The coolest, hottest, most ethical thongs in Australia
Would you like to wear cool clothing and footwear with Aboriginal designs but worry about the ethics? Stop fretting and get organised to support our campaign to produce some uber-cool ethical thongs (flip-flops to you internationals). Be stylish, comfortable and have peace of mind knowing that you're doing two things at once: supporting Injalak Arts' Aboriginal artists and also Australia's most ethical social enterprise, Etiko. Three great designs to choose from. Becoming a supporter of this campaign - whether by ordering thongs or taking up another reward - will give us the necessary cash to pay the producers to make the first ever batch of these fair trade thongs specially for us + royalties for the artists. If we are not successful we can't order the thongs to be made. More information about costs of production in 'how the funds will be used' below.
PS: The artists have no issue with the designs being on thongs - in fact they're thrilled.
Keep reading to meet the artists and see the original designs on fabric that were then adapted for thongs. Our rewards all feature beautifully made products with the three original designs made from fabrics we printed in Gunbalanya.
Thong sizing chart
When making your pledge please refer to the chart below for accurate sizing:
Etiko - the amazing partner that gets the thongs made
Etiko an awesome little company based in Melbourne established back in 2005 that has been championing fair trade for ages. They've done such a great job that in 2016 they actually won the Australian Human Rights Award for Business. They also won the 2013 & 2014 Australian Fairtrade Product of the Year. We could go on and on about Etiko but it's all there on their website - have a look. These guys are seriously awesome!! Check out their amazing products in their online Shop.
Below: artist/designers Benson (Isaiah) Nagurrgurrba & Graham Badari with their respective designs - Turtles and Stone Country Animals. In the background is Injalak hill. Both the designs were initially created for hand-printing on fabric in our worskhop in Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land.
Why do we want to make thongs ?
In a nutshell: two reasons.
1. Because it's really hard to find ethical wearable gear out there!
2. We think thongs are cool. These thongs are affordable foot art. Thongs are a common language and have a universal audience. Our members (Injalak Arts is a non-profit Association) all wear thongs. When our Management Committee saw the samples they LOVED THEM. Got seriously excited and couldn't wait to get their own. You should have heard Benson's chuckle when he saw his design on thongs for the first time - priceless! And Gabriel (below) sitting in his studio loves his.
Stopping the rip-offs
On the subject of ethics: unfortunately you need to be cautious about buying wearable gear with Aboriginal designs on them. To be honest - there's a heap of stuff out there that looks Aboriginal-ish but is probably a rip-off design (no royalties paid and possibly a non-Indigenous designer/artist made the design) and/or made in a sweatshop. There are a stack of companies in Australia that put Indigenous Australian designs or imitations on unauthorised products. Often they are cheap and nasty and nearly always made overseas in dubious situations. It's been a source of pain and insult for Indigenous Australians because it's exploiting culture and disrespectful.
The Indigenous Art Code has been mounting a campaign 'Fake Art Harms Culture' to bring attention to and stop the sale of inauthentic Indigenous-style products. See their posters below. It's been described as Aboriginal artists being 'up against tidal wave of fakes'. Read an ABC report here. But we don't want to make people afraid to buy anything at all - we decided we needed to offer a clear, ethical alternative: INJALAK ARTS THONGS.
Injalak Arts - about us
The guiding principle of our art centre is 'sharing and teaching our culture'.
Injalak Arts is an 100% Aboriginal owned non-profit artists cooperative (incorporated as an Association) located in Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) in the Nothern Territory of Australia. We have more than 200 active artists as members. See this lovely short video about Injalak Arts. Our crew create paintings and also designs for hand screen-printing on fabric. We now have 43 designs by 22 artists and we have featured some of these on the shirts and thongs. Our artists are carrying on a tradition of making art that was done by their ancestors for tens of thousands of years. No kidding! We're actually a bit famous in the Aboriginal Arts sector. Have a look at the tours we offer to a nearby rock art site here.
