Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Interestingly, I don’t have a background in design or fashion, but I come from a highly energetic and adventurous family who encourage ideas, and who have all followed their own dreams and visions in one way or another.
I grew up just outside of London and like many a pommie story, I ended up in Sydney whilst travelling the world after university. 17 years later, I am still here, with the addition of a husband, 2 kids, a house, a cat and a business… Oh, and a love of Aussie words for what I previously called aubergines and courgettes.
I do think I was always going to end up doing something creative and something which involved seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. My father was an amazing commercials director and that world always excited me. I am at my happiest when I am making things, so seeking out a career in TV production, which I continue to do, has been an exciting path for me, and really Memah is just another large production.
Despite not following a traditional path into fashion, I have always loved fabrics and colours, tassels and embellishments. I have always been drawn to unusual detailing on clothes and love a hunt for something unique… Let me get lost in a market any day of the week!
What led you to launch Memah?
When I was pregnant with my son, Archie, I was busy looking for a baby bag and found them all to be mass-produced and rather dull and uninspiring.
I could see there were some innovative and practical ones out there but did I really have to carry something around every day that pre-baby I would never have considered? I knew that leggings and sloppy t-shirts were on the horizon but surely I could at least retain some style with my everyday bag?!
Anyway, I ended up with a plain black bag as a last resort and decided when I was pregnant with my second child, Myla, that I would get to work designing some alternatives.
I have never felt a stronger sense of community as I did joining the mum club. I met some wonderful friends at mother’s group to turn to for advice. Old friends had been super generous passing on hand me down pieces, and I became part of social networks bringing together other mums to buy and sell stuff, and to share tips. This just made me feel that there must be a way to continue this sense of community in what I wanted to make. I then set about trying to find groups of women who could make my bags, and who would be empowered themselves by this enterprise, using the money they made to support their own babies. The idea of mothers helping mothers.
My research took me to this beautiful village in Oaxaca, Mexico where there were communities of weavers primarily making rugs. I could see that there were three generations of women working harmoniously together on one single rug. So after crafting my designs in Sydney (born from my love of these woven rugs) I knew it was time for the three generations of women in my family, my mother, myself and my four-month-old daughter to jump on a plane to meet these artisans. And so Memah began.
Your bags are handmade on the verandahs of your artisan’s homes in Mexico. Can you tell us about this process?
When you see how much work goes into each bag, and the pride of the artisans behind it, you know it is a real labour of love. At Memah we say “woven by hand with heart.” Every bag takes over four days to make, and by staying in the homes of our makers I experienced and gained an understanding of the craft and detail that goes into each piece. I actually became part of their very welcoming village community.
Every bag is hand-dyed, hand-woven and hand-stitched using time-honoured skills passed from generation to generation which trace back to the ancient Zapotec Culture. The natural wool is dyed in small batches over open fires, before being left to dry in the sun. Sometimes the wool is dyed twice to reach the unique vibrant tones characteristic of Memah. The tapete rugs which form the bags are woven on the looms one at a time before the bag is sewn into the desired shape by another family member. The leather straps are the last part to be stitched and these are all made in a home workshop in a nearby village.
How did you source the artisans you work with?
Taking the leap and getting on the flight to Mexico was really the start, and from there it evolved, through staying in the village and knocking on doors.
The beautiful thing about Teotitlan Del Valle is that everyone is connected somehow, so once you meet one artisan, you get to meet the rest of their family, friends and neighbours, all whom can offer something unique to the process. It became extremely collaborative very fast. In fact, one of the highlights of the journey so far came when we needed to expand the choice of leather available so one of our weavers, Ello, her 8-month-old son and I flew to another town to meet artists who specialise in leather and expand our team. This was the first time Ello had been on a plane and it gives me goosebumps even now when I picture her face as we boarded.
Can you share some details of your baby bags and what they entail?
We have three different types of bags – the baby bag, the nappy clutch and a matching little girl’s bag.
All bags are handmade from 100% natural wool and are lined with a premium black wipe-clean nylon lining. Pockets, pockets and more pockets. All bags in our range have multiple pockets for ultimate organisation. I actually don’t think I could live without pockets now, and when designing the bags I thought carefully about all the pockets you could possibly need… Then added some!
Our baby bags have detachable soft leather shoulder straps, and triple dipped chunky gold metal hardware such as D hooks to enable the bags to be attached to a stroller.
Most importantly, the bags are stylish, vibrant and versatile as well as practical, so they can be used outside those early baby years. The larger baby bag makes a great weekender and the smaller nappy clutch is perfect for those much-needed kid free nights out.
One of the unsung properties of wool (thank you nature!) is that it is highly water resistant, so when they do get wet in the rain, the water just runs off… A bonus when you just need to get out of the house whatever the weather brings as that coffee simply cannot wait!
How do you like to style your bags?
I think our bags really do the styling for you. The pop of colour and the striking geometric designs derived from the Zapotec traditions complete any outfit and help your baby’s stroller stand out.
How do you incorporate colour into your own wardrobe?
It might be easier for me to answer how I add blacks, whites, and neutrals into my wardrobe! I think from the early days of me loving my fluro neon wardrobe growing up in the eighties and nineties, I have always been drawn to clothing with bold prints and bright colours. It’s fun to leave the house in vibrant colours. I think as soon as you put on some colour it can change your mood. I don’t think you need to wait for a change in season to pop on your bright colours; bring summer to your day by wearing them.