Are you a student looking to do an assignment featuring Magpie Goose or interview with someone from Magpie Goose? You’re in the right place!
We’re so lucky to be frequently contacted by students wanting to know more about Magpie Goose, or to interview someone from the business - for a school or Uni assignment - however we often get a little swamped! We have created this page with a list of all frequently asked interview questions, so you can choose any answers that are relevant to your assignment. If you don’t see something you can work with here, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to respond to 3 key questions.
Tell me about the business?
Magpie Goose is a social enterprise that uses clothing to foster cultural connection. We feature designs by Aboriginal artists that tell stories of country, landscape, people, language, culture, bushfoods, and traditional and contemporary life. We partner with independent Aboriginal artists, remote Aboriginal art centres, and women’s groups to develop textile designs into collections. The process involves facilitating textile design workshops, licensing designs, coordinating the screenprinting of those designs onto natural fibres and then creating classic, statement clothing pieces by our Ethical Clothing Australia accredited manufacturers in Sydney.
We are a social enterprise, which means that our business exists to create impact in line with our mission. Our mission is twofold: to create new income generating and enterprise learning opportunities for Aboriginal people (through textile design, modelling, photography, storytelling, etc); and to provide a platform for people in Australia and around the world to connect with and celebrate Aboriginal people, culture, and stories.
How did Magpie Goose begin?
We first had the idea about 4 years ago, in April 2016. I had had a rough week at work and was debriefing with my partner Laura over a beer in Darwin! She asked what I’d be doing if I wasn’t working as a lawyer, and I said “I’d love to do something with all the incredible screen printed textiles that are designed by Aboriginal artists in remote communities!”
Laura had been working in business start-ups / grassroots enterprise for over 10 years, and convinced me of the potential for this social enterprise idea to generate opportunities that benefit Aboriginal people living in remote Australia. With Laura’s enthusiasm, we moved pretty quickly! We brainstormed a business name over our beer – something quirky, classic, and emblematic of the Top End (Magpie Goose!)- registered the business name, and bought the domain magpiegoose.com. I had lots of screenprinted fabric that was sitting waiting to be made into something fabulous, so we booked flights to Bali, met a tailor and got some samples made up!
In December 2016 we made a small run of clothing featuring designs from four Top End art centres (Babbarra Designs in Maningrida, Palngun Wurnangat in Wadeye, Tiwi Designs on Tiwi Islands, and Injalak arts in Gunbalanya). We sold these to friends and family and created marketing collateral to launch a
pre-order campaign on Kickstarter. We went live with this in March 2017 and ended up with over $100k in orders at the end of the month long campaign. This gave us the confidence that this business could offer something that Australia was looking for! After the kickstarter I left my job as a lawyer and started working on Magpie Goose full time.
How would you describe your label in three words?
Bright, bold, unapologetic
Can you tell me about how your social enterprise helps the communities and people you work with?
We create opportunities for income generation through buying fabric, licensing designs from artists, engaging models and showcasing the talent of remote communities. Magpie Goose becomes a platform that partner organisations (art centres, womens centres etc) can utilise to launch off, and we work to channel ongoing opportunities towards those we collaborate with (such as opportunities to host workshops, attend markets, speaking events, being feature artists etc).
Check out our social impact page for more.
Who inspires you and your creative process?
I (Maggie) am constantly inspired by the Aboriginal people that I work with; both from my three years working as a civil lawyer at NAAJA, and my work now with Magpie Goose. There are so many daily challenges and punitive government policies that people have to deal with – one of the most pervasive one we see in the NT now is the Community Development Program (CDP, or ‘work for the dole), a welfare system that requires people to do either belittling ‘activities’ (e.g. painting rocks, paper quilling), or unpaid manual labour (that should be a paid job- e.g. mowing lawns, fixing houses) for five hours every day, five days a week. Despite all this – people remain positive, continue to thrive on country, create beautiful art, and do their best to keep culture strong.
I’m inspired by all the incredible Aboriginal artists of the Top End – who have been finessing the art of textile design over many years (Tiwi Design on Bathurst Island and Babbarra Design in Maningrida have been printing since the 60s!). Their ability to distill complex songlines, dreaming stories, seasons, maps of country into beautiful pieces of work is so incredible.
Can you tell me the story behind the name / logo?
When we thought about what we wanted this business to represent, we came up with the tagline ‘bright, bold, unapologetic’. We wanted to give the business a name that represented these qualities, and also gave a nod to the Top End where it was conceived.
