Money & Career

6 Indigenous-Owned Businesses To Get Behind Immediately

Support your local girl gang

Now more than ever, local small businesses need our support. We spoke to six entrepreneurs doing good and getting shit done…

Marley Morgan – Barefoot Wandering Photography 

Marley Morgan held her very first camera at age 10. It was a Polaroid. “That’s when it all started,” she explains of the moment her passion for photography was ignited. Inspired by her father, a man who snapped pictures of the family at every available moment as well as the sunburnt landscape of Lightning Ridge, Marley picked up that I-zone Polaroid camera and never looked back.

Now age 30, she launched her own business, Barefoot Wandering Photography, in 2018. Growing up within the Yuwaalaraay tribe, and later joining the Wiradjuri and Gumbaynggirr nations as she made her home on the NSW Mid-North Coast, Morgan proudly celebrates her Indigenous culture through her pictures.

Her work captures the beauty of Aboriginal women, men and children, and it’s easy to see how she turned her side hustle into a profession. “I got quite a few compliments and was asked if I would be interested in paid work, so I thought why not grow my hobby into a business?” says Morgan, who wants to push First Nation stories and people into the spotlight – where they belong.

As an Aboriginal woman in an industry dominated by white people, she know what it feels like to be silenced and underestimated. “My work still isn’t taken seriously, compared to my non-Indigenous friends in the same field of work,” explains Morgan, who has overcome all the obstacles she has faced, and plans to keep doing so. “It’s 2020, guys – we’ve got this.”

Kristy Dickinson – Haus Of Dizzy 

It started with a house party. In 2015, Kristy Dickinson and her flatmates (whom she affectionately referred to as “dizzy moles”) made a Facebook event for their house-warming; DJ Izm from Bliss n Eso was on DJ duties and a photo booth was set up in the corner. They called the event “Haus of Dizzy” and the name stuck. At the time, Dickinson was between jobs, sick of working in retail and ready to embrace her creative side. She sold her vintage clothes at Glebe Markets in Sydney and saved to buy materials for the jewellery brand she had dreamt up in her head, bringing her “fancy as fuck” style to the masses.

Five years later, Dickinson is still hand-making all of her pieces in her Melbourne studio, she’s now stocked in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and online at The Iconic, and counts Lauren Hill and Drew Barrymore as fans. Her line has evolved to include statement “Stop Adani” earrings, a blingy “Faboriginal” necklace and a collection of “Dizzy Chick” pins featuring cartoon girls of colour.

The loud and proud statement pieces are conversations starters and have led to deep-and-meaningful chats in the supermarket check-out line about the climate crisis, queer rights and domestic violence. “I like to start important conversations, and what better way to do it then with an in-your-face earring?” says Dickinson, 38, who grew up in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, where she was teased for her Aboriginal heritage.

“When I was younger, I felt like I didn’t have a voice because I was shy and didn’t stick up for myself. So I want people wearing my jewellery to feel confident, to speak up and hold their head high,” says Dickinson, holding her own head high as a proud Wiradjuri woman.

Tahnee Edwards – Gammin Threads 

“It was surreal. I got butterflies,” says Tahnee Edwards, describing the moment she first saw a stranger walking down the street wearing one of her Gammin Threads tees. Inspired by the 2018 NAIDOC Week theme “Because of Her, We Can,” Edwards launched her online store with a “Respect the Blak Matriarchy” tee (worn by Indigenous actress Miranda Tapsell at this year’s Invasion Day rally).

In the past two years, the empowering slogans have grown to include “Blak Girl Magic”, “Big Aunty Energy” and Edwards’ favourite “Skinny Ankles”. “It’s an inside joke that a lot of blackfellas have skinny ankles. If you know, you know,” explains Edwards, a descendant of the Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti nations who grew up surrounded by strong women and wanted to celebrate the aforementioned “Blak Matriarchy” in a stylish way.

She has continued to see the strength of Indigenous women in her job at family violence prevention organisation Djirra, where she hosts workshops for teenage girls. “Learning about gender equality has made me feel even stronger about supporting the sisterhood,” says Edwards, who dreams of Gammin Threads becoming a streetwear empire with a bomber jacket line and a runway show.

Edwards, 34, admits she’s struggled with self-doubt as an entrepreneur. “My advice to others is to be strong, get out of your head and just do it.” So, basically, live your life like a Gammin Threads slogan and don’t forget: “You lubly

Nancy Pattinson – Indii Swimwear 

Salt water runs through Nancy Pattison’s veins. The Dunghutti woman and long-term South West Rocks resident has always been inspired by the small town’s sweeping ocean views, “I grew up in South West Rocks, my whole family grew up there, so I have a really strong connection to my country and culture there.”

