Lingerie label Berlei has issued a formal statement and apology after one of its Pink Bra Project's winning designs came under fire for cultural appropriation of Aboriginal artwork.
The design which has now been withdrawn from the competition entirely, features Aboriginal symbols and dots and was submitted by non-Indigenous artist Nicole Onslow.
The design was then posted to Berlei's Instagram as one of two winning designs in the Pink Bra Project competition.
The post quickly encountered backlash from commenters, many of whom expressed their shock and disappointment.
"It is so frustrating to see big brands like this choose a print that clearly includes Aboriginal symbols and dots, from a non-Aboriginal artist," artist and Barkindji Woman Caitlyn Davies-Plummer (dustinkoaart) commented on the post.
"If they wanted to go down this route, there are plenty of beautiful, strong, Aboriginal artists that would love an opportunity like this.
"Aboriginal art is not just ‘pretty’, there is deep cultural meaning and connection that you cannot possess if you are not Aboriginal," she said.
Following the reaction, Berlei posted an initial statement to address the situation.
"We hear you and we are currently reading through all of your comments in relation to our recent announcement on the Pink Bra Project Design Awards.
"This was an innocent mistake and we’re dreadfully sorry for the misstep.
"We will be making a formal statement shortly. Thank you for your patience," the statement read.
However, this statement was also met with backlash, with some commenters feeling that the language used minimised the severity of the situation.
""Innocent mistakes" can be avoided by diversifying staff and building relationships with communities other than your own. Looking forward to your formal statement," prominent Aboriginal owned and operated platform, BlakBusiness commented.
BlakBusiness, which is run by Koori woman Olivia, then went onto make a Instagram story highlight, further unpacking the situation and the Indigenous iconography used.
BlakBusiness states in the highlight that the print uses 'water and water holes', 'meeting place' and 'stars' Aboriginal iconography throughout the work.
After taking time to reflect on its actions, Berlei posted its formal statement and apology, detailing how the mistake was made and how it can improve in future.
According to Berlei, each entry was judged virtually "and as such the Indigenous elements of this particular entry were overlooked."
The business then stated it "did not confirm the cultural origins of their artworks before announcing the winners."
"We have confirmed that the print was submitted by a non-Indigenous artist and used without appropriate credit to the Traditional Custodians of the lands in which we live, learn and work," Berlei said in its statement.
"This was a collective mistake by the artist and ourselves, and we both deeply apologise.
"We are currently in the reflect stage of our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) journey.
"We are in the process of building comprehensive plans and are committed to doing things better.
"This situation serves as a valuable lesson for us on our reconciliation journey from which we will continue to learn and grow," Berlei said.
"Appreciate the honesty, removing of the piece and commitment to do better," BlakBusiness commented on the post.
"Look forward to seeing Berlei progress on your RAP journey and hopefully see some deadly Aboriginal artists being celebrated too."
Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi woman and artist Madison Connors (yarli_creative) said that the business should also reach out to the Aboriginal artists that participated in the Pink Bra Project competition.
"Might be worth reaching out to the Aboriginal artists who participated and feel wrongly done by in this situation. I know there are quite a few," she commented.
Meanwhile, the artist who submitted the design, Nicole Onslow also issued an apology and statement on her Instagram account.
"I want to express my deepest apologies for the grave offence I have caused by my submission to the Berlei Pink Bra Project Awards.
"The profound response has absolutely not gone unnoticed and I acknowledge all of it.
"I have read all of the comments, and I understand the perspective of all who have contributed. I can honestly say that my failure was truly an ignorant and honest mistake on my part.
"Cultural appropriation is a term I am only now familiar with, and I’m embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and offer my sincerest apology.
"I only have respect for the culture, art and land of our First Nations People.
"I thought that I was celebrating and appreciating it, but since educating myself today about Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights (ICIPR) I’m completely disheartened by how disrespectful I have been and it's a lesson learnt in the hardest way for me.
"I understand now it is a culture that isn’t, in any way, mine to express.
"But it was honestly not my conscious intent when I was designing this print to disrespect anyone," she posted.
Following the removal of Onslow's design, Ragtrader understands that Sydney-based artist Chloe Edwards has taken out the winning prize.
Her design will be featured on a bra and underwear set available for sale in October, while she will receive a $2000 cash prize, a $1000 Berlei online voucher and a set featuring her winning design.
$10 from each purchase of Edwards' bra will be donated to Breast Cancer Network Australia to help support those affected by breast cancer.
Full statements from Berlei and Onslow are available to read in the gallery above.
At time of writing, Berlei has not published the statement to its website.
Berlei is part of the Hanes Brands Australasia portfolio.