Mainie – Celebrating Indigenous women artists through ethical and sustainable fashion

When Oprah Winfrey came to Australia in December 2010 for a show at the Sydney Opera House and stepped out on stage in a beautiful Camilla kaftan – the seeds of a new business were formed. At that moment, Charmaine Saunders, a Gunggari woman from South West Queensland, knew that she wanted to see Indigenous designs featured in the same way. 

Immediately, she began writing a business plan for Mainie. Based on the Camilla model, her objective was to feature Indigenous art designs from Central Australia on luxury fashions. Charmaine began the plan in 2010 and had completely mapped it out by 2012. Mainie the label was launched within five years of Oprah’s appearance.  

“I had done all the feasibility studies, worked out a supply chain… but I had no background in fashion, so I wasn’t sure where to start!” Charmaine revealed. “I had questions about where I could source materials that were a part of ethical and sustainable supply chains. 

“We focused a lot of time making sure that our governance was correct, and all of our business ethics were correct, and that paid off for us when we launched 2015.” 

Charmaine Saunders and her husband, Denis Keeffe, have been running Mainie since then – successfully creating a fashion brand that melds authentic Aboriginal art with high end fashion. From the very start Mainie has been admired by women who appreciate the brand for its designs, quality, authenticity, and their empowerment of Indigenous artists. 

Mainie is built on and around inclusiveness, being ethically and socially responsible, whilst honouring the women Indigenous artists that they showcase. 

“Because we’d done everything right from the start, when we launched, the range of Indigenous fashion products was immediately picked up by some major retailers in the market.” 

Charmaine Saunders and Denis

Indigenous artists are honoured in every part of the process 

Mainie is passionate about the empowerment of Aboriginal women and is committed to embracing sustainable fashion and ethical business practices. The business aims to give back to the Aboriginal artists who create the original designs and to elevate and empower them, their families, and their communities. 

“We want to involve the artist as much as we can in what we do with the design,” Charmaine comments. “Anything that we do is done with the approval of the artist, so every time we introduce a new design, the artist will see it first.” 

Warlpiri Aboriginal women artists from Central Australia, and other Aboriginal designers from North Queensland, provide the design for each piece in Mainie’s collection. Every authentic piece of Aboriginal art tells an ancient Dreamtime story from the world’s oldest living culture.  

The Indigenous art designs in Mainie’s collection are all acquired from Aboriginal-owned art centres with secure art licenses in place, ensuring that the Indigenous artists retain the copyright to their artwork and are paid royalties from sales.  

Charmaine is proud of the impact that the brand has had: “It has been amazing to see Mainie being worn by so many women from all around the world. Through luxury fashion we are connecting our ancient 60,000-year-old culture to people from the USA, or Germany or France, or even the UK just as much as Australians in the market here.” 

Mainie’s latest collection (2021-2022) scores high fashion marks with exquisite handmade silk scarves, silk kaftan tops, and wool scarves that beg to be worn in multiple styles on a variety of occasions.  

Mainie has also recently launched a new collection of vegan-friendly modal scarves featuring six traditional Dreamtime designs by acclaimed Warlpiri Aboriginal artists from Central Australia and Aboriginal artists from North Queensland.

Mainie is represented in the USA by Los Angeles-based Joken Style fashion showroom and sales agency. Mainie fits well with Joken Style’s portfolio as they specialise in socially responsible brands. 

Mainie items on display

Dubai and the future  

Mainie has been selected as the exclusive supplier of Indigenous fashion in the Australian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is now scheduled to run from October 2021 to 31 March 2022. 

Being invited to be a part of the Australian Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 is a major opportunity for Mainie to expand into the northern hemisphere and create permanent market in international luxury apparel.  

“Like all fashion and apparel brands, we need to capitalise on the opportunities we have. Establishing a permanent markets in Dubai, and also across the northern hemisphere has been a key goal for us” explained Charmaine. 

First Australians Capital is working with Mainie by providing a business term loan to support its upcoming exhibition in Dubai.  We are so pleased to support their work and wish them all the very best in this next phase of their development! 

Link to website: Mainie Australia