The director of an Indigenous clothing label has criticized Melbourne’s “Naarmcore” fashion movement, arguing it reduces their culture to a social media trend.
- Naarmcore is a mix between Naarm, an Aboriginal name for Melbourne, and normcore, a minimalist style of dressing
- Naarm can be spelled many ways (Nairm or Narrm) and is used by the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung language groups of the Central Kulin Nation
- Indigenous Australians say the trend reduces Aboriginal culture to a trending aesthetic
The term, which has become a popular hashtag on video-based app TikTok, is a mix between the unpretentious fashion style referred to as “normcore” and an Aboriginal placename for Melbourne.
But Narungga woman Sianna Catullo, who is brand director for Indigenous clothing label, Clothing the Gaps, said it reduced Aboriginal culture to a fashion fad.
“They’ve taken an Aboriginal word … Aboriginal languages from two mobs and made it fit a trending aesthetic,” she said.
“[TikTok] was the first time ever hearing the term Naarmcore [and] when I first watched it, I was like, ‘Is this positive? Is this negative? Do they like us?’
“It honestly took us a while to wrap our heads around it.”
Ms Catullo said the brand chose to speak out against the popular videos to try to turn the trend into a learning opportunity.
“[Naarmcore] does not give any context of the history of the word,” she said.
Indigenous culture dates back more than 65,000 years and Ms Catullo said that it was something that could never be encapsulated by a hashtag.
“I think Aboriginal culture and language is not a trend,” she said.
“It’s been here for thousands of years. It’s going to continue to be celebrated and respected.”
more than a name
Ms Catullo said that while traditional place names were increasingly being used, people should understand their connotations.
“It takes more than just using a word. You have to understand it too,” she said.
She said Clothing the Gaps made the decision to use Naarm on its clothing.
“Being a Victorian Aboriginal brand, we thought it was really important to incorporate local Aboriginal language in some of our products,” Ms Catullo said.
“After we did that we spent a lot of time talking to both Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri people just to make sure we knew exactly what it meant, because it means different things to both mobs.
“We don’t often switch out the word Melbourne for Naarm, because it’s got a lot more meaning, and it’s a lot more complex than that.”
‘Sidelining’ First Nations people
La Trobe University Indigenous research director Professor Julie Andrews, a Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta woman, said the word Naarm had been increasingly used over the last decade.
She said while young people using the hashtag may not have meant to appropriate Indigenous culture, it had detracted from the progress First Nations people had made.
“There is a danger that people can erase some of the cultural knowledge that we’ve worked towards,” Professor Andrews said.
But Professor Andrews said she believed part of Melbourne’s identify was its street-style and trend-setting nature.
“What’s happened here is like typical fashion. It’s gone like wildfire and the [movement’s] grown without any framework or boundaries,” she said.
“But you’d be hard-pressed to find an Aboriginal person going around calling themselves a ‘Naarmie’.
She said the cultural representation of the world Naarm had been “sidelined”.
“Aboriginal people are sitting on the sideline and watching this evolve.”
Professor Andrews said there were other ways to recognize Melbourne’s traditional owners on social media.
“Maybe put down the traditional owner name … or [acknowledge] you want to pay your respect to Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people,” she said.
“You could say the definition of Naarm, what it means and the language it comes from.
“It’s not that hard to pay your respects to Aboriginal people.”