The commonly spoken language in the area is Kunwinjku and members of Injalak Arts must be Aboriginal Kunwinjku speakers. Located in West Arnhem Land and famous as the home of 'x-ray' art, the artists of the region have been making collectible and acclaimed artworks for more than a century. Based on imagery found in rock art throughout the region, and part of a continuous culture dating back more than 20,000 years, the figurative themes in the paintings of the region feature animals, plants, spirits and creation ancestors. Being a non-profit (it's in our Constitution that any proceeds need to be used to support members social and cultural needs) we have very limited funds for activities and need to rely on social entrepreunerialism to generate income and fund projects.
Below: Members and staff in November 2016. Everyone's wearing clothing made out of our hand-printed fabric.
Where is Injalak Arts?
You can find us in GUNBALANYA (OENPELLI) West Arnhem Land in the dark green bit called Arnhem Land (just east of Kakadu National Park). We're about 300 km by road from Darwin in the "Top End" of Australia. It's possible to visit us during the dry season and you can find out more about how to do that here. It's possible to come with a tour company or self-drive (we're only 15 km from the border of Kakadu National Park).
Below: What's amazing about our location is that it's spectacularly beautiful. Gunbalanya is located on the edge of a floodplain and to the east is a billabong called Adjumarllarl (can see it behind our artists in this photo) and the hill called Injalak that the art centre is named after. Injalak hill has seven main galleries of rock art and many images painted on the walls of rock shelters and vertical surfaces.
The thong artists: Graham, Gabriel & Benson (Isaiah)
Each of the artists whose designs are featured on the thongs are Injalak Arts stalwarts. Gabriel and Benson were co-founders of the art centre back in the mid-1980s. Graham has been painting with Injalak Arts since just after it opened. They have now all aged (fairly gracefully) and become nakohbarn 'old men' (a term of respect in Aboriginal society).
The artist: Graham Badari & Stone Country Animals design
Graham is at Injalak Arts every day working on exquisitely detailed paintings. His birds are a delight, his Lambalk sugar gliders float amongst the eucalypt blossoms and his spirit beings are particulary scary looking with malevolent faces. Turns out he's a big fan of obscure heavy metal bands and Japanese anime. He is also rarely seen without his dog 'Mr Blue'. Despite his extremely quiet demeanour his paintings pack a punch and he has been shortlisted for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards a number of times.
Above: Graham beginning work on yet another fabulous painting. He starts with the silhouettes. It is those images that inspired his fabric design.
Below: What a painting by Graham Badari looks like when it's finished. The artist in two photos taken at Injalak Arts with his trademark cap (he's never seen without one) showing two different paintings - on the left is a work on Arches 640 gsm hand-made paper 'possums and birds' and the bark painting on the right is Lambalk sugargliders and possums.
The design: Stone Country Animals
Below: Just printed! Graham's Stone Country Animals printed by Reuben (left) and Daniel on cotton in March 2017
Graham has created three fabric designs for Injalak Arts and Stone Country Animals (aka Rock Wallabies & Echidnas) is one. This versatile design is fantastic for bags, cushion covers and clothing. Graham’s country is Maburrinj near Kudjekbinj about 120 kilometres east of Gunbalanya. It is this region of his clan estate where he draws much of his artistic inspiration. His design is inspired by the high Stone Country of the Arnhem Land Plateau. It features nabarlek (Petrogale concinna or rock wallaby) and ngarrbek (Tachyglossus aculeatus or echidna). The nabarlek survives mostly eating tough grasses of the kinds pictured in this design. A number of Stone Country plants can be recognised in the design including mandjamko (Grevillea goodii) a low growing species with red flowers. The nectar from these are sweet and can be eaten. The flowering strap-leafed plant is manburru (Patersonia macrantha), a member of the iris family with purple flowers found only in the Northern Territory. The silhouette style used in this design is ancient in origin and common in the rock art of West Arnhem Land.
