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Nathan McGuire is not sure he’s an activist in any certain terms. His current role, his process, his outlook are, to him, a natural progression of his forte. It’s a fight that is innate and non-negotiable. McGuire’s campaigning for the future of Indigenous rights within the fashion industry is not orchestrated or planned. Rather he’s leading by example and speaking from the heart. In person, he’s refined, calm and softly spoken. He’s also unequivocally handsome. It’s immediately apparent why he’s become a highly sort after model in the last few years. Yet this proud Whadjuk Noongar man from Boorloo (Perth) was not always fashion-focused and his past comes via professional hockey and the Western Australian Institute of Sport.

This former sporting career is a far cry from being the emerging male face he is within the Australian fashion industry. But McGuire’s path these days is not only paved with a growing number of high profile bookings but with a commitment to empowering diversity and bringing Indigenous practices to the forefront of fashion’s protocols.

McGuire started modelling back in 2015, when he was 25 years old. After six years of practice, he’s now calm and relaxed in front of the camera. He easily ebbs between sultry cool guy to preppy jock with just a pop of a collar. Yet, since his introduction, McGuire has remained committed to standing up for what he believes in. We spend the first part of our chat discussing the abrupt change he’s noticed in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter movement. While he said there is still a ways to go, in the years prior, indigenous culture and equality were rarely seen as an essential topic. These days, even if it’s only through call-out culture, he said the tide is changing.

“The difference I’ve noticed is the conversations I have when I’m working have really opened up. People are taking notice of what is happening online with activism and First Nations people are empowered to talk about it. The way we consume fashion and information is through social media. Our amplified First Nations voices within the industry really spark conversations that I have on set. So I think things are starting to change. However, it’s still too early to tell. I’m here to make sure this conversation and change continues in a positive way within our industry.”

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For an indigenous model, he was acutely aware of the lack of diversity prior to this new era, yet for so long his conversations largely went unheard. Now, McGuire is speaking out on behalf of himself and the indigenous community, motivated by the positive progression he is witnessing. “I’ve always talked about the lack of diversity in fashion and being one of a handful of Australian models who is Indigenous I wondered why there weren’t more First Nations models in the industry. Up until last year, it wasn’t engaged in First Nations talent, so I was working as a model and putting in the ground work with my career. Now that the industry is being challenged to be more inclusive (as they should be), it’s very humbling and exciting to be someone the industry thinks of when they are working towards diversity and inclusiveness for their company or brand.”

A major issue now is ensuring brands and media owners give proper recognition to the culture, not just adhere to governing quotas. It’s not enough to tick a box, says McGuire, these organisations need to know why it’s important and why things needed to change. “For me, [the way the] industry can truly and authentically work towards equality in representation, is to engage in the communities they want to be involved with at a grass roots level. This could mean reaching out to local organisations or programs to see how they can [move] a concept from idea to reality [by] bringing that community along with them throughout the journey. Another way is to diversify the team behind the scenes within the brand. The people in castings, [those] in the boardroom making the decisions or creatives being hired should be included in conversations around representation. It’s not just about who we see in front of the campaigns and photo shoots anymore, it’s about who created this concept and how did we reach this outcome with authenticity and cultural respect.”

Each year, NAIDOC observance week aims to celebrate indigenous culture and communities and, in particular, highlight the achievements of First Nations people in the arts sphere. I ask him whether he thinks an event like this is enough, or is it still too token to spill into the rest of the year?

“To our mob, we say ‘It’s NAIDOC Week all year for us!’ It’s definitely a highlight of the year and something I personally look forward to. I think the industry could really mark NAIDOC Week as something they dedicate more time to. This could mean creating campaigns and allocating significant budgets towards concepts and marketing, where the industry and First Nations communities come together and push First Nations creatives and talents to the forefront. I think all year round, we should be seeing First Nations creatives and talent in everyday imagery for brands on all levels. Designers and their garments should be stocked in stores alongside other brands. The aim, I think, is to normalise how we consume First Nations fashion brands. By buying their products and supporting their businesses. A great way to do this is to see some of the First Nations designers at fashion weeks alongside other designers, not because of their heritage but because their work is just as valuable and has a place in our industry.”

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The discourse might be slowly changing, but it’s thanks to people like McGuire that it continues to grow. He’s passionate about his career but even more so about his proud heritage. He only hopes his success can be motivation for other aspiring indigenous models (particularly men, given the significant lack of them in the industry). “I hope we see more opportunities given for all types of different models who earn it and are recognised for their work they give to the industry. For so long everyone has been held to one standard of beauty, but for me growing up Aboriginal, I know my people are the most beautiful in every way imaginable. Yet it’s so underrepresented still. My hope is that it’s a growing and evolving landscape of fashion and Indigenous culture is celebrated authentically in that space.”

As he preps for his final look in the shoot, as his hair is perfectly quaffed by the stylist, I ask him how he might have changed since those days on the hockey field. “The worlds are totally different but both environments taught me a lot about team work, discipline and being professional from a young age. I’m happy with my decision to step into fashion because it’s really given me so many different opportunities and I still get to play the sport I love. Best of both worlds.”

But what about the fashion? Has he been influenced to style himself differently since those days? Especially given the chic pieces he’s privy to? “Tremendously! I used to only wear sporting clothes like singlets, track pants and sneakers and not in the cool way! Since modelling I’ve been able to access and wear brands that suit my personal style and [I’ve] been able to curate and develop [my look]. It’s still the same guy just in better outfits. [These days] I like earthy tones and colour-blocking outfits. A mix of sporty and classic items are always in my wardrobe.”

McGuire might be an accidental activist, but it doesn’t really matter. Because taking one’s platform and using it to shout your cause to the masses is inspirational. Well, he probably wouldn’t shout, but the message would be crystal clear regardless.

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A FINAL THOUGHT…

What would you tell your 10 year old self if you could go back in time?

“I would say to little Nath to not stop doing what you believe in. Keep going, people are going to tell you don’t have a place in the industry and they don’t know what to do with your presence, but you will forge a path for yourself and your community have your back.”

READ MORE: ‘THE WAY FORWARD’ FEATURING CAITLIN FIGUEIREDO, LISA FATNOWNA, JACK GRAY & NATHAN MCGUIRE

Photographer: Steven Popovich 
ICON Fashion Director: Kim Payne 
Videography: Harry Glassborow
Hair & Makeup: Pinky 
Hair & Makeup Assistant: Christopher Byrne 
Fashion Assistant: Chrystalla Phylactou

ICON would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our photo shoot took place. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We also pay our respects to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewing our photographs and reading the interviews. We also pay our respects to their communities. We are grateful to Nathan, his Elders and wish to continue on this path towards reconciliation with the Traditional Owners of Australia

thoughts?