and actually had people wanting to listen,” he says.

“The voices have been there, but it’s only now that the opportunities are too.”

First Nations models have finally been having their moment in the spotlight in recent years, with more and more being signed to major agencies and making their way onto covers and into editorial shoots and campaigns.

“So I felt like that space was kind of — not looking after itself, but it’s been more developed in the last few years,” McGuire says.

“But where’s the lane for creatives to get involved? Unless you know someone — that’s how it really works — unless you know someone, those opportunities weren’t really there.”

The voices have been there, but it’s only now that the opportunities are too.

The solution, it turns out, had been floating around in his head for quite some time, but it took a call from the PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival to finally bring it into the world.

In working for the Festival as the First Nations Culture and Safety Consultant, McGuire has been able to realise his dream of making the fashion industry a more holistically inclusive space.

“We recognised the gap that there weren’t any First Nations creatives behind the scenes — the people who build our industry essentially,” he says.

“I just pitched — ‘can we do something where we focus on behind the scenes?’ So photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists, journalists, events and marketing, social media — all these touch points that really build out our industry.”

Nathan McGuire models for Country Road in a large Australian field
McGuire for Country Road’s “Regeneration” campaign | Simon Upton via @nathan.mcguire

And so, Mob in Fashion was born. An initiative to provide that all-important foot-in-the-door opportunity that is too often closed off to First Nations people. Mob in Fashion will provide learning and training opportunities to First Nations talent across all ages and experience levels.

“For me, it’s about creating these meaningful career opportunities as a gateway to the industry,” McGuire explains.

Whether it’s someone who is passionate about fashion and keen to be in the thick of it as a volunteer; those who are fresh out of uni and keen to put their years of study to good use; or even those experienced individuals with all the know-how who are still all too frequently barred from career-boosting industry events such as the Festival; McGuire hopes that Mob in Fashion will build “careers that are sustainable to the industry”.

“These industry events, they buzz, you know?” he says.

It needs to get to the point where it’s not about being a ‘First Nations creative’, it’s about being a creative, full stop.

As McGuire notes, there’s a wealth of First Nations talent out there, but it’s rarely recognised on the same level as non-Indigenous people. And as a result, First Nations talent is often relegated into a corner where it isn’t simply seen as talent of its own accord.

“So this can give them the confidence to go to other fashion weeks that happen in Australia, or they can go overseas. But it also means that they’re meeting industry-level people. And it needs to get to the point where it’s not about being a ‘First Nations creative’, it’s about being a creative, full stop, and you get the job because you’re good at it and you’ve had the experience.”

Giving his contemporaries the tools for their own success is just the start of Mob in Fashion.

“The five year goal will be that there are more new kids that are coming in, and the ones who are experienced now are mentoring … or they’ve completely got their careers and they’re going for it, you know.”

A colourful logo that says Mob in Fashion
Michelle Jackson / La Terre Press

Applications have already closed for the programme after an “overwhelming response”, but in the interim between the applications and the Festival itself, Mob in Fashion is already beginning to elevate Indigenous voices — like that of Michelle Jackson, a graphic designer and Gamilaraay woman who created the initiative’s logo. It features elements inspired by native flora and fauna found on Country: kangaroo paw, quandong, flannel flower and an ant hill.

“I was so inspired about this logo being a celebration and something that will create real change, so I wanted that to come through in the form of a celebration — in every way,” she said.

“I incorporated my contemporary interpretations of some special things found on Country.”

Outside of Mob in Fashion, McGuire’s role at Melbourne Fashion Festival as First Nations Culture and Safety Consultant ensures that the touch points requiring cultural direction are navigated with appropriate knowledge, respect, and support.

“As part of my consultant role I advise and help oversee the parts of the Festival that are centred around First Nations culture, such as the Welcome to Country and First Nations Runway,” he says.

“I give from my experience only, and I’ll ask another person if I don’t know the answer. It’s very much an ally perspective now, it’s First Nations directed, so that brings authenticity to the space and it makes it more equal. And it’s kind of getting rid of that fear around asking the questions, because I do feel like a lot of times people tell me, ‘I’m afraid to ask’.”

Like a proud father, McGuire gushes about his ideas and initiatives, passionately describing to me projects that are soon to be realised on a large scale at the Festival. It’s clear that in being able to make his dream of cultural inclusivity come true, he’s not only proud of himself, but equally proud of the creatives he’ll be fostering on the way.

“It’s just crazy that as a model, you don’t find yourself going into these roles, so I’m very proud of myself. But I’m also very honoured to do this kind of thing, and help my mob direct this fashion space,” he says.

Grace Lillian Lee, Charlee Fraser and Nathan Mcguire during The Growth Of The First Nations Fashion Sector talk during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021
Mackenzie Sweetnam / GETTY

And so where to from here? Mob in Fashion is a much-needed step in the right direction for Australia’s fashion industry at large, but as McGuire himself acknowledges “it’s taken a while, and there’s so much more work to do”.

When I asked him what he sees when he considers the future of Australian fashion to be, he responded: “My vision of the future?”

“Well, me coming from my culture, and being in the fashion world, I’d always known the beauty of my people, and all the different nations, you know. And over time, I’ve learned that fashion is a great medium for stories, for storytelling. And there’s no better storytellers than First Nations people: our art translates into that, and our stories translate, and our dance and our movements, you know, our existence.”

I’d always known the beauty of my people, and all the different nations.

“So I always say that, for me, the future of the Australian fashion industry’s identity is First Nations fashion. And there’s so much depth to tap into there, and there’s so much richness and learning to be done. And that’s a very exciting thing to be a part of — I’m a small part of that, but the development of that is becoming what we always hoped for.”

You can keep up to date with Mob in Fashion at their Instagram. Purchase tickets to the Closing Runway of Melbourne Fashion Festival, presented by Visit Melbourne and Harper’s BAZAAR Australia, here.

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