Magpie Goose connects stories, people and art from remote Aboriginal communities into accessible and classic pieces of hand screen-printed fashion, through the use of their bold and colourful designs.
Founded by Laura Egan and Maggie McGowan in 2016, the social enterprise transitioned to 100% Aboriginal ownership in March 2021 when Egan and McGowan handed the business to Troy Casey (a Kamilaroi man) and his partner, in life and business, Amanda Hayman (a Wakka Wakka/Kalkadoon woman).
Today, Troy runs the Magpie Goose day-to-day operations as managing director and, with Amanda, also operates three other enterprises: Aboriginal Art Co, the retail space Open House and creative agency Blaklash. We caught up with Troy and Amanda to discover how this trailblazing business not only brings First Nations prints and designs to all Australians as wearable art, but also works to improve the future of Aboriginal communities Australia-wide.
Say Yes to Opportunities
Troy: We’d been long-time fans of the Magpie Goose brand and what the founders Maggie and Laura were doing. We also stocked them in Open House in West End [in Brisbane]. When people are operating in this space of Aboriginal art and culture, there’s always a certain amount of questions that come from that.
But knowing Maggie and Laura, and hearing such positive stories from friends of ours that had either been engaged by them or worked with them out in remote communities, we felt safe with what the brand was doing and achieving.
Black Lives Matter happened with a whole groundswell of support for Aboriginal-owned enterprises and autonomy, and one day when we were in Cairns, we got a text and then a phone call from Maggie and Laura. They said they’d been always thinking about what’s next for the brand in terms of ownership and the appropriate people to hand the business to. And they kept coming back to Amanda and I.
We said, “This is certainly a huge undertaking; we want to do it properly and seriously, and we need to think about it.” We got off the phone and we were like, “Of course we’re going to do this.”
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
I could see from a long time ago that the brand would be better serviced by Aboriginal ownership; it’s a neater package and a nicer story. And the ability to keep the money in the pipeline of Aboriginal ownership is certainly how these enterprises need to go in the future. But also, we were thinking about how we were going to do it and what sacrifices we would have to make to run it.
At the time, we’d just opened a new not-for-profit art gallery. At the same time we run a creative agency and also have a retail space. But that’s the saying: if you need something done, you find the busiest people you know and you give it to them.
Have Faith in Your Unique Story
As soon as this was an opportunity, I started to think of what other Australian brands are iconic and synonymous to Australia – Akubra, R.M. Williams, Driza-Bone... We think that Magpie Goose can be the Aboriginal version of the iconic Australian brand, and there’s no reason that this brand shouldn't have a flagship store in every capital city of this country, and also across the world. And Magpie Goose as the Olympic Uniforms for 2032! Can you imagine on a global scale, like the Olympics, us being able to share the stories of these communities to a worldwide audience?
Magpie Goose has the unique ability to connect people with remote Aboriginal communities, artists and their stories and their culture. It’s something that people are interested in.
Employ People Who Are Good at What They Do
Find people that are very good at a particular thing and let them do that particular thing. Sometimes we try to be a jack of all trades, and then you end up being the master of none. At the end of the day, your cash flow, so you can pay your bills – accounting, finance, bookkeeping, inventory management – that’s really the crux of running a business. All of those things aren’t sexy but [they are] actually what a business is.
Trust Your Instinct, but Back It up
I’m a wild and woolly sort of business person; Amanda has a far more considered approach. We have a strategy; whether that’s in a formal document or not, is probably a different story. I’m a big fan of a whiteboard and revisiting it every couple of months and rubbing it out and starting again. But there's a balance. I will have a gut feeling but you’ve still got to crunch the numbers. You need to check the viability.
We’re very conscious of creating businesses that are going to succeed. Get a good accountant and bookkeeper and think about what areas in the business you’re really good at and stick to those ones and find great people to rally around you to grow your idea.
Be Prepared to Mix It Up
Amanda: We were given a model that worked for the founders, but we’ve had to tweak it so it worked for us, and works for the climate we’re in. The founders would do a lot of pop-up stores and were travelling all the time. Since we’ve had the business, there have been COVID restrictions so we’ve had to figure out how to advertise more.
Troy: We’ve engaged a creative agency that specialises in social media advertising, and we’re starting to see really good results. At this time, you need to be ready, willing and able to change and not put all your eggs in one basket. You need to be agile and ready to go in a different direction. We’re fortunate to have a business that sells products online and online shopping has increased because of COVID.
Invest in Your Brand’s Image
Amanda: If you believe in the product, invest in making it look good as well. Get a professional photographer, get a copywriter to write about it – invest the money. If you don’t have the skills, get professionals. We’ve invested a bit of money in studio shots, so everything’s beautiful.
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Keep a Keen Eye on the Future
We have plans to open a bricks and mortar in Brisbane in the near future and that will be the first flagship store for Magpie Goose. And we’d be hoping to expand or grow retail outlets across the country.
We’ve also been looking at a textile screen printing business or textile design hub. We have to send [our designs] to a screen printer, to a manufacturer, all of those things – but the ability to provide impact and opportunities for employment for more Aboriginal people throughout the process would be exciting. The more opportunities we can provide, the better. It all feeds back to impact.
Remember Why You’re Doing It in the First Place
Running a business can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do in your life but it requires some of the hardest work you will ever do in your life as well. But I get up every day and I love what we do and it doesn't matter what hat I’m wearing for what business.
Every enterprise we run is about creating a platform to facilitate economic opportunities for our community and showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in a positive way so people can celebrate, acknowledge and appreciate our culture and values. All of the businesses we operate have that at the core of them. I love the work we do and the impact we can create. I’m willing to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure each and every one of those businesses is as successful as possible.