WINYA, meaning “sit now” in Wiradjuri dialect, is disrupting traditional approaches to training in the furniture industry.
With experience in the furniture trade, Greg Welsh joined forces with labour-hire expert Debbie Barwick and created WINYA, a ‘profit-for-purpose’ business supporting Indigenous training and employment growth.
As a Kamilaroi woman - a nation covering a vast area of NSW and southern Qld - Debbie wanted to start a business that would help upskill young Indigenous people, especially those living in remote Australia where Indigenous unemployment sits at nearly 30 per cent.
“WINYA is not so much about being a successful business. We want to have an eco-impact for Aboriginal people, and not just in cities, but throughout Australia and in regional and remote areas as well,” Debbie says.
Their plan to place young trainees into established companies took off, and they now fill both large and small furniture contracts.
Greg says the idea went from trying to get a few people employed in a small factory in Western Sydney, to national contracts with big clients.
“WINYA supplies large scale fit out and furniture to the ATO, Defence and to builders like Laing O'Rourke,” he says.
“There are very few companies that can actually do that and, from a small Indigenous company, that's punching well above our weight.”
Since its start in 2015, WINYA’s strong business growth allowed all trainees to be paid.
Greg says, “WINYA actually makes a profit, so we can pay for the recruitment and mentoring of these kids - that’s a pretty rare outcome in any business, let alone an Indigenous business."
Sales consultant, Liam Price, says he is proud to work at WINYA.
“I’m from a remote Aboriginal community, west of Alice Springs called Yuendumu. I came to Sydney to study fashion at UTS, and I love what the company is all about,” Liam said.
“It’s great to work for an Indigenous business that’s on the same level as everyone else, and I can show other Aboriginal people that we can do it as well.”
WINYA's unique business model has also drawn praise from industry bodies, recently earning the company a Building Industry Sustainability Award for Best Product, and the Banksia Award for Sustainability and Indigenous Leadership.
While these achievements mean a lot for Greg and Debbie, working with the community still remains their top priority.
As well as commissioning designs from Indigenous artists from all over Australia, Greg says WINYA has been involved in some prison initiatives too.
“In the Northern Territory, we have a program in place where prisoners are doing training in furniture making. They now make the desks that we supply to Department of Defence across the northern end of Australia,” he said.
For a business that is so focused on the outcomes of its staff, Greg and Debbie’s hard work is paying off in dollar terms too.
"We’ve gone from nothing to five to six million in sales in our second year,” Debbie said.
While Debbie says starting the business hasn’t been without its challenges, their success creating opportunities for Indigenous Australians makes the hard work worthwhile.
“We’ve had ups and downs, but education along the way is probably why it’s been successful. We’re not forcing it on people, but bringing people on a journey to show them why indigenous success is so important.”
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