Sometimes inspiration crosses continents. Barri and Nikki Stear founded Native Interiors on moving to Australia from South Africa in 2016. Barri had spent many of his younger years living in New Zealand and, with the Antipodean embers stoked by a trip to Australia in 2014, they decided to relocate to Brisbane and launch the homewares and accessories company they’d always dreamed of, underpinned by a commitment to the maker, as well as ethical and sustainable design and business practices.
Their raison d’etre was to showcase African and artisanal design, as well as empower the makers and their communities by ensuring all their products are made in ethical working conditions and workers are paid fairly for their time.
It’s an ethos that is gaining traction across the world, as conscious consumers are becoming increasingly tired of fast fashion and furnishings. Nikki has long been a supporter of the sustainable and ethical design industry in South Africa. She founded the online publication Live Eco in 2008, which focuses on sustainable fashion, beauty and lifestyle. She also launched a sustainable design competition in 2011, The Live Eco Remake Design Challenge. This encouraged emerging interior, industrial and fashion designers to create capsule collections whilst adhering to sustainable design practices.
Nikki has worked personally with many of the artisans and designers that form part of the Native Interiors product line. This connection allows Nikki to vouch for the ethical working conditions and the quality of the products:
“I am passionate about interiors and fashion but most of all believe that you and your home should be able to look good but not at the expense of others. So I love that our business can make our customers feel good about themselves whilst uplifting and preserving other communities all over the globe.
One of the fundamental business principles of Native Interiors is to ‘foster an appreciation for cultures, design & the maker.’ All the products are handmade and thoughtfully designed, ensuring minimal impact on the earth and the communities that make them.
There’s an innate beauty and richness to be found in a product that has a story behind the maker; of a piece that you can be proud of owning. Native Interiors will be exhibiting at Decor + Design 2017, as part of a show that will feature over 250 of Australia’s leading interiors companies. We spoke to Nikki in the lead up about how they approach sustainable design.
Nikki, ethical manufacture is a guiding business principle of Native Interiors. How does this work in practice?
The core principles of our business are : handmade, ethical and sustainable. All the products we source are thoughtfully designed, ensuring minimal impact on the earth and the communities that make them. The skills involved in making these – often intricate – designs are passed down through generations. Buying Native Interiors’ products are a way of preserving ancient traditions and craftsmanship, as well as ensuring these skills are not lost on the younger generations. It also means they may stay in their communities instead of moving to the city to find more lucrative work.
Fair wages motivate artisans. All the suppliers we work with subscribe to fair trade principles and are actively working towards a living wage for their artisans. We support businesses where artisans can work with dignity and pride. Most of the businesses we work with are owned by women and employ mostly women, many of them single mothers who are the sole income earners in their families. This was another very important business goal for us, supporting female empowerment and women in business, in Africa and across the globe.
What are the major challenges involved in operating a sustainable business? Does Australia support an ethical approach?
When you are sourcing handmade, ethical and sustainable products, there is a lot you have to take into consideration. Lead times for independent makers are longer than products being manufactured mechanically in big factories. Your costs are higher as you are paying artisans a fair wage and you need to invest time in educating your consumers as to why it’s important to support businesses such as ours and why ‘trace-ability’ and transparency is key.
Over the last couple of years there has been an increasing demand for goods that are traceable, authentic and made to last. More and more consumers – especially so-called ‘millennials’ – are also seeking products with a story and a conscience; that cause less environmental and social damage. There is definitely a demand for these types of products in Australia but as mentioned before, one has to constantly be educating consumers everywhere, not just Australia, as to why it’s important to support businesses such as ours.
You source many of your handcrafted products from artisans in Africa. Are there any places that are particularly special to you?
I’m lucky enough to call the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa “home” so all the products we source from there are very special to me. But I also just can’t get enough of the exquisite products we source out of Swaziland – the best weavers I have ever seen – and the gorgeous handcrafted accessories we source from Kenya.
You have a strong background in ethical fashion and design. What advice to you have for the consumer seeking to shop sustainably? What do they need to look out for?
Be on the look out for “green washing” – it’s rife! Research the brands you buy from and ask questions… find out who made your clothes/décor/beauty products etc. If brands are hesitant to offer this information, move on and find those that provide transparency.
Native Interiors will be exhibiting at Decor + Design 2017. Why have you decided to exhibit and what can trade visitors expect to see?
As we are new to the Australian market, we thought this would be a great way to gain exposure and introduce ourselves, our story and our products to both trade visitors and consumers. We are currently solely an online store so the show will also give visitors a chance to interact with our product range. We are excited to be launching a couple of new collections at the show – both accessories and homewares – and we plan to introduce a few more ceramists to our ceramics collection too.
Visit Native Interiors at Decor + Design 2017, 20 – 23 July at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. Subscribe to receive updates on registration, as well as featured exhibitors.