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Wild Blak fashion.

Celebrate culture and couture in the hands of Cassie Leatham, a First Nations artist turning ancestral stories into international fashion.

Jun 11, 2023

Words: Jes John

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Okay, so maybe you lost your mind watching the red carpet at the Met Gala last month – the time of year when everyone is suddenly a fashion critic. As the celebrities made their way up the plush red carpeted stairs, we applauded designers such as Karl Lagerfield, Miuccia Prada, Vera Wang, Donatella Versace and their contemporaries.

Leaving the steps of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and returning home, can you name a single First Nations fashion designer?

If it’s an unfortunate ‘no’ – then read on!

Boisdale-based artist Cassie Leatham, of Wild Blak Arts, is receiving international attention for her traditional cultural designs that feature intricate and beautiful handwoven pieces. As a self-taught Taungurung and Dja Dja Wurrung artist of the Kulin nation, Cassie listens to the stories from her Elders to inspire her works and to connect to culture.

Cassie’s multidisciplinary artwork spans the spectrum from printmaking to jewellery and fashion design.

Photography // Joshua Howlett
Photography // Joshua Howlett

Cassie is striving to connect important cultural heritage to the current day fashion world.
“When someone else wears my designs – they’re wearing my culture, carrying the narrative of my ancestors – they are witnessing and learning our stories so that [the stories] can continue,” Cassie explained.

To see models strutting down the runway, adorned with traditional, woven bilangs (bags), wearing large statement earrings in naturally dyed undulating earthen tones that have been chosen to represent the changing of the climate, with necklaces constructed from river reeds, is spell-binding. Cassie’s work features intricate and repetitive designs, inspired by her own history and experiences as well as pre-colonial customs and traditions. The texture of the grasses used peek through woven stripes of fictile colour, tactile and warm – turning fibres into fashion.

“The wearable art I create is not only about sharing a cultural story, but also a story that involves all,” Cassie says.

Photography // Joshua Howlett
Photography // Joshua Howlett

Every time someone compliments her clothes, jewellery, creations, it sparks a conversation about her culture and her ancestors.

The handcrafted pieces in her recent collection feature an eel trap, earrings, woven bags, anklets and bracelets – and these pieces in turn feature Cassie’s weaving history and journey, and her connection to Country and native plants. Most of Cassie’s woven pieces are created from lomandra and other native grasses, however, in the course of creating recent collections for her fashion label Yanggurdi (pronounced young-gurdy, meaning ‘walkabout’ in the Taungurung language), she has explored modern methods in silversmithing through weaving fine silver wire. Pieces from the Yanggurdi label have featured on runways all over the world, including close to home recently in the Melbourne Fashion Week and the Australian Wearable Art Festival.

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Cassie understands intrinsically that her work is not limited to just being stylish. “I want to create conversations in fashion about a sustainable future,” Cassie explains. “I want us to remember the land – remember the landfill – it’s about our country. It is so important to me to use recycled materials and create awareness of our environmental issues that are impacting us all due to climate change and our lifestyles.”

It was Cassie’s desire to represent her proud, staunch heritage as an Aboriginal woman that sparked her career trajectory at around 14 years of age. Over 30 years on, Cassie is continuing to share the stories of her ancestors through weaving, design, printing and use of natural resources.

And, Cassie is generous with sharing her knowledge, hosting workshops steeped with understanding and a gentle demonstration of proficiency. These workshops range from weaving and art to bushtukka learnings. Cassie’s next exciting project for 2023 is the Yanggurdi Youth Mentoring Program, sharing knowledge and experiences with year 11 and 12 fashion design students about slow fashion in textiles for a sustainable future.

Given her propensity to share her wisdom, what does Cassie think is the crucial message?
“It’s not about money – it’s not about names in lights. It’s about sharing important messages, and the meaningfulness of caring for Country.”

Photography // Joshua Howlett
Photography // Joshua Howlett

To keep up with Cassie’s many creative projects, visit and follow her at
and @yanggurdi.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 27

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