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CANBERRA’s 2018 ACT Australian of the Year Mark “Dion” Devow, is still coming to terms with the enormity of his award, and soon it will turn into more of a reality when he stands next to the nominees for the Australian of the Year Award.
Dion, an indigenous entrepreneur, was awarded early in November for his clothing brand Darkies Designs, which uses a controversial name to reclaim a derogatory term and express pride in his Aboriginal culture and heritage.
It was a project originally meant for family and friends but soon snowballed into something bigger to the extent his clothing is sold Australia-wide.
Even though Dion’s not a graphic artist (he’d previously worked in indigenous health and education) he started Darkies Designs in 2010 because he couldn’t find clothes he liked.
“At that time there weren’t many indigenous clothing labels,” he says.
“So, with a graphic artist, I came up with about 10 designs featuring indigenous art and words.
“I just wanted to wear Aboriginal clothes with a cool design on them.”
One of Dion’s first concepts was a T-shirt with the logo: “100% Pure Australian”.
Teased for being “the dark one in the room” when he was younger, Dion
wants to flip the meaning and the stereotype around the word “dark” to the point where it becomes engaging, rather than derogatory.
“I really want to promote Aboriginal culture and embrace and celebrate it with the rest of the world,” he says.
“I want Darkies Designs to be the most recognisable and successful Australian indigenous clothing design company nationally and internationally.
“The Aboriginal culture is the oldest living culture and I don’t think people understand that.
“We’re all Australian, so why not embrace it and understand it more? I’m interested in all cultures, so why is no one interested in ours?”
Even though named Darkies Designs, Dion says the clothes aren’t just for dark people.
“I’m inviting the rest of Australia to embrace and celebrate and share the Aboriginal culture because it’s a part of what it is to be Australian,” he says.
“Embrace it, wear an item of clothing with an Aboriginal flag on it, visit an Aboriginal community, learn about our culture.
“People make mistakes throughout history. There was segregation and disconnect from mainstream Australia before we received an apology, at least for me that’s how I felt.
“I was always proud to be Australian and Aboriginal, but now I feel part of Australia.”
It’s still not perfect though, Dion says, especially in the business realm, so he wants to continue bringing indigenous and non-indigenous people together.
In 2014, Dion created The Yarning Circle, which showcases and engages with indigenous business owners’ networks.
As an ambassador for Indigenous Community Volunteers, Dion also sits on the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body and is working hard to help other indigenous business owners achieve their dreams.
In the meantime, Dion continues to follow his dreams after setting up a cleaning and IT business.
“I was always told, by a teacher, that I’d never be able to work in IT because I wasn’t smart enough,” he says.
“I’ve created this business to learn along the way and attract other indigenous people to the industry.”
Darkies Designs at darkiesdesigns.com.au