The artist: Gabriel Maralngurra & Mimih design
Above: Gabriella (his daughter), Gabriel and Donna Nadjamerrek (our Chairperson) at the launch of the Kunwinjku Counting Book at Nomad Arts in Darwin July 2016.
Gabriel is a Co-Manager of Injalak Arts and achieved fame in 2016 with the Pozible crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the printing of the Kunwinjku Counting Book - he illustrated and co-wrote that publication. The campaign was a success and so is the book and the rights since been taken up by a New York publisher. He is very familiar to anyone who's visited Injalak Arts where it's 99% likely you'll see him sitting at his painting desk surveying the northern side of the art centre, where the men work. In 1989, when in his early twenties, he and other young men and women established the art centre and he continues to be a driving force behind the art centre today. More than twenty-five years of sustained artistic practice are reflected in the breadth and depth of the subjects he paints, his fluent line-work and highly original compositions. Whilst being an innovative artist who enjoys experimentation his own confident and fluid style is unmistakable, always balancing studied naturalism with a strong sense of design and stylisation.
Gabriel is continually inspired by the rock art of West Arnhem Land, always referencing and working within this artistic tradition while pursuing formal innovations and new designs. His knowledge of creation stories, plants and animals gives him a wide range of material. He is an ambassador and intercultural mediator for Kunwinjku culture, having worked many years as a fabric screenprinter and designer, a Injalak hill tour guide, Kunwinjku-English translator, Injalak Arts board member and chairperson, and now Co-Manager of Injalak Arts. He has also travelled widely around Australia and internationally for art related events.
The design: Mimih (Female Mimih Spirits)
Above: Print trainer Tim Growcott with Gabriel Maralngurra back in 2013 preparing the original transparency for the mimih spirit design. Once it was put on a screen and printed we knew we had a bestseller. Photograph taken in our old print workshop.
Female Mimih spirits are depicted in his dynamic design. According to the Kunwinjku people Mimih spirits were the original spirit beings who taught Aboriginal people many of the skills they needed to survive in the bush. They also taught aspects of ceremony. Mimih spirits inhabit the rocky escarpments around Gunbalanya but because they are extremely timid are rarely seen by humans. Often seen in the rock art of West Arnhem Land as small, dynamic figures, usually shown with hunting tools such as spears, spear throwers, dilly bags and fire sticks. Mimih spirits do many of the same things people do, and according to the artist the Mimih spirits in this design are just having fun, chatting, dancing and singing.
The artist: Benson (Isaiah) Nagurrgurrba & Turtles design
The artist now called "Benson" (due to the death of an elder with the same name in early 2017) in the office at Injalak Arts. He's an all round great bloke, raconteur, trickster, ceremony man, musician and talented artist. He's also one of our Co-Managers and is responsible for community engagement, strategic vision and supporting member involvement. Involved with Injalak Arts since the mid 1980s, before it incorporated, he worked for years as a printer before starting to paint and becoming a fabric designer.
The design: Ngalmangiyi (Long-necked Turtle)
Above: The artist (centre) with his fabric design printed by Virgil (on the right) and Daniel in March 2017.
The design was created in 2013. Every year, in the seasons Kunwinjku people call Yekke, Wurrkeng and Kurrung, ladies go out onto the floodplain to get ngalmangiyi (long-necked turtles, Chelodina rugosa). The three seasons are collectively known in English as the dry season and fall between May and September and are when turtles hide under the drying earth of the floodplain, breathing through small holes in the mud. Hunters burn off the grass so they can find the holes, then poke the mud with specially made turtling sticks. When they hear a knocking sound, they know a turtle is there. Ngalmangiyi are a prized food source in Gunbalanya. While waiting for people to get turtles, other ladies might collect mandem (water lily roots, Nymphaea sp.) and cook them in the coals of the fire. This design evokes the abundance of bush foods in Gunbalanya, the slow, supple movements of the turtles and the luxuriant growth of the water lilies that complement this floodplain meal.
