Charmaine Saunders Managing Director of Mainie is growing an international business from the regional hub of tropical north Cairns. Mainie is a fashion label that blends the artworks of traditional Aboriginal artists with luxurious silk to produce unique pieces of wearable art, each with their own story.
A Finalist in the 2019 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, Charmaine has her sights firmly set on the international market. Currently as well as servicing the ecommerce retail market, Mainie products are available throughout Australian Art Galleries, Museums and State Libraries, as well as the Brisbane and Sydney International Airport Terminals.
As an ethical, for-profit social enterprise that is majority Aboriginal owned, Mainie enables Aboriginal women artists living in remote communities in the Central Desert of Australia to support themselves through licensing their artwork, while preserving their traditional sacred Dreaming Stories.
How did the idea for Mainie come about?
The “light bulb” moment, which inspired the Mainie vision to create a unique Australian fashion label by melding authentic Aboriginal art with luxurious silks, occurred in December 2010, when Oprah Winfrey appeared at the Sydney Opera House during her highly publicised Australian tour, wearing a silk kaftan created by Australian designer, Camilla Frank.
The phenomenal international success of the Camilla fashion label was noted at that time. In the ensuing years, we undertook comprehensive feasibility studies and market research to tailor our own Australian fashion business model.
Meticulous business planning combined with the careful sourcing of original Aboriginal artworks and premium silk manufacturers ensured that by the time the Mainie debut fashion collection was launched in August 2015, our new venture found immediate success in the market.
How did you go develop trust and relationships with the artists?
Mainie is an Indigenous Art Code approved Member Dealer. The Indigenous Art Code sets the standards of conduct for those involved in the trade of Indigenous art to ensure that they act fairly, honestly, professionally and in good conscience at all times when dealing with Indigenous artists.
Mainie’s commercial arrangements with Aboriginal artists are governed by formal contractual agreements in accordance with the Indigenous Art Code, whereby the Aboriginal artists retain the copyright to their original art designs.
Mainie’s art licensing agreements cover:
- Purchase of original artworks.
- Licensing to allow for the reproduction of original artwork images onto Mainie products.
- Payments of artist royalties calculated on sales of Mainie products.
What are some of the Aboriginal stories celebrated on your silk scarves?
Mainie sources original artworks from Aboriginal owned and controlled art centres in remote communities in Central Australia. The communities are located on the ancestral homelands of the artists, where there is an unbroken connection to their traditional Aboriginal culture and languages.
Mainie has acquired a number of significant artworks from the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation, a world-renowned art centre, which is located on the traditional homelands of the Warlpiri Aboriginal people at the Yuendumu community about 290 kilometres from Alice Springs.
Warlukurlangu has long been a stronghold for the preservation of the ancient Warlpiri culture and language. The Warlpiri people from the remote Tanami Desert region of Central Australia were some of the last Aboriginal people to make first contact with Europeans. To this day, the Warlpiri people continue to speak their own language and maintain the customs and traditions of their ancestors.
The designs featured on Mainie wearable art pieces depict traditional stories inspired by the Aboriginal artists’ unbroken connection to their country and the spiritual beliefs of their ancestors.
Every Mainie product is presented for sale with information about the provenance of the original artwork design and the Aboriginal artist’s story.
What impact has your business had on regional and remote Aboriginal communities?
Mainie embraces Fair Trade ethics and is committed to supporting the economic empowerment of traditional Aboriginal women artists in Central Australia.
Our mission is to support Aboriginal women artists to earn an independent income from their own work.
We create sustainable opportunities for women living in isolated and disadvantaged communities in the Central Desert region to preserve the sacred Dreaming stories, which have been handed to them through many generations of their ancestors over tens of thousands of years.
Since its foundation, Mainie has made substantial financial investments by way of artwork purchases, licence fees and royalty payments to Aboriginal owned and controlled arts enterprises in Outback Australia.
As a non-technical Founder, how did you find the technology required to produce such a high quality product whilst living in a regional community?
Trial and error. We have learned a lot of valuable lessons by doing things the wrong way to start with. Today, every aspect of our business operations is driven by cloud-based technology.
Your greatest challenge
Financing our start up and ensuing rapid business growth, without compromising on our principles or losing ownership and control of our company.
Most proud of
Proving that an Aboriginal owned business operating out of regional Queensland can successfully compete in national and international markets.
Advice for future female leaders
Surround yourself with smart people who believe in what you are doing.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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