Working with artists is always complex in the fashion industry, but when the artist is from a marginalised group, extra care must be taken. How can you make sure that the relationship is based on mutual admiration and respect for each partner? Simply put, it’s not easy and requires effort on your part.
The opening of a more in-depth conversation began when Australian fashion icon, Spell, and the Gypsy collective reached out to First Nations artist, Kylie Caldwell, for a collaboration. The inspiration for this future plan was born from a chance encounter between two creative minds.
After working together on a seven-piece, limited-edition collection inspired by Caldwell’s colourful paintings, they realised they could help others by documenting their process and providing advice for productive partnerships. They decided to make their methodology available as an open-source, detailed guide in the interest of collaboration and information sharing. It’s a model any company can use when partnering with Native American musicians.
Any company unsure of how to begin can read the comprehensive how-to guide to ethical collaboration, but the highlights are provided below.
It all starts with a genuine promise.
Before embarking on a collaboration, Spell and Kylie’s guide notes that any “meaningful First Nations collaboration needs to be matched with organisational commitment first.”
Elizabeth Abegg, co-founder of Spell, says, “trust that we had done enough work on our Reconciliation Action Plan to approach the collaboration with awareness” was the most challenging part.
This piece was the catalyst for Spell’s first meeting with Kylie Caldwell. It’s why doing the work and having a strong commitment to action as a business is so critical as a first step.
Conferring directly with one another
Any successful artistic partnership needs to have a natural flow. In order to make something that is genuine to both parties, it is important to have face-to-face meetings and a common interest in designs. Forming a relationship first is always beneficial. Meet and get to know each other better over the course of several meetings, and then talk about the possibilities of working together.
Consult with experts.
One more important thing to do is to start talking about diversity and inclusion with more people.
Spell chose to engage three First Nations consultants on meaningful engagement with First Nations individuals and organisations – including Yatu Widders-Hunt, a board member for the Australian Fashion Council. She has discussed the direction that the fashion industry must take and how sustainable designs may call for Indigenous designers to go back to their roots.
As a matter of fact, it was this step that ultimately persuaded Spell to write up this manual. The blueprint was the brainchild of one of our cultural advisors, Abegg explained.
She made us reconsider our stance and inquire as to Kylie’s experience working with us as well as her takeaways from the project. We collaborated closely with Kylie on the plan in the hopes that opening up the process would lead to greater financial opportunities for the underrepresented First Nations creatives in our industry.
Build a binding agreement.
This is the stage where you should start bargaining for a contract. This involves investigating the art licencing fee structure and potential sales commission.
As a result, it is crucial that contract negotiations be handled properly, despite the fact that they are often verbose and taxing on the mind. Most of the time, the buyer of a custom piece of art gets to keep all of the rights to the work. However, this isn’t always the smartest move for a relationship of this kind. This is why Spell decided to consult a First Nations expert once more.
In a similar vein, Caldwell contacted Arts Law, a legal hub for the arts, to get guidance on how she and the partnership could move forward.
Design and involvement
Now that the nitty gritty is out of the way, you’re ready to start on design. The key takeaway for Spell here: involve the artist in all steps of the process. This will ensure the highest degree of authenticity.
Keep in mind that people who work in a variety of creative fields don’t necessarily adhere to the standard 9-to-5 workday. Genuine innovation can only emerge when the design process is open enough to accommodate it.
Put the musician at the centre of your messages.
The loudest voice should be the artist’s voice. Any promotion or discussion of the partnership should revolve around them. Here, Spell noted there was some “unlearning” of the innate communications strategy of ‘brand-centering’ that needed to be done.
Also, engaging a First Nations communications agency is helpful.
The most important things to keep in mind are to put the artist in the spotlight, raise their profile, have them review and comment on any communications, and to stress the significance of the collaborative process over the final product.