The thongs (aka flip-flops)
Etiko produced their first range of thongs in 2015 and they've been a big hit. They can genuinely claim to have produced "the first eco-friendly range of footwear (Australia/New Zealand/Pacific region)". The thongs are made from a mix of natural and recycled rubber. Did you know the thongs you are wearing now, including all those expensive fancy brand name ones, are very probably made from petrochemicals. Many thongs are made with a blend of EVA and PVC. Yuck, right? And we can vouch for how comfy the Etiko rubber ones are because our staff bought them long before we knew they'd like to partner with us. Here's a photo of some of the ladies who make Etiko thongs in their fair trade factory in India.
Injalak Arts is buying the thongs from Etiko who commissioned their fair trade partners to manufacture them. Etiko do all the research to be sure that any of their products are 'supply chain ethical' so we can partner with them with confidence. Previous Etiko thongs have raised money for Sea Shepherd, Free The Bears and Surfrider Foundation. The arrangement in those situations was that Etiko fully funded production, organised marketing and distribution and the charities were paid a percentage of proceeds. This time we're doing it differently - Injalak Arts has jointly funded the manufacture of the thongs meaning we get half of them to sell ourselves. Effectively we're investing and crossing our fingers that it pays off! We really hope you like them. If you are curious or in a hurry for some thongs you can see the Etiko thong range (available right now) that raise funds for other great organisations here.
The campaign rewards - from our fabric printing workshop
We've chosen a lovely range of rewards for you. The fabric products are made from fabric hand-printed in our workshop onsite in Gunbalanya. We have an 8 metre table and do old-fashioned hand screen-printing with two printers standing on each side of the table. The bags and cushion covers are products of our Cross-Cultural Collaboration Project. We send our fabric to Cambodia to three fair trade organisations including Kravan (Blossom) House - a small social enterprise that employs and trains disabled people. They make our fabric into bags and other products and the quality is outstanding. This partnership has enabled us to showcase our fabric design and printing skills to the world. More detailed photos of the design of some of the bags can be seen in our Etsy store. We are restricted to one image per reward on Pozible.
Below: some of the wonderful people who work for Kravan House.
We have a number of printers, men and women, who work in teams. For every metre of fabric printed the artist is paid a royalty. We now have more than 40 different designs and the thong designs are three designs originally created for fabric. We have mainly selected rewards that feature the three fabric designs. We've also thrown in some extra rewards of different fabric designs by the same three artists.
Below: Sylvia and Selina printing "little creatures" design in our workshop in Gunbalanya.
How The Funds Will Be Used
Paying the thong makers
We've wanted to make thongs with Etiko for ages and have talking it backwards and forwards for months but have been stopped by lack of $$$. Then we thought - why not try crowdfunding?
Fair trade doesn't come cheap and we are paying more than $12 cost for each pair of thongs and have to make a minimum order of 600 in each design. Do the maths and you can see it all adds up to more than $20,000 that we need to raise.
Becoming a supporter of this campaign - whether by ordering thongs or taking up some other reward - will give us the necessary cash to pay the producers to make a batch of these fair trade thongs specially for us.
The fair trade producers need a deposit before they start making the thongs and then we have to pay the balance when they arrive, long before we can actually start selling them or filling online orders. We HUGELY appreciate our customers' willingness to advance order their thongs. The other products we're offering as rewards we'll be able to ship out as soon we hit our goal (hopefully April) because we've already got (and paid for!) those.
If we are successful in raising the money then we will be able to wholesale and retail the thongs - YAY! That means we can have stockists in all sorts of places including our own shop. Retail price will be at least $30 per pair.
Above: This is what it looks like right now where we are. In the distance you can see Gunbalanya. All around is water - lots and lots of water. The floodplains turn bright green, roads get submerged. Good for fish and reptiles and birds - bad for business.
