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Who is Australian Fashion Week for?

AFW has international reach, though some say nothing compares to being on the ground in global markets. As Nicky Zimmermann says, once AFW gets you on the global radar, you have to respond to it. Part of May’s logic for skipping out on AFW was that the brand is saving for a New York activation later in the year. “It’s such an investment to go over as an Australian brand,” May says. “It’s like: do we spend $150,000 over here, or do we spend that in America, which is where we’re trying to grow?”

For those keen (or needing) to stay on Australian soil, AFW holds promise to platform and amplify Aussie brands big and small. This week was one of success stories, from Carla Zampatti’s comeback under creative director Karlie Ungar to Romance Was Born’s surreal show inspired by Indigenous Australian artist Zaachariaha Fielding, insiders agree. “It’s a great strength of AFW that it has been a launching pad for so many great Aussie designers to pursue opportunities overseas,” co-founder Zimmermann says. “I think that should always be one of the key objectives for AFW.”

But AFW needs to establish a clear vision to ensure the benefits of showing on-schedule do indeed outweigh the steep costs.

Park offers industry favourite Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW) as a viable blueprint. “Like us, [it] celebrates a more nuanced, smaller market but pulls international coverage and celebration to the event for having a very clear point of view,” she says.

Copenhagen can offer lessons beyond its aesthetic point of view. Throughout CPHFW, various funds and prizes are awarded to support young talents. Australia’s Next Gen prize package focuses on putting on the show (a big help nonetheless), whereas CPHFW’s NewTalent scheme offers three seasons of financial support, mentoring and resources, helping to keep new players in the game. Also in Copenhagen, big-name brands like Ganni — who didn’t show last season, and won’t in June either (much like those absent from Aus) — also offer financial support and consultation to younger brands. Could international Aussie stars do the same?

“To maintain its significance, AFW must strike a balance between showcasing commercially viable collections and supporting innovative, boundary-pushing designs,” Park says. “By doing so, it can provide a platform for brands to connect with both industry insiders and consumers, while fostering a vibrant and diverse fashion community that stands to represent Australian design.”

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