Alisha Geary’s new activewear label, Faebella, is making international headlines after being crowned a winner of the inaugural Pitch@Palace Australia start-up businesses competition, founded by The Duke of York, HRH Prince Andrew.
Alisha is now one of three national finalists who will be flown to London in December to represent Australia at the global final of Pitch@Palace, where they will compete against some of the world’s most innovative start-ups.
“There are so many people around the world who don’t know what our culture is or who Aboriginals are."
Making history by being the first-ever Indigenous woman to win, the Gurang Gurang/Wuthathi woman believes this is an opportunity to give the world a taste of Indigenous Australia.
“It was very unexpected, but I’m very excited about winning as it will give my business global exposure and help others learn more about our culture - plus it will be my first trip overseas!”
Growing up between Cairns and the Torres Strait Islands, becoming creating a successful apparel business was a mere for dream Alisha, until she received a business scholarship at Bond University.
“In 2013 I received the Bond University Indigenous Community Excellence Scholarship to study Business/Laws. I quickly realised law wasn’t for me and wanted to be able to explore my creativity and culture – which I did through business studies.”
Initially wanting to bring Indigenous culture to life through dresses, Alisha was always interested in exploring the fashion world. However, it wasn't her obsession with sport, but rather a clear gap in the market that made her move over to activewear.
"I'm not a fitness fanatic... I'm a businesswoman - I just saw a boom in the industry and products that were all the same so I decided to target what's trending and add Indigenous designs."
Putting Aboriginal Australia on a global platform
With ties to the Wuthuthi people from Shelbourne Bay and Boig and Badu in the Torres Strait Islands on her mother’s side, and Gurang mob and Beaudessert region on her father’s; culture has always played a crucial part in Alisha’s life. The 22-year-old says that a light needs to be shone on Indigenous Australians around the globe, which she hopes to achieve with Faebella.
“There are so many people around the world who don’t know what our culture is or who Aboriginals are. There’s very little knowledge out there about us, and I think that’s a shame for the oldest surviving culture in the world.”
Tracing the evolution of Indigenous art from traditional Western Desert Movement to current colourful contemporary styles, was the inspiration behind Alisha’s design. For two years she volunteered at the Corrigan Walk Art tour, Australia’s largest, private modern Indigenous art collection on public display throughout the Bond University campus.
“People need to see that change from traditional to contemporary Aboriginal artwork, so my designs aim to showcase that modern transition of culture on art.”
Faebella is a Latin word for ‘beautiful story’. Despite having strong ties to Indigenous heritage, the name caused a bit of controversy amongst community members, but Alisha says what it represents is most important.
“People were surprised I didn’t pick an Aboriginal language, but there are so many different words and meanings that I didn’t want to confuse people. As I am both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, to pick one language would isolate the other. I picked a Latin word as it is universal and has derivatives all over the globe.”
Tracing the evolution of Indigenous art
Faebella’s mission is to share the rich culture and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by presenting their art on apparel.
Using social media to track down Indigenous designers across the country, Alisha put a call out for people to send through prints, ideas and stories from their heritage. From that, she selected three designs she liked best to represent her brand and a shift in contemporary Aboriginal culture.
With each purchase, the customer receives not only their product, but a detailed version of the story behind the artwork, and the artist who designed it in order to preserve culture and knowledge of Indigenous stories.
Jingalu's Story - Intertwined
Jingalu Melissa Craig traces her heritage to the Gumbayngirr and Yaegl Tribes of New South Wales. She regularly exhibits her artwork here and abroad, including Washington DC, Santa Fe, San Fransisco and Colarado.
This painting represents all the interwoven cultures in Australia and how we coexist in harmony together. Alisha says she was drawn to the design as she thought it would be a good message for the brand.
“It’s about all the different cultures across Australia intermingling and creating something beautiful.”
Jingalu's Story – Serpent Story
The story talks about how the Clarence River was made (which could be a story of how any river was made); a big serpent was swimming in the ocean and it was hungry, so it came onto the land to look for some tucker and every step it took made a little estuary. The serpent soon became stuck and died. This is how the big river came to be.
Alisha says she wanted to select a design that explains a story about why things are the way they are.
“I like to pick stories that show how Aboriginal artwork is invaluable, in that they explain Aboriginal history, why things are made. If people know more about our artwork they will then value it more and also value our culture.”
Wendy's story – Messanger Feathers
Yuwaalaraay designer, Wendy Rix’s design is a story shared with her from her ancestors.
"My grandmother and my mother would always say that when they saw a feather lying on the ground, it meant someone was near you from the spirit world, and they were just checking on you. I always make sure I say hello, and most of the time I can tell who it is.
Messengers have the bright blue of the sky, the red of the dirt, the black of the dust, the yellow of the sun, and the black and white of the Goodooga Magpies, a proud history of football."
Paving the way for family
Alisha is the eldest sibling of six, and is becoming somewhat of a role model in the Geary household.
Being the first one in her family to ever attend and graduate from University, and also the first one to venture overseas, Alisha proves that from little ideas, big things can grow.
“My work has really opened doors for the rest of the family. Now mum and her partner have seen the opportunities from developing an idea and have started their own business, with my help.”
Preserving culture, stories and artwork
With no funding and little time, running a business can be challenging to say the least, but now that Alisha has graduated from university, she is starting to make big plans for the future.
“I’ve had to bootstrap everything on my own - being a student and trying to cover all my own costs has been difficult, but now my focus will be on marketing and taking the brand to an international scale,” she said.
“In five years I hope to develop into more than just an online shop. I want to have brick and motar stores across Australia, so people from my home can have a hub for culture, education, fashion, fitness and preserving stories,” she said.
“I hope to put my business on the global map very quickly, it will be cool and exciting to showcase the brand with shops around the world – I want to give everyone a taste of Indigenous culture.”
The Pitch@Palace competition will take place on 6 December at St James' Palace in London. The entire event will be live-streamed here, where people from across the world will be able to tune in and stay up to date with the various business ideas presented.Did you know? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business excellence and leadership will be celebrated throughout October during the second annual Indigenous Business Month. Indigenous Business Month runs from October 1 to October 31.