Katherine Mullett had been ruminating on the idea of starting an apparel business bolstered by the concept of ‘Caring for Country’ for a while. Twelve months ago, she shared the fledgling concept with her cousin Hollie Johnson, bringing her into the fold too. They agreed on the idea: it could be a platform focused on putting First Nations first: supporting the community and allowing everyone to ‘Wear their Ethics’.
It’s here that the early stages of Deadly Wears began – a Kinaway certified, family-owned business (that’s now a social enterprise) founded by two close cousins who are strong Gunaikurnai and Monero Ngarigo women.
Deadly Wears’ apparel and jewellery are designed in-house, with shirts printed locally in Stratford. The designs share messages on celebrating Country and promoting social empowerment. These close-knit cousins do more than design. Katherine is strategy-focused with big ideas, while Hollie has a strong network across the community and a background in photography and language (read Gippslandia #20 for more on Hollie’s story). And, the third part of this trio is Jakob, Katherine’s partner, who grounds their blue-sky thinking with the day-to-day operations and also manages logistics.
...walk a world together.
It’s feeling like a bit of a deadly idea.
Language plays a huge role in their purpose. For starters, ‘deadly’ is identifiable to Australian First Nations peoples (and many Indigenous groups worldwide) as “being awesome, strong, proud, doing well for yourself and your community,” says Hollie. There’s a universality to it – inviting education, inclusivity and opportunity all in one word. This relates to true allyship and unity to “walk a world together,” Katherine shares.
Deadly Wears uses language education “[as] a way [for] interacting and involving our followers in the community, and those who want to learn”. It’s an opportunity to learn about a culture in an accessible way.
Fostering empowerment and inclusion.
Deadly Wears makes every decision with a respectful approach for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. That’s why they’re all about wearing your ethics – it’s open to everyone to represent Australia’s longest-living culture by wearing their apparel with pride. They also take a holistic approach to allyship. “We do this by educating [people] through this platform and then an understanding can be created. We want to promote that true allyship is a journey for all to walk together,” says Hollie.
Running a business driven by vision.
Katherine, Hollie and Jakob started a business without knowing how to begin. But they’ve endured by navigating the speedbumps of financial management and community politics while nurturing a commitment to bring this idea to life. The list of hurdles could go on, but they’ve been reminded to “celebrate wins regardless of how big or small, particularly the small ones,” says Hollie.
They’ve had a huge amount of support within Gippsland to make this business thrive. “We are so grateful for that as we navigate what we’re trying to do,” says Hollie. A goal they set out from the get-go was to plant 50 trees as part of their Caring for Country principle. They aimed to do this within their first year using 10 per cent of Deadly Wears’ profits. They’ve proudly surpassed it by planting 120 trees!
Their next business and a future collaboration.
Deadly Wears has led the team to another new business. Meet Gippsland’s coolest subscription service: Djambies In A Box. Djambies, which means ‘friends’, is a lifestyle and educational subscription service to create social change in a fun and supportive way.
“Together we can create social change, but first we must challenge our unconscious bias towards race and First Nations peoples,” they share. It includes a series of resources and products delivered to your door, as well as showcasing a range of diverse, high-quality creations from First Nations peoples country-wide.
They’re also busy with their first collaboration, and guess what? It’s with Gippslandia! Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for its upcoming release.
Deadly Wears are also finalising a new shirt design and campaign called Mates before Dates. This January 26-related campaign aims to encourage dialogue in the community that “if we’re really a Country of mateship, would we celebrate a date that causes pain to our mates?” Deadly Wears hopes the initiative will bring honest discussions about the date and a true coming together in mateship.
It’s inspiring to see the Deadly Wears team take on their ambitious idea and pursue it with a thoughtful approach and an open-minded attitude. While they’re only in their infancy, we can see bigger things ahead for this apparel business turned social enterprise.