It was in the beachside town that Pattison launched Indii Swimwear in 2015 following the birth of her baby girl, also named Indii. “For me [the name] means being an individual and being inspired, and just feeling comfortable with yourself,” explains Pattison. I

n the last five years, the brand has mixed Aboriginal-inspired design with soft earthy tones, particularly drawing on the native ‘Flannel’ flower that grows along the coast. Pattison wants to share her picturesque home town and Indigenous heritage with her customers, “The brand states who I am and what I am about – Indii is a swimwear label inspired by the Ocean and coastline for saltwater girls who love the sea, sun and sand. With my native designs and an Aboriginal designer, I just want people to be inspired and be able to share their own work.”

Pattison is not just excited for the future of Indii, she is looking forward to the opportunities that are readily becoming available for the young Indigenous models, photographers and entrepreneurs following in her footsteps. “I want to be pass on my skills, there is no point just leaving it with me,” says Pattison proudly paving the way.

Rhiannon Mitchell – New Moon 

Rhiannon Mitchell vividly remembers her high school years: the angst, rebellion and lack of direction. “I was really lost in high school and struggled as a teenager. I don’t know how my mum put up with me,” admits Mitchell, who thanks a handful of mentors for getting her through her difficult adolescence. “Over the years, I had people who really believed in me and gave me opportunities to grow – so I was able to turn my life around through education, employment, health and culture.”

Now, Mitchell is giving the same opportunities to Indigenous girls on the Mid-North Coast with her mentoring business New Moon. Having studied leadership and management, Aboriginal health, community services and business in her local community of Coffs Harbour, Mitchell now works at a youth centre and hosts regular workshops with Indigenous women aged 12-25 based around ocean conservation, wellbeing, culture and values.

Her courses create a much-needed space for the girls to share their stories, speak their truth and create a future they are proud of – plus fun things like DIY skincare, dream boards and beach walks. “Running cultural camps for our youth, I have seen the difference it can make to their lives when they’re more connected to culture. I’m thankful to my local Gumbaynggirr elders for sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me,” says Mitchell, 27, a Mununjali woman who has grown up on Gumbaynggirr country, where the totem is the ocean.

Fittingly, she’s an avid scuba diver and is currently studying a degree in Marine Science. “We did an ocean conservation workshop with 15 high school girls last year where we took them to Charlesworth Bay and the Marine Science Centre there. They took selfies with the starfish and learnt why we need to protect our marine ecosystem.”

As well as sharing her love of the ocean and a sense of community, Mitchell gives sage advice to the girls she mentors. “Own your story,” she says, adding that all women should be proud of where they’ve come from. “If you want to be happy, go make someone else happy.”

Perina Drummond – Jira Models 

It was a sliding doors moment on a Melbourne tram in 2017 that led Perina Drummond to her very first client. Having just founded all-Indigenous model agency Jira Models, Drummond was on her way home from the Queen Victoria Market on a Sunday afternoon when she spotted Cassie Puruntatameri. “It was her stance, her attitude and obviously knowing that she was Indigenous,” says Drummond, describing what drew her to the young Aboriginal woman who would become the face of Jira Models, grace the pages of magazines, model for luxury label Lyn-Al and walk at Melbourne Fashion Week.

Jira Models is the first agency of its kind in Australia, a bold, precarious move for a young entrepreneur. So, it is only fitting that the company is named after a brave and ballsy woman: Drummond’s greatgreat-grandmother, Nara Jira Para, from the Wuthathi people of Far North Queensland. “Nan was a strong woman who was willing to take risks, evolve and move forward,” she reflects.

Drummond, 32, a Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal woman, is following in her matriarch’s footsteps by breaking down barriers, opening doors for Indigenous models.

Having seen cultural bias in the fashion industry, where she has worked as both a model and stylist, Drummond says the industry is becoming more inclusive – in no small part thanks to agencies like Jira Models. “Indigenous talent is everywhere,” she says, adding that she currently has 10 models on her books. “There is a lot of work and opportunity out there for our mob.”

Although she’s now based in Melbourne, Drummond has never forgotten her true roots, and never will: “Thursday Island [in Queensland] will always be home.”

This article originally appeared in the May issue of marie claire. 

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