FOMA: celebrating cultural diversity at it’s fashionable best

By Neeru Saluja

FOMA (Fashions of Multicultural Australia) has made a mark in the history of multiculturalism by putting Australia’s cultural diversity at the centre of their showcase event.

On March 1, 2019, Australia’s largest cultural exhibit and runway was showcased at the iconic Cutaway at the Barangaroo Reserve. Pioneered by Gandhi Creations, FOMA is the first ever national platform where 17 international and emerging fashion designers got a chance to showcase their culture. Working closely with the respective foreign embassies, the event was also supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australia Korea Foundation.

Sonia Sadiq Gandhi

Though FOMA was launched only a year ago, the creator of the concept Sonia Sadiq Gandhi had the ”˜thought bubble’ three years ago. “We immediately stereotype people when we see them wearing their cultural dress (for example an Indian woman wearing a saree on a beach) and I wanted to break those stereotypes. People take a lot of pride in their cultural dress and they should be able to wear it at any event. Though the launch in 2018 was only attended by 200 people, the exhibit was attended by 2000 people this year and I can visualise it growing every year, tells Sonia.

The Designer and Embassy Exhibit featured stalls from Afghanistan, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Korea, Pakistan and Russia. The stalls were not only a treat for fashionistas but people could also sample foods, try out the traditional clothes, smell the fragrance of a perfume and talk to the designers. Being our home country, we approached the stall of India where designer Poornima Sharma had displayed her beautiful collection ”˜Meera by Poornima Sharma’ and revealed that it takes seven months for her craftsmen to develop her artistic handwoven sarees.

The runway was MCed by ABC journalist Jeremy Fernandez, Kartik Mohandas and fashion anthropologist Charlotte Smith with a welcome address by the founder. As the models representing various international designers started to display their cultural attires, the runway became a diverse platform of tradition mixed with modernity. The initial rounds of countries including Russia, Chile, Indonesia and Afro Brazilian were dominated with colours such as white, black and grey while the later rounds representing designers from Afghan, Pakistan and India brought in rich colours with intricate designs. Charlotte Smith’s 70’s collection of long flowy dresses with massive headgear brought in a fresh breeze while Ireland brought out the cold breeze with scarves, sweaters and pants! Pakistan emerged as the winner as designer Umer Iftikhar won the 2019 FOMA Designer of the Year Award for his ethnic and elegant collection involving delicate gold and silver thread work.

The gorgeous models representing the designers also walked the diversity ramp as they came from all age groups and cultures. The runway had a model over the age of 50 and also a Paralympic winner who walked with a prosthetic leg.

As the event became an immersive cultural experience for all, FOMA founder Sonia could see her vision coming through. “My vision was mainly to achieve three key points. Firstly, was to make cultural fashion mainstream, which means when you are in a major city of Australia you can purchase a hanbok or a saree and make a saree fashionable enough to wear at a gala dinner. Secondly, everyone relates to fashion and food, so the best way to process social cohesion is to use the under utilised power of fashion and make sure people understand each other’s cultures. For example, we had a workshop to learn how to tie an African headpiece and relate to their culture and find similarities to their own culture. Thirdly, working with foreign embassies and asking them to recommend designers was significant as it’s not a commercial event.”

“With FOMA 2019, I have created a buzz, trust and credibility and what it will be in the coming years. Next year, you will see a better exhibit and more cultural collaboration. I have embraced how diversity can be showcased through fashion,” says Sonia.

Pics by Rupali Rastogi

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