A collaboration built to succeed, remote textile production company, Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida, Arnhem Land has joined forces with lifestyle brand, Kip&Co to release a range of contemporary Indigenous bedding and homewares.

Dropping earlier this month, the collection had an incredible reaction—almost completely selling out overnight.

Bábbarra Women’s Centre’s local manager, Jessica Phillips, said the reaction was overwhelming for the women.

“We were on a high last week after the launch, we had waited for a long time to have the products released. We were keen to show everyone, and artists got to show their families what they’d been working on,” she said.

“We thought we would have some left! It was overnight sold out on our website. It took me a few days to recoup.

“We have a really good support network behind Bábbarra and those who have missed out on products were so supportive. It has been overwhelming, we’ve had messages through our website, emails. I’m still getting back to everyone! It’s been so crazy!”

The collection was an entirely female-led project with both Bábbarra Women’s Centre and Kip&Co proudly founded and operated by women.

Janet Marawarr’s Artwork, ‘Kunkurra’, Linen Quilt Cover. Photo by Caitlin Mills, supplied by Kip&Co.

The collaboration grew from Bábbarra artists wanting to expand their products.

“Two years ago … we had a women governance group that meets every quarter. In one of those meetings artists asked about broadening the product line and they wanted to see where they could get designs on products we haven’t had here—so bed linen and toilet bags,” said Phillips.

“From there we put together a proposal and our previous manager, she found Kip&Co.”

A small centre, Bábbarra weren’t able to produce the product on their own and were attracted to the Kip&Co brand.

“The products were very different and just knowing the background of their way of working. They’re environmentally sustainable in their products,” said Phillips.

Kip&Co co-founder Alex McCabe said working with Indigenous artists had been something the brand really wanted to do.

“When Bábbarra Women’s Centre contacted us two years ago, we were hopeful that … one email might be the start of something special. When we saw the artists’ work, we were excited,” she said.

“Being part of a female-led collaboration has been incredibly rewarding. We travelled up to the Northern Territory with our children last summer to spend time in the community.

“It was a chance to meet these amazing artists in person, and to deepen our understanding of the stories behind the artwork.”

“We were moved by the history of the arts centre, founded as a safe haven for women, and by the spirit of the artists—their creativity and determination. We believe this spirit has been captured in this beautifully designed range.”

This is the first time Kip&Co has worked with Indigenous artists. Copyright Agency, Australia’s national copyright licensing organisation, were central to establishing a framework to protect the integrity of the designs and the intellectual property rights of the featured artists.

Bábbarra will receive 50 per cent of the profits from the range.

“I feel so good. When I see it, I am feeling really kamak [good]. Every artist is feeling so proud to see their designs used in this project, a mix of new designs and old,” said Kuninjku artist, Deborah Wurrkidj.

“I’m proud for my Mum’s design, my designs and also my sister Jennifer, too, in this project.”

Raylene Bonson, another artist featured in the collection, said having their designs on bed linen had been the women’s idea from the start.

“All the Bábbarra ladies, we sat down and had the idea for our designs on sheets and for beds a long time ago. We talked about it together in a big group, all the daluk [women],” she said.

“I feel good Australia will see my design and know my story. The Bábbarra ladies are so strong. We have the strongest ladies at the women’s centre. We always work together, and feel proud of our work here.”

‘Marebu’ Linen Quilt Cover by Deborah Wurrkidj. Photo via Babarra Women’s Centre website.

Although their first time delving into bedding design, Phillips noted it may not be the last.

“For us, it’s one step at a time. In the future we’d like to go more into bedding, we have over 60 designs so a few of the artists want to extend their designs to bedding,” said Phillips.

“One of the setbacks here is staffing. Especially during COVID time, we’re struggling with funding, I’ve been the only one manning the office. When we’re fully operational, we’ll probably take bigger steps.”

Bábbarra Women’s Centre began as a women’s refuge in the 1980s as part of Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation. Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation is a progressive Aboriginal corporation which represents and serves Aboriginal people of Maningrida and 32 outstations surrounding Maningrida in West Arnhem land.

Bábbarra Women’s Centre has grown to operate as a women-centred enterprise that supports healthy and sustainable livelihoods.

“We’ve grown so much in 20 years. We started as a refuge centre doing small activities and now we’re doing screen-printing and textiles. Projects and collaborations like these are very important for the women, the artists, with additional income and the support it brings to our centre,” said Phillips.

“It’s just the beginning for us I think!”

View the collection at: https://babbarra.com.

By Rachael Knowles