Injalak Arts' cash flow cycle
Injalak Arts is one of Australia's longest running and most successful remote community art centres. In our constitution we commit to being 'non-profit' - that doesn't mean we don't try to run a sound business, it just means that no one person or group gets the proceeds from sales. All income is used for investing in the business and delivering social and cultural support to our 200+ members. Like any small business, managing cash flow is always a challenge. We pay our members upfront for their arts and crafts and also pay all our fabric printers and designers when they've done their work and they are productive all year round. Buying in art materials and fabrics is expensive. We also pay all our operational costs like electricity, insurance, vehicle and transport, freight and administration.
We have thousands of visitors coming to the art centre every dry season (May - November) to meet the artists, watch people making arts and craft and to do a hill tour. During this time we have thriving income and are cash flow positive. However, during the wet season when a flooding turns the community into an island people can't get here. No visitors = no sales = reduced income.
To deal with our crazy wet season situation we've gone full throttle to put some of our stock on-line. We're slowly getting better at online sales. We launched our Etsy shop around a year ago and it's getting more and more successful. You'll now find more than 200 products online including hand-printed fabric lengths, cushion covers, bags, woven Pandanus baskets and mats and more. Here is a link to our Etsy Shop here.
Below: what our Etsy shop looks like. Some of our beautiful ladies (weavers, artists and printers) modelling aprons.
You guessed it - $$
What is any small manufacturing business's greatest challenge? Yes, you guessed it: cash flow. We need cash flow to pay producers. You can't run an ethical fair-trade business and make the people who make your products wait. It's just not fair. We were ready to go with these thongs last year but couldn't scrape together the $$$. Both Injalak Arts and Etiko run tight ships. Really tight. So we're always juggling cash flow and opportunities. We get some great ideas but how to act? This is where Crowdfunding is amazing. It's fundraising, market research and promotion all rolled into one.
Injalak Arts is remote, really remote. In fact, in the wet season we can't even drive in and out of our community due to flooding. Between December and April/May the only way we can get in and our is via light aircraft, which is really expensive. Our income plummets in this time because it's so hard to visit us. April is the worst month of the year for us.
A crowdfunding campaign gets us up close and personal with many of our supporters and customers. It's difficult for most people to get to West Arnhem Land - but this way we can reach out to you.
Admin challenges of a crowdfunding campaign
Above: Kate and Gabriel with some of the sacks of rewards going out in the mail for the successful Kunwinjku Counting Book campaign we sent out in November 2016.
In terms of the campaign challenges: we learned a lot from our first Pozible campaign. It nearly drove our Admin Officer, Kate, crazy because we didn't know about the reward settings to collect the shipping details from our supporters. As a consequence she had to contact a few hundred people individually. She did an incredible job with spreadsheets and emails sorting out the mess, smiling all the while.
Experience is a wonderful thing. So pleased we'll have things more sorted at our end better this time. Unfortunately Kate is leaving us at the end of April so we want to give her one last campaign to work on before she goes. She can teach other staff her magic way of getting the rewards out on time and to the right people and places. The rewards we have in stock, which is basically everything except the thongs, will be sent out end of April.
Possible manufacturing challenges
We did not launch the campaign until we saw samples because we want to make sure our supporters are 100% happy and are getting what they expect. Previous Etiko thongs are terrific (as stated earlier, some of our staff wear them) but we do not have control over manufacturing glitches. We are confident you and your friends and family will like the thongs.
We're really hoping the manufacturers are sticking to their three month manufacturing and freighting deadline. The last Etiko thong order was made and on the high seas when the shipping company (one of the biggest in the world) went into liquidation creating a major drama with freight stuck all over the world. That caused delays beyond anyone's control. As you can probably appreciate - we can't control the weather or international economics. We've seen other Pozible campaigns that rely on manufacturing blow out deadlines - we've got all fingers and toes crossed this won't happen to us.