An open letter to our community
There’s been some interest recently in the business model, ownership and leadership structure of Magpie Goose.
We have received a lot of questions and comments via social media. Some people expressed worries and fears about our motivations and intentions. We understand that these fears stem from historical realities of dispossession and exploitation experienced by Aboriginal people since colonisation.
We thought it would be good to re-introduce ourselves and share with you our motivations for starting Magpie Goose, and convey some of the business and personal realities we’ve been juggling while running this business. We hope in doing this we can build empathy, understanding and trust; and our community's expectations of us can be realistic and grounded in reality.
Hi, we are Maggie and Laura.
This business was started by us, Maggie and Laura. We founded Magpie Goose in 2016 after being exposed to the incredible textiles being produced by remote community art centres.
We both have a long history of working in solidarity with Aboriginal people and communities and have dedicated our professional careers to addressing social and economic inequality.
Prior to Magpie Goose, Maggie worked for four years as a Welfare Rights Lawyer with North Australian Aboriginal Justice (NAAJA). Maggie worked with people in remote communities who were living on income support and wanted better opportunities than were on offer by the punitive work for the dole scheme. Laura’s professional career has been focussed on creating inclusive economies using the tool of community-driven enterprise. She founded Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP) in 2010 after spending four years living and working in the remote Ngaanyatjarra Lands in WA. ELP works in partnership with remote communities to generate new economic opportunities through creative enterprise.
The business is owned and powered by us
But it’s not about us. It’s about creating a platform to showcase Aboriginal culture through wearable art. Magpie Goose taps into an expansive network of collaborators and suppliers, all who contribute their energy and talents into making the incredible clothing we produce.
Our brand is centred around celebrating Aboriginal people, culture and stories, therefore our feed is full of these things. This is not an attempt to deliberately mislead people or to ‘black clad’ our business (as some have claimed). We haven’t wanted to centre the business around us and our identities, so we haven’t shared much about our personal lives in our communications. We understand it’s very important to be transparent about the ownership structure — and we intend to keep highlighting this as we move forward.
We support Aboriginal owned businesses through procurement
We are not Aboriginal owned but Magpie Goose is a customer of many Aboriginal businesses. The Aboriginal artists and businesses that we purchase from have access to a new income opportunity through Magpie Goose. Art centres collaborate with Magpie Goose because there is clear value in gaining experience in a new industry without taking on the burden of launching a clothing label. The collaborations with Magpie Goose bring profile and new market opportunities. In communities where there are no art centres, we create a completely new income opportunity and people are able to learn about the option of licensing their designs to earn money from their art. We’re committed to supporting Aboriginal owned businesses wherever possible and we’d love to include more Aboriginal businesses in our supply chain. We would love for you to refer us to any Aboriginal businesses that Magpie Goose could become a customer of (eg. Photographers, graphic designers, pattern makers, models etc).
Collaborating artists make informed decisions
All of our collaborators choose to work with us! They see value in what we do and are thrilled to negotiate a fair and ethical agreement to license their designs to Magpie Goose. Artists maintain ownership of their design, and the right to how it is used. We are members of Indigenous Art Code and we encourage every artist to access pro bono licensing advice from Arts Law or Copyright Agency.
Magpie Goose is our commitment to addressing economic and social injustice in Australia
It is a manifestation of our desire for reconciliation. It is our contribution to growing the market for textiles designed by Aboriginal artists. We understand our privilege (especially in being able to start and run this business) and work hard to use it to create a more inclusive and culturally aware Australia. We are learning, growing, sharing, celebrating. We are working to decolonise our solidarity.
We received incubation support from Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP)
ELP is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to support businesses that empower remote Aboriginal communities to earn income, respect, confidence and the opportunity to share their culture. ELP was instrumental in supporting our work with remote communities, and Magpie Goose was a pilot business for ELP’s incubation approach. Magpie Goose received seed funding of $15k and an interest free line of credit from ELP which was fully repaid. ELP also provided time and expertise to create the in-community training approach that Magpie Goose employs in every collaboration. Outside of this, Magpie Goose generated its own income to pay for its own expenses from day one.
In recognition of this support, and as a way to ensure other promising businesses can also access this support from ELP into the future, Magpie Goose has allocated an ownership share of the business to ELP. Any income that ELP derives from Magpie Goose in the future will be reinvested in further impact for remote Aboriginal communities. ELP is committed to working with entrepreneurs and businesses to create a new and more inclusive economy that truly values the knowledge and skills within our Aboriginal communities. If you have an idea for a business that supports Aboriginal communities to achieve their aspirations, get in touch with ELP!
We love our customers
We know we wouldn’t be in business without you. That we exist at all is because you value being able to buy clothing that celebrates Aboriginal people, culture and stories. We love hearing from you about what it means to you to be able to connect with and learn from the artists we partner with. This becomes our fuel to power on, especially when we’re low on juice.
We do not have a fashion industry background
If we had, I dare say we would have deemed this business impossible. The traditional fashion industry pricing formula to ensure sustainability is to double the cost-of-goods (COGS) when selling wholesale, and double the wholesale price when selling retail. Eg if COGS is $100, the price for wholesale customers would be $200, and the price for retail customers would be $400.
