Our Story

We don’t know exactly when our story starts. But it’s probably around 75,000 years ago.

That’s when we think Aboriginal people began painting enigmatic figures on the dusty red rocks of the remote regions of Australia. What followed was the unraveling of a sophisticated culture, and a unique form of pictorial story-telling that continues to this very day.

My trip back home to Australia came to a very short and abrupt end earlier in March when I was forced to leave and come back to my family in New York before the borders shut down. This trip was all about making another collaboration with my friend and artist Otto Sims and directing our first main photo shoot.  Good ol’ Covid put a harsh reality on things for a bit.

Later in August I was supposed to travel back out to Australia to spend time with the The Warlpiri people and direct another photo shoot with an Aboriginal model in the Tanami Desert.

Cheers again Covid;  I’m stuck in New York and can’t come home to Australia in person just yet.

Spending time in ‘Country’ and forging my relationships with the artists that I collaborate with is very important because for them this is the ‘right way’. I don’t want to just bring you a picture that I found on the Internet and licensed. I want to bring you out to central Australia and introduce you to people that I know and understand. People that give you truth to their culture the ‘right way’ and share it with you.

It has taken a very long time to bring you Sunzi digitally and launch this website. I truly have a respect and appreciation of the work that goes in to such a complicated job. I’m feeling pretty lucky that I was able to be a part of the technical process all the way through, rather than just hand it over to someone that doesn’t understand the importance if the entire concept of Sunzi. I feel like the website is a reflection of me and who I am as the person that brings you this inspirational culture from the first peoples of Australia. Having to pivot and build the website without key features that introduce you to the Aboriginal people and culture was quite the challenge.

When I get back to Australia you will be the first to know when I shout it from the roof tops.  For now I hope you enjoy Sunzi today.

Fast forward to the 20th century.
Meet our Founder/Designer Elissa  Nampijinpa Conoscente.

Born to Macedonian immigrants, Elissa grew up on the sun-soaked shores of Australia. She learned to sew on her mother’s old singer at the early age of eight and developed an obsession for colour and creative clothing. After traveling the world working as a designer and seamstress from the stages of Warner Brothers to the Theatres of the West End of London, she settled down in New York with her multicultural family. There, in the largest melting pot on earth, the idea for Sunzi was born.

A fusion of the ancient Aboriginal stories of her homeland, and her love of luxury fabrics, Sunzi is Elissa’s vehicle for sharing age old stories of her First Nation Australians, particularly the Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert who have opened their arms and allowed Elissa to learn from them and share with you.

Elissa embraces the Warlpiri culture

Elissa has been honored with her own skin name “Nampijinpa” by the Elders of Yuendumu.  The name “Nampijinpa” is custodian of the rain Dreaming stories for which there is an initiation.  The name means water that reflects in the sky. Belonging to the Kangaroo, the north and the colour blue and The Emu Sleeping group. This honorable name holds responsibilities for the protection of the water Dreaming songlines.

Through her collaborations with Warlpiri artists,  Elissa Nampijinpa hopes to help the Warlpiri elders make Aboriginal Australian culture and philosophy understandable to the wider world.  Through collaborations Elissa Nampijinpa is ensuring that these stories are still around another 75,000 years from now. Elissa’s promise is to acknowledge the traditional custodians throughout Australia; and to recognize their continuing connection to land, waters and culture; and pay respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Sunzi Seeds

Elissa & Judith

* Elissa was introduced to the Warlpiri community of Yuendumu by Bpangerang descendent, Artist & Writer Judith Nangala Crispin. Together they visited Yuendumu in order to introduce Elissa to the ways of the Warlpiri people and meet locals who have come to be important part of the journey for Elissa.  These locals are now a part of Elissa’s binding skin family. With their guidance “Kurruwari” Elissa’s promise to the Traditional Owners and Culture of the Warlpiri is to respectfully honor and share the parts of their “Jurkurrpa” (stories) that is allowed through the ancestral creativity of it’s people.

The Warlpiri Community of Yuendumu

Yuendumu is a Warlpiri community of the Australian Tanami Desert, bounded by Anmatyerre Country to the east, Pintubi/Luritja Country to the South and Kukatja Country to the West. It is situated in Aboriginal Protected Land and is controlled by Traditional Owners. The name ‘Yuendumu’ is a derivative of the word ‘Yurntumulya’ which means Karnta Jukurrpa, or Woman Dreaming. The Warlpiri spelling remains ‘Yurntumu’ to this day, ‘Yuendumu’ being the spelling used by white administration. Yuendumu, with approximately 1000 residents, is the largest of four Warlpiri communities in the Tanami, the others being Lajamanu, Nyrripi and Willowra.

In the early 1980s anthropologists brought brightly coloured acrylic paint to the Tanami Desert. In 1983 a group of Warlpiri men began painting Jukurrpa stories on the doors of the local school in order to ensure the younger generation were equipped to carry the songlines into the future. The Yuendumu school today has around 260 students, 95% of which speak Warlpiri as a first language. The Yuendumu doors picture of Yuendumu doorstriggered a revolution in Aboriginal art, becoming famous across Australia and eventually touring the nation. Painters in Yuendumu now work primarily through the Warlukurlangu Art Centre. Many have become very significant figures in contemporary Aboriginal art. Paddy Japaljarri Sims and his collaborators exhibited work at the Pompidou centre in Paris. His daughter Alma Nungarrayi Granites, sister of Otto Jungarrayi Sims, became very well known as the painter of Star Dreaming stories, particularly stories of the Pleiades–the seven sisters. Shorty Jangala Robertson, a painter of Rain Dreaming stories, was also an influential artist from Yuendumu.

Written by Judith Nangala Crispin*

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Our Responsibility

Code of Ethics

Aboriginal artists from the central desert region collaborate with Sunzi to translate their traditional stories into contemporary fashion accessory collections. We offer royalties and global exposure to our artists, collaborating with them in personal relationships commissioning original authentic artworks to legally and respectfully recreate them on our products.

We communicate every Aboriginal design with elders in community to make sure we remain culturally compliant and respect the laws of our collaborators.

We proudly advocate for the *IAC and *AAAA which are systems to preserve and promote Ethical trading in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art. As a (non-Aboriginal) Australian owned business, we share the responsibility to raise standards in this field and be an example on how to conduct business. These Ethics support the rights of Indigenous Artists to negotiate fair terms for their work and gives you, the customer greater certainty about an artwork’s origin.

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Sustainability

As we move towards a world of ‘Circular Design’ we have to be both conscious of, and responsible for the origination and the future life of the textiles we create. Our responsibility is to provide the most Ethically sourced product making sure that the processes are Sustainable in every possible way.

The fabrics we source are of the finest quality and we chose only to work with proven certified leaders to produce our goods.

Digital printing offers a more sustainable solution than ever before to the negative environmental impact of traditional textile practices and we are on the bandwagon. By printing our fabrics digitally we reduce the carbon footprint by 60% compared with other methods of textile printing.

“Well over 40 billion litres of water worldwide has been saved due to digital textile printing methods” according to FESPA (Federation of global experts)

Imagine the positive impact on our beautiful planet!!

We chose to make the investment towards a better world for our future generations.

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