Why we all need to get behind local makers this Christmas

‘I am supporting someone who dared to dream just a little bit bigger’: Why we all need to get behind local makers this Christmas

Women have weathered the storm of the pandemic in multiple ways, but for those running small businesses in the cultural and creative sectors, the challenges have been seismic.

Along with the tourism sector, cultural and creative sectors have been the most affected by the current crisis, with jobs at risk ranging from 0.8 to 5.5% of employment across OECD regions.

It’s why the work of community and cultural organisations like the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne have become so critical. During the pandemic, the QVWC supported countless women (cis, trans and non-binary inclusive), to grow their profiles and their businesses during a period of unprecedented uncertainty.

After losing other means of selling their wares, makers were able to reconnect with consumers through QVWC’s online shop; a feminist design concept store in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, showcasing products locally sourced and designed by Victorian women artists, designers and makers.

Yan Yan Candy Ng, an artist and illustrator said the centre helped her to feel “connected to a community again” during a period she, like many other artists, were feeling increasingly isolated.

“I used to do all my product sales at Artist Markets but none of them stayed open during COVID. I was grateful for QVWC, because I can sell my products there. Their team is amazing to work with; very communicative, supportive and really helped to promote the makers. Seeing people supporting my art, it really encouraged me to keep going and create more products,” she says.

Yan Yan Candy Ng
Photo credit: BIC and Smiling Mind

Thoughts Come True is the name of Ng’s business where she sells everything from illustrations and cards, to masterfully designed enamel pins.

Other incredible local makers you can find through QVWC’s shop, include Jessica McDonald, founder and creator of ‘High Tees’– a fashion brand celebrating feminist icons through hand-drawn, prints, (think Penny Wong, Dolly Parton and the late, great, Ruth Bader Ginsburg).

The catalyst behind McDonald’s business was simple: “I wanted to design something that sparked conversation, challenges and celebrated our local icons,” she says.

“I believe that many of the champions of Australian history have been somewhat lost to time and we need to highlight those who have broken through the ceiling and contributed to our society for the better.”

Jessica McDonald

Since starting, McDonald’s built out her range of designs to include not just faces but causes too. As a response to the 2019 bushfire crisis, she created a range that portrayed three animals severely affected by the fires, and in 2021 she released a ‘Seascape Range’ in response to the climate crisis and the devastation of over-fishing.

It’s this agitation of the status quo that McDonald believes aligns directly with the work of the QVWC.

“I feel that a lot of what I do aligns with what QVWC does – celebrating women, lifting them up, proudly shouting from the rooftops,” she shares.

Plus-sized fashion designer, Juz Savage echoes this sentiment. “QVWC is opening doors and experiences that I’d never have thought about,” she says, adding that “the brain fog is lifting and I’m starting to plan ahead and be in front rather than constantly reacting.”

After a rollercoaster two years, Savage has finally moved into a shared creative co-working studio and has seen sales skyrocket, with her beautiful range of reusable face cloths available through QVWC’s shop.

“The pandemic has taught me lots of lessons and triggered big emotions. But I never wanted to quit. I’m optimistic and excited for the next 12 months,” she says.

Despite optimism expressed by many of the makers I speak with, there are plenty still experiencing the aftershock of the pandemic and imploring Australians to get behind local businesses this Christmas.

Biochemical and molecular biologist, Dr. Lorien Parker (playfully dubbed, Dr Loz), started her career as a medical researcher investigating the factors that were thought to contribute to cancer chemotherapy resistance. She then turned her focus to communicating and engaging kids in science with her consulting business, SciencePlay Kids, but in a bid to continue contributing to the lab, she also launched a “science jewellery” business in which a portion of profits made would go directly to women’s medical research.

Early in 2020 however, she found herself with an impossible choice to make.

“I have two children, a son in prep and a daughter in year 2, (and my husband works full time and is in zoom meetings most of the time) so the ‘remote learning’ role was left to me,” she explains. “This meant that every day I had to make a choice, my children’s education (and their sanity) or my business…. how do you make that choice?”

Naturally, the needs of her children were prioritised and Dr Loz’s business took the hit. “As a sole trader, things are challenging enough, and no one else is there to pick up the slack when you just don’t have the time to do all the things you need to do to keep the business alive,” she says.

Dr Loz

“Small business is a really, really hard playing field, so we need to support each other as much as we can. Our passions are what keep us going, so helping others to keep following their passion is immensely valuable,” she says.

Yan Yan Candy Ng agrees, adding that “you are directly contributing to your local community if you shop locally”.

For anyone who’s been following Australia’s exports and shipping crisis in the lead up to the festive season, another thing to keep in mind would be that “shopping locally reduces our carbon footprint and you get your Christmas presents quicker!” she adds.

For Jade Lees Pavey, the founder of ‘Little Acts of Rebellion Cups’ a business which turns protest and propaganda into useful, beautiful items like vases, bowls and cups, the rationale for supporting local is simple:

“The best art and craft products are in your own town or city. I love buying from Australian artisans, because I am buying a story as well as an item. I am supporting a local economy that has been so harshly impacted by an unseen germ.

I am supporting someone who dared to dream just a little bit bigger and who has taken a risk in investing in that dream.”

The Queen Victoria Women’s Centre is an iconic Melbourne landmark that supports women through creative experiences, community resources and the power of connection. Get behind local artists and designers this Christmas by checking out their online shop.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox