Elise Dunstan has a passion for social justice that she attributes to her parents and her upbringing, and which was further ignited by her years of working in the education sector. As winner of our Melbourne PepTalks events, Elise’s vision for a project with purpose is one that sees Indigenous elders and youth join together to create beach towels with a difference. Here, she tells us more…
What does your idea involve?
It creates development opportunities by making eco-friendly beach towels which, when used, elevate pride for our First Australians. My vision is for Indigenous youth and elders to work together to co-design the towels, so they’re a representation of Aboriginal art and spiritual totems. The towels are to be manufactured in Australia using eco-friendly materials (bamboo and/or organic cotton) and the profits raised will fund Indigenous youth development.
Last summer it struck me how uninspiring the designs of beach towels are. In the days leading up to Australia Day a friend told me he couldn’t find an Aboriginal flag towel to buy to display on our national (and controversial) day – and that seriously concerned me.
Part of our Australian identity is tied up with our love of beaches and so, Indigenous-designed beach towels lining our beaches would play to this sense of belonging. The intention is also to nudge people into realising our Indigenous heritage is seriously unique and central to that national identity. The towels would hopefully spark conversations about Indigenous history, culture, art, language, and what non-Indigenous Australians can learn from the longest living civilisation. It’s about prompting conversations and shifting mindsets around cultural heritage, today’s situation and where – as a nation – we’re headed.
What inspired you?
There are lots of people out there doing meaningful community development work and it’s creating varying waves of change. I’ve picked the brains of some clever business people and social entrepreneurs over the years, and they’ve continued to inspire and promote creative thinking around making the world better. There’ve been a few individuals who have played a part too – one shifted my thinking to focus on local development rather than international, and another highlighted the importance of blending ideas, interests and skills to have the greatest impact.
What effect do you hope the project will have?
There are multiple positive outcomes if this project takes off – the empowerment of Indigenous youth and leadership opportunities, the creation of new jobs, a greater appreciation of Indigenous culture, better consumer options to help our environment and more beautiful towels punctuating our beaches!
I don’t believe there is a project out there like this currently – there are of course sustainably made Indigenous products, great development opportunities and programs and nice beach towels on the market – but there isn’t a project which connects all of these elements. This is about empowerment and connectivity, eco-friendly consumerism, increased pride and opportunities for the next generation of First Australians – and no one can say all of these elements aren’t relevant today.
I plan to ask questions, do research and connect with relevant people, communities, enterprises, local makers and manufacturers. I’ll travel interstate to meet with some key people in these spaces, and I’m keen to find an appropriate Melbourne-based mentor who can provide some guidance. If I can get the wheels turning in the next few months then I’ll sell my first batch of towels just in time for Christmas – and our beloved Aussie summer!