Australia’s thriving First Nations economy was on full display at a pop-up market in Melbourne last night, featuring artwork, apparel and homewares from several Indigenous brands and businesses. Timed to coincide with National Reconciliation Week, the pop-up was hosted by WeWork in collaboration with Ngarrimili, a local nonprofit that provides business advice and support to First Nations entrepreneurs. National Reconciliation Week is held every year in Australia from May 27 to June 3. Th
3. The aim is for all Australians to learn about First Nations histories, cultures and achievements, and explore how they can contribute to achieving reconciliation. For Bek Lasky, deputy executive officer of Ngarrimili, one of the key ways non-Indigenous consumers and retailers can do this is by supporting First Nations brands and businesses – not just for one week, but all year round. “Highlighting and showcasing First Nations businesses during Reconciliation Week is amazing, but you need to have that ongoing commitment,” Lasky told Inside Retail. “You need to distinguish between being an ally and being a committed ally, and not tokenistic.” Boosting their confidence There’s been a noticeable increase in consumer demand for First Nations brands and products over the last few years, and the number of partnerships between mainstream retailers and Indigenous artists and designers. But while Lasky is meeting more First Nations people than ever who want to launch their own businesses, they still face some significant barriers to success. “How to do a pitch deck, how to write grants, how to take part in funding opportunities, whether it be crowdfunding or investment, these things aren’t really spoken about,” she said. The lack of information and industry contacts can make it difficult for First Nations founders to tap into wholesale and social procurement opportunities, while the lack of self-confidence is another common challenge. “First Nations people have been marginalised for years,” she said. “They have all these great ideas, but they don’t feel like they belong and don’t feel like they can succeed [in business].” Ngarrimili offers support in all these areas through its mentoring programs and workshops. It’s simply a matter of unleashing business owners’ potential, Lasky said. “We had a business come to us during Covid that was at the idea stage, and we were able to provide them with support to get off the ground,” she recalled. “Now they’ve got their own house and car and their business is doing amazing.” Here’s a look at some of the exciting First Nations businesses that participated in the pop-up last night. Amber Days Amber Days is an ethical children’s clothing brand founded by Corina Muir in 2018. A Yorta Yorta and Boonwurrung woman, Muir was inspired to start the label after she became pregnant with her daughter. Using only organic fabrics that have been dyed with non-toxic dyes and are ethically made, she collaborates with different Aboriginal artists and prioritises Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, refugee and migrant women when outsourcing skills and services. Yarli Creative Yarli Creative offers a range of different products, including artwork, apparel, greeting cards and stickers, featuring the designs of its founder, Madison Connors. Describing herself as a proud and strong Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi woman, Connors studied public health and sociology before launching her own business as a side hustle. She is looking to grow the wholesale side of Yarli Creative going forward. Soul Sister Co Friends Bek Lasky and Ruby Evans started Soul Sister Co in 2021, with the goal of empowering young First Nations women to pursue their dreams and not let internal barriers prevent them from achieving their goals. They currently sell branded apparel, including t-shirts, dresses, loungewear and accessories, and plan to expand into kidswear and swimwear in future. They also recently launched a podcast called, ‘That’s the tea sis’. In addition to the brands mentioned above, the pop-up featured artwork by Tiwi artist Russellina Puruntatameri, prints and merchandise from Nyul Nyul Saltwater photographer Lowell Hunter, and items from homewares brands Kinya Lerrk and Wunyun. Clothing the Gaps, a social enterprise that led the campaign to free the Aboriginal flag, and Dhadjowa, a foundation that aims to support First Nations families whose relatives have died in custody also were also there on the night.