We did not understand this when we started out. We set our prices by looking at what other Australian labels were charging rather than using this formula. We have a very high cost of goods because our clothes are designed, screen-printed, and made in Australia, and artists are paid for every metre of fabric we print through ethical and independently reviewed purchase agreements. We definitely do not have the typical industry margins on our products. We work with extremely lean margins, and these margins have to cover the operating cost of our business (eg. rent, wages, marketing, photoshoots, shopify + paypal fees etc etc etc) AND provide sufficient cash flow to enable us to invest in future collections!
We set out to prove that this business was possible against all the odds, and we are proud about what we've achieved. We have plans to further embed more impact and more opportunity for Aboriginal people into our business model - more on that soon!
60% of our time working on the business to date has been unpaid
It’s a small miracle this business has been able to work and one of the reasons has been due to this investment of unpaid labour. This is the life of the entrepreneur, and we committed this time because we truly believe in the impact and opportunity that this business is creating for remote Aboriginal communities.
Our pathway to growth was time intensive, and we’ve recently been re-energizing for the next phase
The majority of our weekends for the last three years have been dedicated to running pop-ups in order to sell the clothing and keep the business solvent. While we LOVED meeting you at these events, the pop ups required huge amounts of energy. They involved regular flights, staying at friends houses/airbnbs (thank you friends!), lugging around 8 suitcases (that each weighed exactly 23.9kg), setting up, running the pop-up, packing down, travelling home and then unpacking stock. We had a pretty intense schedule of pop-ups and it started to take its toll on our health. We ran out of puff midway through last year and realised that we would have to do things differently to ensure the business would be sustainable and keep generating impact. Our burnout phase was a very bleak time, but we’re through it now and are grateful to be ready for our next phase.
Yes, we earn a salary from the business, however this is not the same as ‘profiteering’
We want to be able to continue doing this important work and the only way we can grow Magpie Goose and increase the impact it makes is if we can focus ourselves on it full-time. It’s important to note that the remote art sector presents a lot of challenges. It requires government and philanthropic support in order to survive - it’s not considered a ‘profitable’ niche which is why Magpie Goose and other collaborative models like ours are important. We are bringing new revenue streams to this industry by building the market for Aboriginal textiles. This means that the industry becomes stronger and more resilient through these collaborations. And as a social enterprise, we are committed to reinvesting the profits of the business into furthering our impact. (If you’re interested in learning more about the social enterprise movement, check out ASENA, the new national alliance in Australia and connect with the social enterprise network in your region. This is a growing movement and we’re proud to be part of it!)
We have ambitious plans for increasing our impact but we are mindful of the constraints
Our first priority is to keep the business alive so we can continue to channel opportunities to remote artists, art centres, models, and photographers. We are full of ideas of how we could increase our impact but these take an investment of time and money to bring to life. We are definitely working towards creating inclusive employment and training opportunities within the business and are grateful for all of the ideas and feedback that we’ve received from you, our community and supporters, over the past few weeks.
We are working to grow the market for Aboriginal textiles and fashion
There is room for everyone in this market and we invite others to be part of it! We are not interested in capturing the market, because we believe that that would limit the opportunity for remote Aboriginal artists and their textiles. We are part of a growing collective of organisations and individuals who are raising the profile of Aboriginal people within the textile and fashion industry. Collaborative models are powerful and should be celebrated. The new National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFAs) includes a category for community collaborations to recognise the effective and productive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the textile and fashion industry - and we are very proud that Magpie Goose has been nominated for our collection with Ikuntji Artists.
Starting a fashion label is hard
We know this firsthand. If you’re an Aboriginal person wanting to establish a clothing label and would like some support, get in touch. We’d love to be able to share what we’ve learned.
We are working on initiatives with others in the sector to make it easier for Aboriginal people to start their own fashion labels. We are committed to contributing our resources, networks and the expertise we’ve developed to this end.
And now a few updates from us (Laura and Maggie) because the business does not happen in a vacuum…
We moved to Melbourne in November 2019. Laura’s Dad had been battling a terminal brain tumour for some years and we were grateful to be close to the family for his final six months and be involved in his palliative care. He was a huge Magpie Goose fan and spent most of his days in his pair of Margaret Duncan billabong print shorts.
We’re having a baby!
We’ve also been doing a bit of IVF behind the scenes and we’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be having a baby, arriving in December. In preparation for the arrival, Laura recently had shoulder surgery to fix a very unstable left shoulder. This has meant she’s been packaging all of the online orders with one arm (and also typing this with one hand!!!)
We live in country Victoria now
You may have noticed your orders have recently been sent out from Rutherglen. We retreated to the country during covid and in a couple of months we’ll settle into a house in Beechworth.
This is nice and close to Maggie’s family so we’ll have plenty of people to help us wrangle our baby while we continue to wrangle this business.
Going forward, we’ll aim to share more ‘behind the scenes’ content with you all as we go. We’ve updated the Q and A section of our website to capture some of this information and make it easily accessible. There’s still much more we could share about Magpie Goose’s wild first few years in business but maybe we’ll save that for the book (lol).
Over the next few weeks we also look forward to bringing you interviews and perspectives from some of our collaborators (artists, models, art centre managers!)
As always, we welcome your feedback, encourage your curiosity and hope that you will continue to support us and all our collaborators as we continue on this journey.
With love, Maggie + Laura