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Etiko's history with social enterprises

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Long before Etiko was created or even conceptualised, our founder Niko helped communities create social enterprises, although he wasn’t familiar with the term back then (we’re talking about the late 1980’s). Instead, Niko was simply doing his best to help people make the changes they needed find purpose, create income for themselves and address local issues. Here’s where it all began, when Niko realised businesses could and should be established to help those who most needed it.

Identifying the problem and the solution.
My young family and I moved to the Northern Territory back in the late 1980s. I was working as an adult educator in Yuendumu, a remote indigenous community, running numeracy and literacy programs. But I was quickly told by locals that people did not see the point in attending training when jobs didn’t exist locally. So, together we set about learning how to create small businesses and enterprises to benefit the local community.

The starting point.
The first social enterprise we created was a community laundromat. At the time, most people didn’t have access to washing machines and relied on hand washing. A coin laundry run by the community would provide a valuable service and also employ locals. With some funding from government departments, we established the laundromat and three local ladies learned how to run it, using some basic literacy, numeracy and bookkeeping skills. The laundromat didn’t last forever, because eventually more people owned washing machines at home, and the need for the business didn’t exist. But this was just the start.

Gaining traction.
After witnessing the benefits of our community laundromat, I went on to work with community members to create more enterprises. There was a local abattoir that avoided the need to export locally raised cattle to Adelaide for slaughter. And a digital communications service that provided reliable telephone and internet connections for remote communities. The latter benefited everyone from secondary school students needing to connect with teachers for remote-learning, prisoners wanting to communicate with their families, and artists looking to sell their work to international galleries. But the business I spent the most time with was Yurrampi Crafts, a wholly community owned fashion-based business

Niko with the Yurrampi Crafts team(Niko with the Yurrampi Crafts team)
At the time, purchasing a T-shirt designed and made by an Indigenous artist was no small feat. In fact, it was hard to find any fashion business run by aboriginal artists. So, we enlisted the help of an iconic 80’s brand, Mambo, who sent one of their screen printers to our community. We started with a very simplistic T-shirt business but quickly scaled things up once we learned how to print fabric rolls. From there, we secured funds to create an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander screen printing centre and sold clothing to retailers like Oxfam.

Back to Victoria.
Eventually, it was time to return to Victoria and my then-career as a teacher. But as we know, those experiences and lessons would stay with me, and I eventually left teaching to create Etiko.

Since its inception, Etiko has always existed to benefit the people who make our clothes. That’s why we are Fairtrade, support sustainable farming practices by only using organic textiles and sustainably farmed rubber, and why our business is a recognised social enterprise. And yes, a business can be run for profit and still be a social enterprise. A social enterprise that depends on external funding may be beneficial to a point, but there’s limited longevity in such a business model. Remove the funding, and the community is left vulnerable. Upskill, empower and drive profits for expansion, and then the community is set up for future success.

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