I had been given some screen-printed fabric featuring Dora Diaguma’s flying magpie geese design and fallen in love with these birds. The magpie goose bird is found across Northern Australia and it’s a quirky bird - they often sit up the top of mango trees eating fermented mangos, getting tipsy and squawking all day, basically having the time of their life! They’re also a big part of Aboriginal culture in the Top End - everyone goes hunting for them and eats them for special occasions.
The Magpie Goose seemed to be the perfect totem for our business! We checked to see if the name was available and then quickly registered it and purchased the domain. We ended up licensing Dora Diaguma’s design through Babbarra Designs to include in our logo, which was created with the help of our Alice Springs-based designer friend Elliat Rich.
Maggie, you trained as a lawyer - how did you find stepping into a completely new industry?
The motivation for my transition into fashion stemmed from the work I was doing – I was frustrated by the punitive work for the dole scheme that was penalising remote Aboriginal people rather than supporting people to engage in the economy in meaningful ways. We started Magpie Goose to demonstrate that another way was possible. My role now still draws on all the skills I learned as a lawyer – it’s just that now I’m using them to run a business.
What are the main obstacles you face with your label?
We’ve had a few challenges along the way, which have been good for us as they’ve forced us to look at what works, and make changes.
Manufacturing offshore (in Bali) in the early days was tricky, as we could not visit easily to oversee production. We made the decision to produce in Australia so we could visit the workshop, and also save on freight costs and unnecessary export and import taxes.
Keeping products affordable to our peers is another challenge – our production costs are really high, as we pay artists fairly, all designs are hand screen printed, and the cutters, makers and quality controllers we work with are all paid award wages and have good working conditions – so this all obviously costs more than making offshore! For this reason we are not able to wholesale our product very extensively (as the wholesale margin requires brands to double the cost of make, and then retail stores to double again – things would end up way too expensive!)
Navigating remoteness is also sometimes difficult, but also a great strength! People in remote communities often dont have access to internet, mobile reception, etc. So we find it’s just best to plan all meet ups in person - this can be alot more resource intensive, but ensures that everyone’s on the same page, and good relationships are developed.
Probably our biggest challenge now is making sure we continue to grow a sustainable business, so we can continue to make impact and create opportunities into the future. We need to attract the right people with expertise in fashion retail to help guide our decision making as we certainly don’t have all the answers to all the questions we’re facing!
To date, which designs have been your best sellers?
All of them! We produce a limited run of clothing in each design and different people love different designs and colourways so it’s hard to single out a few prints. In saying that, the echidna print from Wadeye and the fresh water prawn print from Gunbalanya were definite crowd favourites.
Can you tell us about your recent successes?
Hopevale Fashion Futures – bringing the collection designed by artists in Hopevale (far north QLD) back to the community to launch it there. It was December so we dodged floods and cyclones to get up there, but it was such a fabulous feeling to see the artists and the models get recognition at the community fashion parade. We also engaged about 12 young people to do all the modelling for our website / lookbook, and captured videos of the artists sharing the stories of their designs – it was a great week!
How do you find artists / communities to collaborate with?
We are lucky to have about 16 years of working in partnership with Aboriginal people in remote communities between us, so have developed a lot of good relationships with people over the years! Our earlier collaborations were with art centres that we admired; we contacted them with a proposal outlining our ideas - to feature their screenprinted textiles to create wearable art pieces - and the expected financial benefit. Our second collection was with contacts we had both made in the Katherine and Borroloola regions through our respective work. Since those earlier collections, we have had art centres and community groups reaching out - indicating a strong wish to work together! We love that collectives of Aboriginal artists can recognise the benefits of partnering with Magpie Goose. We work hard to ensure that we can be a platform for artists to enter the fashion world, and generate more opportunities.
Once a community group or art centre reaches out; we set up an initial phone or video call to further assess the aspirations of the artists; and to outline our potential offering. After hearing this, we put together a written proposal outlining the timing of a potential collaboration, the money story, and the mechanics behind bringing a collection to life. The community / artists / art centre board will then review the proposal, and then agree to opt in. We then lock in a time to come out and do a textile design workshop, or if the artists already have designs, we get cracking on getting these onto screens for printing! All up its at least a two year process - from first phone call to collection release.
How do artists get paid / how do designs get licensed?
