With a focus on celebrating Aboriginal Australian artists and the diversity of their skills and crafts, new Australian homewares company North Home offers striking products that not only look beautiful, but also empower and support indigenous communities. With 70% of the profits going directly to the Foundation for Young Australians’ community youth program, the label helps create a source of sustainable income, and supports and encourages the next generation of young people.
When founder Crystal Thomas moved to the Northern Territory (what comes to mind when you think of “the Outback”), the interior designer was immediately drawn to the textiles being created by communities in the region. For three years she explored the area, met people in communities and learned ways to celebrate the artists and their unique skills. Upon moving back to Melbourne, she founded North Home. We spoke with Thomas about the brand’s inception, its mission and the magic of the north.
Can you tell us a little about your time in the Northern Territory?
I was drawn straight away to the indigenous hand-screen-printed textiles. The textiles are beautiful and are some of the most important and yet undervalued artistic mediums coming out of remote communities. I immediately began work on a creative venture celebrating the beauty of the textiles, but the next three years encouraged a slower pace and a deeper level of understanding and consciousness about Territory living. Over that time, I fell in love with the people, the landscape, its communities and indigenous art and design. It was the knowledge that in the current market, the textiles faced so many hurdles to being seen and appreciated by wider audiences that sparked the idea for North.
What do you find most special about the northern parts of the country?
Inspiration in the Territory is abundant. The beauty of country and the wondrous landscapes, the ancient and deeply layered indigenous culture, art and stories; the surrounding influence of unique individuals. I always felt that the Territory stirred up creativity and stripped away expectation and trends. This was a blessing for innovation and the cause of much anguish whilst trying to find your feet in a new city.
How did you meet the artists, and can you tell us a little about how and who you have on board?
Building relationships with remote community art centers was a slow process that was nurtured over a period of time. At present North [Home] works with three artists across three centers: Cornelia Tipuamantumirri from Munupi Arts, Gabriel Maralngurra from Injalak Arts and Kieren Karritpul from Merrepen Arts.
I fell in love with Cornelia and her work whilst visiting Melville Island. I returned to the Island and Munupi Arts became the first center to support the birth of North. Since then I have met Cornelia’s extended family and her granddaughter Jenna has become a leading member of North’s advisory committee. I was a huge fan of Gabriel’s designs, appreciated from afar in Darwin. When in Gunbalanya, I met Gabriel and a relationship was built with him and Injalak Arts who produce his designs on community. Merrepen was a region and an art center I was in contact with for many years before a collaboration was formed. I worked closely with Kieren’s older brother and Art Centre manager Aaron McTaggart and we formed a relationship in which the young Kieren was supported to be exhibited in North’s debut collection.
Do the artists have free reign, or do you collaborate in terms of design and color palettes?
North is simply the vessel for the most part. Our mission is to create a way to share the stories and tremendous talent of the artists from these remote communities. The designs are the artist’s creations, paintings and stories and North takes no part in this process. The color directions are selected by North with respect to the region’s landscapes and with a global consumer market in mind.
Can you tell us a little about the process and where the proceeds are going?
North’s fabric is purchased directly from communities, creating streams of income for artists and residents that feed back into the community, while ensuring fair pay and treatment. It’s North’s intention to donate 70% of its profits to indigenous youth programs focused on the creative industry.
Was there a theme or a mood for this first collection?
The Territory was our aesthetic playground. Our aim was to simply experiment with the landscape and its magic and keep it showing up in our work, so we are presenting the artists in the most authentic way possible.
Financially, North Home is hoping to break even on their investment later this year; more sales means that will be possible sooner. Explore the range of cushions and lampshades (the range is set to expand) at their online store where prices start at $185 (note that it’s in AUD).
Images courtesy of North Home