Wiradjuri woman Jarin Baigent had spent 13 years in the police force when she decided it was time to go.
She’d worked hard to be a “safe person” inside the system, but in 2019 she came to the realisation that her skills could be better used in business.
“When I felt that maybe I wasn’t having the impact that I thought I would in that [law enforcement] career, I felt that I would have an impact in the business space. I knew that I would be able to have self-determination in my business,” Baigent told Yahoo Finance.
“But also, deep down I’m a creative. I really wanted to connect to that creative in me.”
Today, she’s spearheading a major partnership between the Trading Blak collective of Aboriginal businesses and Facebook Shop.
The aim: to take blak, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, businesses to 17 million Australians.
Trading Blak was founded in 2020 by a collective of 11 blak owned businesses and works to support burgeoning small businesses and educate shoppers around buying Indigenous goods and services.
While it has a shop in Sydney’s Warringah Mall, the Facebook Shop partnership means it’s now open for business across the entire country.
For Baigent, it’s the culmination of years of work.
Tackling a major problem: 80% of ‘First Nations’ souvenirs are fake
Even before she left her career in the police, Baigent was working on her yoga and activewear brand Jarin Street, so she knows first-hand the barriers Indigenous entrepreneurs face in Australia.
She launched Jarin Street in part to challenge a perception that Aboriginal people could produce the art, but couldn’t run the business side.
But Baigent is also fueled by a frustration with Australia’s huge counterfeit Indigenous art problem.
In 2019, the Federal Court ordered Birubi Art to pay $2.3 million after it was found to have falsely claimed that products sold had been hand painted by First Nations people. It had sold some 50,000 boomerangs, bullroarers, message stones and didgeridoos between 2015 and 2017.
And a 2018 parliamentary inquiry into the broader problem found that 80 per cent of souvenirs purportedly representing and celebrating First Nations cultures were imitation products and cheap imports.
It’s a problem that has left First Nations artists feeling “completely disrespected and cheated”, the inquiry said.
It’s also a worrying barrier to First Nations artists hoping to enter the market and make a living by sharing their culture.
“In community, we definitely feel the negative impact. Particularly artists, we definitely feel the negative impact of these types of business models,” Baigent said.
“There’s the piece around the art, and then there’s the piece around the transparency of Aboriginal-appearing businesses that trade in culture as well.”
But Baigent is confident that the answer itself is simple.
Shoppers are keen to support genuine businesses, so it comes down to encouraging honest conversation and shouting about blak business.
Her advice for allies wondering whether a product is authentic is straightforward: just ask. Or, head to Trading Blak to find out more.
Opportunities abound, but support needed
Baigent said First Nations’ businesses access to markets has been “so limited” up until recently, so it’s critical that there’s more support for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
That’s why she’s so excited about the partnership.
In her ideal world, Australians would be relaxing with a candle by blak business Nulla Breeze, they’d be storing Indigiearth loose leaf tea in their pantries and snacking on maple roasted almonds by The Unexpected Guest.
She knows the products are great, it’s the awareness that is the challenge.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always had to work harder to get a foot in the door in every space, not just in the business space but in any sector anywhere,” Baigent said.
Baigent employs 11 First Nations staff and has around 50 different Indigenous suppliers.
“The ripple effect of [buying First Nations products] is that I’m able to pass on my strengths and take people with me. The impact of... supporting those businesses has a ripple effect on families, on communities - you’re empowering people to teach that to their children.”
Looking ahead, Baigent hopes to bring as many businesses as possible onto the Trading Blak and Facebook Shop platform.
And she’s galvanised by “the strength of Aboriginal people”.
“The ideas that I see coming out of my children and my staff members and my nieces and my nephews - it's so exciting.
“If we can provide those pathways, the future is very bright. These young people are extraordinary. Our community is extraordinary. The rest of the world just needs to come with us and see that.”
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