Magpie Goose works with artists and art centres to feature designs through a variety of ways, and as such the way in which artist gets paid differs accordingly:
Purchasing fabric from an Art Centre
Magpie Goose sources some fabric directly from Aboriginal art centres. Some art centres print in community; some outsource the printing to Publisher Textiles in Sydney. In both cases the art centres manage the payments to artists, screenprinters, and other staff. There is no industry standard of how much an artist gets paid for textile production, and each art centre pays artists differently. Some pay a set price per metre printed, while some pay a percentage of the sale of the fabric per metre.
Working with independent artists
Magpie Goose also works with artists that do not have art centres in their community, or who do not have the support of an art centre (e.g. this could be a partnership with a solo artist, a women's centre or a youth organisation). Because there is no industry standard for how much an artist should get paid when their design is screen printed onto fabric, we spoke with a range of art centres and industry experts to inform our understanding, and establish a price that we believe is fair. Our price per metre takes into account the fact that we will print a significant amount of metres (at least 150m of any one design, and often up to 500m).
We pay artists an initial license fee upon signing the contract; and then a set price per metre of fabric printed. This is all presented to the artist in a contract that has been provided to us by Arts Law. This 'Living In The Black' contract has been created specifically for people / organisations wanting to license artwork for screenprinting onto fabric, and this contract can be viewed and purchased online. We also encourage artists to seek independent advice before signing the licensing agreement.
As we run more textile design workshops with independent artists and community organisations, we plan to work with VisCopy/Copyright Agency, an independent not-for-profit organisation that represents Australian artists in licensing negotiations. Where appropriate, we will assist artists that we work with to become members of Copyright Agency, and all commercial arrangements and payments will go through them.
Licensing designs from an Art Centre
Magpie Goose also licences designs from art centres who do not have screen printing capacity for large print runs. These designs might already exist (but require some modification / digitalisation for large screens), or might be created through a Magpie Goose workshop at the art centre. In this case Magpie Goose will pay the artist the upfront fee, and the set price per metre, but might also pay the Art Centre a set price per metre printed to cover the costs of previously running a workshop to come up with the designs. Or Magpie Goose will pay a total fee to the art centre, and the art centre will determine the payment to the artist. Where Magpie Goose has incurred the costs of the workshop and creating the print ready files the art centre or host organisation will not receive an additional fee.
In some cases where there is an organisation that will create significant social impact, or an emerging art centre that requires additional support, Magpie Goose may decide to contribute an extra set price per metre printed. This is decided on a case by case basis, and presented to the art centre / community organisation before both parties commit to the partnership.
Working towards an industry standard
We think an industry standard for licensing a design to print onto fabric would be helpful so that there is a shared understanding across the sector. We support the development of a fair and transparent industry standard.
Where do you manufacture / How did you find your manufacturers in Sydney/ Why did you switch from manufacturing in Bali to Australia?
We initially had samples and our first run of clothing produced in Bali, Indonesia - which is only a two hour flight from Darwin (compared to 4.5 hours to Melbourne or Sydney!) This was convenient and an affordable way for us to test the business idea. We quickly realised there were alot of import and export taxes; and that freighting screenprinted fabric from remote art centres to Indonesia was very expensive!
We began researching the potential for manufacturing in Australia. We wanted to be part of the whole process, and pop in for regular visits! We also wanted to support the growth of the Australian manufacturing industry, and ensure that everything was quality, produced ethically, and that staff were paid award wages (though we also loved supporting our Bali makers!)
We contacted Ethical Clothing Australia - an industry body that accredits and audits clothing producers. They provided us a list of all their ethically accredited manufacturers, and we contacted everyone on the list and asked for quotes! We were travelling to Sydney from Katherine for another event, so popped in to one of the contacts on the list - Sphinx Australia - discussed our business, their minimum order requirements, and got an idea of pricing. Sphinx are the longest running factory in NSW, a huge achievement in a difficult industry. They were able to win the contracts to produce a whole range of uniforms - police, paramedic, army - which saved them when a lot of Australian fashion labels started producing offshore (in the early 2000s). Eventually the government contracts also went offshore, however they started to pick up more work with Australian fashion labels who wanted to manufacture ethically in Australia. Now governments are once again wanting to work with Australian manufacturers - so there’s huge demand, but not many businesses left! We would definitely encourage investment in and development of this industry.
We’ve been proud to partner with this family run company since September 2017. They oversee the cutting, the make, the quality control, and the pressing, packing and pinning on swing tags! The makers love the bright, bold textiles, and the stories behind them (a welcome break from making thousands of white shirts, or army uniforms!)
Can I interview one of the artists?
