In the strange times of 2020, a sense of community is what keeps us going. And while no one wants to open a business in the middle of a pandemic, an ethical gift shop that supports women and non-binary artists and makers is exactly what we need.
“We really wanted to create a beautiful independent space to support Victorian women in their creative endeavours,” says Marianne Duval, retail co-ordinator at the new QVWC Shop! “The aim of creating a bricks-and-mortar shop was twofold: one, to bring together a community of makers and offer a place to showcase their work within the city.” And two, to entice people to visit the women’s centre and learn a little bit more about the amazing things that happen here.
Located on Lonsdale Street in the CBD, the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre occupies the site of the former Queen Victoria Hospital, the first women’s hospital in Victoria. This radical facility, founded in 1896 by three pioneering women who provided training and employment for female doctors, who were at the time unwelcome in the Victorian medical establishment.
More than two decades later, the centre is staying true to the guiding principle of the Queen Vic’s founders: pro feminis a feminis, or “for women, by women”.
“The mission statement of the QVWC is to support women through creative experiences, community and the power of connection, and we see the shop as an extension of this,” says Duval. “There are also a number of not-for-profit businesses that work to support women housed in the centre, and we’re also always looking at other ways to engage the community.”
The QVWC Shop! opened on International Women’s Day 2020 – as it turned out, just weeks before the lockdown in March. There is a small silver lining, however: the pandemic has pushed along a shift already underway, which has seen the public showing more interest in the origins of the goods they buy. “We’ve had lots of great engagement with people really hungry to understand the process and the people behind the things [they purchase], which is really lovely,” says Duval.
For the many who have lost jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis, a creative side hustle has become the main source of income. “We’re offering people the opportunity to contribute to their livelihood,” says QVWC Shop! co-curator Jenny Huang.
Diversity is another central pillar of the store’s mission. “We want lots of different voices to come to the forefront and be seen, which doesn’t always happen in the mainstream retail experience,” says Duval. “We curate the space with really open eyes, and we’re looking for things that are interesting and maybe a little bit different to what you see in other stores.”
Here are five makers whose work Duval and Huang think you should check out (either on their site or in-store):
The work of Jade Lees-Pavey, a prolific printmaker and ceramicist who lives on the Mornington Peninsula, is part of a long tradition that combines craft and activism. Her “smash the patriarchy”, “fuck being nice” and “be the change” ceramic mugs are definitely a customer favourite, says Duval. “She’s inciting through craft and craft practices these little acts of rebellion and feminism.”
Bopo Women is a local beauty brand developed by Bronwyn Stange. Bopo Women’s vegan, cruelty-free and Australian-made products, including body oils, perfumes and bath soaks, feature beautiful packaging that subverts the dominant beauty industry discourse. “The whole ethos of her brand is to change the negative messaging of the beauty industry – she’s very much focused on body positivity,” says Duval. “Rather than [selling] body products that tell us that we need to fix all our imperfections, she’s very focused on rituals of self-care.”
Dinzi Amobi is the founder and creative director of kidswear and homewares label ULO Australia. Ulo means “home” in the native language of the Igbo people in Nigeria, where Amobi was born. Amobi designed her first collection – a series of colourful table linens – when she was on maternity leave following the birth of her twin daughters, and she’s since launched ULO Kids and ULO Woman ranges. “It’s all locally made,” says Duval. “She sources wax fabrics from Africa and has these amazing, vibrant designs on such comfortable, easy-to-wear pieces. We really love her work.”
Shuh Lee is a Malaysian-born multi-disciplinary artist who works across textiles and ceramics. Lee is known for her quirky and colourful imagery and patterns, which adorn earrings, tote bags, ceramic planters and T-shirts. A “darling of the Melbourne design-market scene”, Lee mixes arts and crafts to transform objects into “something usable, wearable and fun”, says Huang.
The Daily Rabbit
Wodonga-based designer Lyn Wallis creates distinctive 3D-printed vases in vibrant colours and geometric shapes under the brand name The Daily Rabbit. Her vases are both eye-catching and environmentally friendly, made from PLA derived from corn starch. “They look like glass, but they’re made out of plant-based plastic,” says Duval. “They’re really lightweight and functional.”
Wallis is a self-taught 3D-printing evangelist who is keen to share both her products and her knowledge. “She drove three hours to bring us her work,” says Duval. “Now she has nine different machines and wants to run workshops to teach other people about 3D printing.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Queen Victoria Women’s Centre.