Say yes to the wool dress: female innovators recognised

Bridal boutiques are usually brimming with bright brocade, crepe, satin, silk, lace and organza.

But South Australian wedding dress couturier Nikki Atkinson always felt there was one thing missing from her repertoire: wool.

"A girlfriend came to me 22 years ago, she was from a property in Broken Hill, and she wanted a wool wedding dress," Ms Atkinson told AAP.

"We looked everywhere to find a suitable fibre - even her dad was on the hunt for fabric - but we just couldn't find it."

That memory lingered as she sold her Betrothed boutique in Adelaide, married a sheep grazier and moved to the family's Merino farm in the Flinders Ranges.

She has since tapped into the fine, soft qualities of Merino wool to launch a bespoke wedding dress brand capturing the hearts of country couples.

One bride is set to wear a wool dress to honour her farmer beau, while another is wearing the fabric to pay tribute to her family's long connection to the industry.

"A bride I'm working with, her grandfather used to class wool on our property many years ago," Ms Atkinson said.

"Wool is like a storyteller. The majority of my brides have that connection to the land."

Wedding dress couturier Nikki Atkinson
Ms Atkinson has tapped into the qualities of Merino wool to launch a bespoke wedding dress brand.

Ms Atkinson won the state's Rural Women's Award last week, celebrating Horrocks Vale Collections' new spin on the classic Australian fibre.

Merino wool has an elegant drape, natural temperature control and is more sustainable than synthetic materials.

And it's not scratchy like the hand-knitted jumpers many may remember from childhood, Ms Atkinson said.

"The beautiful thing is, it's such a clever fibre."

Sustainable and ethical fashion has also earned Tanya Egerton recognition as the Northern Territory winner of the AgriFutures award.

Ms Egerton founded the Remote Op-shop Project, setting up second-hand stores in First Nations communities.

The shops give locals access to affordable items while generating income for cultural projects.

"My goal is to empower more local people to lead these community-owned and operated op-shops, so they can drive better outcomes for their communities and the environment," Ms Egerton said.

WA Rural Women's Award winner Mandy Walker (centre)
Mandy Walker (centre) reckons family businesses give Australia its rural character.

The award recognises industry leaders and innovators from each state and territory, with the national prize to be handed out at a ceremony in Canberra.

WA recipient Mandy Walker is an example of how women are shaping traditionally male-dominated domains.

Once an environmental scientist who managed emergency responses to major marine oil spills, Ms Walker oversees a family diesel repairs business.

She is expanding Walkers Diesel Services into the defence industry, overcoming agriculture's seasonal highs and lows.

Ms Walker says family businesses give rural Australia its character.

"Vibrant communities exist when there's a great eco-system of small businesses," she said.

"You'll drive down the main street in a small town and think 'this looks busy, this is great'.

"That's my passion."

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