We have created videos of artists talking about themselves, their communities, and their designs. You can view them on our youtube channel.
What advice would you give people wanting to start their own business?
Test your idea and make sure there’s a market for your product – start small and grow organically. Make a few products; or offer your service to a few people, and then get customers to provide feedback so you can gauge demand, and finesse your offering!
What was the relationship between Enterprise Learning Projects and Magpie Goose?
Laura was founder CEO of Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), a not-for-profit that works in partnership with Aboriginal communities to explore and realise enterprise ideas. We could see the potential of Magpie Goose to create economic opportunities for Aboriginal people in remote Australia in line with ELP’s mission. We presented the idea of starting Magpie Goose under ELPs’ umbrella to the ELP board; which agreed to provide start up capital of $10,000 (later repaid), as well as the legal and administrative framework to quickly start a business.
Magpie Goose integrated ELP’s enterprise learning model into textile design and product design (earrings) workshops; as well as the social ethos of creating enterprise learning opportunities within the business wherever possible. This has enabled the facilitation of textile design workshops to over 71 artists; product / earring development workshops to 57 people; engagement of 56 models in remote communities; 5 screenprinters being trained in katherine and another 27 engaged in community for contract printing; 27 people participating in a Katherine based Fashion Futures empowerment program, an an extra ten ‘in community’ temporary positions as interpreters, drivers, model wranglers and more (figures as at 8 April 2020).
In 2019 Magpie Goose became a separate legal entity; with a portion of equity granted to ELP to continue to support enterprise development in remote Australia.
Have you had many ‘pinch me’ moments since beginning Magpie Goose?
I love being in community and working alongside artists to capture the story of their designs and the stories of their lives (for their bios). I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to share these stories in such a creative, collaborative and life affirming way.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
The artists we work with; and our customers. The artists we collaborate with are so excited by the opportunity to make money from their art, but often more importantly – to share their culture and stories with a wider audience. They’re so proud when they see photos of people wearing their designs; and the fact that people are so interested in learning more about their language, culture, and country.
Our customers tell us that they feel powerful in the clothes; and more connected to Australia’s Aboriginal identity. By supporting our business, they enable Magpie Goose to continue to produce collections in collaboration with different communities across remote Australia. This in turn enables more artists to make money and share culture, and for more people to be able to celebrate Aboriginal culture while looking and feeling fabulous!
What impact have you perceived COVID-19 to have had on the Australian fashion community / Magpie Goose?
Everyone has experienced a huge drop in sales. When people are only buying essential things - groceries, medicines, toilet paper - clothing seems to drop off! (Though I’m sure tracksuit pant and yoga clothes sales are going through the roof!) A lot of people have also lost their jobs / income, so do not have disposable income to spend on ‘non essential items’.
In person sales have stopped - due to regulations, bricks and mortar stores are no longer able to make direct sales to customers. Big markets like Finders Keepers and Big Design Market have had to be cancelled - a lot of creatives get a large portion of their yearly sales at these events.
For us - we sell a mix of online and in person at popups. Online sales have declined significantly, and we have had to cancel our pop up sales events for the year. We have put the release of new collections on hold, as our manufacturers have had to put a pause on operations. Our remote workshops for the year will be delayed due to travel restrictions. We’re bunkering down and working on our systems, sharing stories through social media, and taking it slow after a busy few years!
What positives might come out of Covid-19?
We hope that there will be a strong turn back to Australian made, ethical, sustainable, local production. We think the economic downturn will affect big fast fashion brands, who produce cheaply and unethically in developing countries. Many have had to close stores too due to downturn in sales, and the effect of interrupted supply chains. I hope that Australians will turn to local brands; that people will buy less, but buy well. I think this global pandemic will reshape how people view globalism - while it is fabulous that we are all so connected and can buy something from anywhere in the world; when things turn sour, it is the local things that are easier to obtain, and you can see the real life impact that buying something off a local creative or shop can have!
We hope there will be a return to manufacturing locally, sourcing locally (i.e. Zips, buttons, fabric etc). Hopefully demand for all of those things means that supply increases (i.e. currently you can only get some things from offshore - maybe we will start making these locally!) Manufacturing went largely offshore in the 90s/2000s, so all the Australian manufacturers had to close up. Hopefully with a return to more local production, these guys can get started again, and this will mean more local jobs and a stronger local fashion community.
I think after being cooped up for so long, everyone will be excited to physically go out - and go shopping at real ‘brick and mortar’ retail stores. So another positive will be people supporting local retail stores.