Don’t stereotype us: Aboriginal businesses in the spotlight for NAIDOC Week

Don’t stereotype us: Aboriginal businesses in the spotlight for NAIDOC Week

As Australia celebrates NAIDOC Week, Aboriginal entrepreneurs say they don’t want to be stereotyped or to work with businesses which are not genuine.

NAIDOC Week is held annually in the first week of July and aims to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ history and culture. (NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.)

To mark NAIDOC Week, SmartCompany spoke to two small businesses that have a unique collaboration helping to promote Aboriginal artists, art and culture.

Bits Of Australia is an online gift shop which offers more than 80 products made or inspired by Indigenous artists and companies and ensures royalties for the products go back to the artists and communities they come from.

Founder and director Micaela Smith told SmartCompany she had a background in banking before launching Bits of Australia in April last year.

She said when she travelled she had found it hard to find authentic Australian-made gifts and souvenirs for family and friends.

“I was always finding I was turning products over to see where they were made,” she says.

“When you’re travelling, sometimes you want to give something that has come from that location.”

Stocking Aboriginal products was a big part of Smith’s idea, and one of the challenges for Bits of Australia was having gifts not just from Australia and made in Australia, but to have a “third factor” where royalties went back into some of these communities.

“It means you know you’re supporting the community and the development of artists,” she says.

“It’s not just about me having a successful business, although that’s important, but I see it as a way of investing in Australian-made products and manufacturing in Australia. I see it as a win-win.”

Smith sources Aboriginal products from different organisations such as Utopia and Alperstein Design, who work with the Aboriginal artists and communities and ensure royalties for the products go back to the artists and community.

She says last year Bits Of Australia also forged a “perfect fit” relationship with Indigiearth, an Aboriginal-owned company in NSW with a focus on bush tucker catering and ingredients for skin care products.

“Indigiearth stock not only indigenous products but are an indigenous-owned business, not only that, their products are lovely,” Smith says.

Founder of Indigiearth, Sharon Winsor, a Ngemba Weilwan woman of western NSW, told SmartCompany the relationship between the two business was a positive one.

“It’s important to work with businesses that are genuine and not tokenistic,” she says.

“Micaela does what she says.”

She says the pair’s most recent collaboration had seen them partner up for NAIDOC Week with a special promotion.

“NAIDOC is quite important, not only to indigenous people but to non-indigenous people,” she says

“It’s not just about us mob celebrating NAIDOC Week. It’s a good way to get the message out there and it always brings people together.”

Winsor says Indigiearth, which employs Aboriginal staff and involves her helping indigenous communities setting up their own businesses, was born out of her love for bush food and ingredients.

She says as an indigenous small business, some of the challenges she faces are to do with people stereotyping what an indigenous business does.

“It’s been challenging people not thinking the world is not ready for indigenous products, there is quite a big interest in Australian indigenous products. Getting people to give it a go, to see how it goes.”

She says the company is enjoying good growth and employs five full-time staff, six part-time casuals and is turning over just under half a million dollars a year.

Winsor says Indigiearth is looking forward to going to Hong Kong in early August to take part in its first international food expo.

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