Coming from Tasmania myself, a place rich in convict history at every turn, I was immediately intrigued by this label when I first came across it. The name caught my attention, and the beautiful bags held it! Every Convict handbag is handmade in Australia from the finest local and international cowhides and leathers.
Convict creators Georgina and Karen are passionate about celebrating the raw beauty of Australia in their designs, creating a look that is rustic while still being on trend. I tracked down these Perth based ladies to get the inside scoop on their beautiful handbags and hear some amazing stories about real life convicts!
What was the inspiration behind naming your label Convict?
We wanted a name instantly recognised as Australian. We brainstormed and Convict flew out of the ether – we instantly knew it was The One! We began researching, mostly with the Female Convicts Research Centre, and were at once struck by the incredible tales of their lives. Strong, determined, wayward, brilliant and devastating. We love bringing these stories to life and sharing them with a broader audience. Our customers are now sending us their own Convict stories and we have named four of our bags after them, with many more to come.
You both left established careers behind to begin your label, which I imagine was a scary but incredibly exciting time. How have your lives changed for better or worse since then?
Georgina: I was a full time mum who did a few design projects on the side, so when we hatched Convict I was stoked. I feel nourished and challenged and I never take this for granted because it’s hard for women to find their way back to work in a meaningful way after having children. I have always wanted to develop my own thriving business so it’s a dream come true really. That said, I have little time to catch up with friends, I could spend more quality time with my family and I do less exercise than I’d like. It’s a tricky balance to find and I’m still working on that bit.
Karen: A redundancy from Advertising land was the impetus for me to take the plunge. Maintaining your confidence to turn an idea into a reality is both exciting and scary! What if it’s rubbish? And having skills to develop a brand is one thing but running a business is another. I’ve have learnt so much over the last 12 months or so, and know I will continue to do so. Luckily, there are many talented people who are willing to share their knowledge with you. I love the freedom, the sense of achievement and the challenges, and like George, I do way less exercise than I ever imagined!
Your brands ethos is very much centered on the beauty of Australia and your commitment to locally sourced and produced goods. Has it been a challenge keeping everything local?
More difficult than we could have imagined. When we started the business it was disappointing to discover that most Australian tanneries closed in the 90’s so we have had to source leathers from Italy, New Zealand and beyond. The leathers we use are stunning but it’s really sad the industry has died in Australia.
Finding experienced leather craftspeople has also been difficult and it remains one of our biggest challenges. That said, the artisans we work with are really passionate about their craft and share a similar philosophy to us. We are confident that our artisan network will grow as the business grows. We have not followed the path of least resistance by going off-shore and that gives Convict bags even more meaning.
Your latest campaign was shot in remote Western Australia by renowned Aussie photographer Paul Westlake. That must have been an incredible experience! Can you talk me through some of the highlights of the shoot?
Our crew of 12 had never been to the Northern parts of the Goldfields and Leonora, so it was an adventure for all of us. The raw beauty of Lake Ballard, the flatness, colours and the incredible Gormley sculptures had a truly spiritual feeling. Gwalia Ghost town and its beautifully reconstructed tiny miners homes gave a moving glimpse into the way they lived and the harshness of the environment they faced. The distances between our locations found us travelling many kilometers in the dark, with kangaroos and cattle on the road. But we’d get back to our base in Leonora and were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the townsfolk at the local. We had the chance to hold gorgeous,abandoned joeys in the pub! We made a 250+ km dash back to the airport in Kalgoorlie, and the flight had closed! Our producer Kate did an amazing job talking our way onto the flight. It all added to the excitement! And then there are the shots…. just beautiful!
Your handbags are all named after real convicts, with their stories tucked inside the bags. I love this idea! Can you tell me the story of the convict who inspired my favourite piece, the Mary Clutch?
Oh, Mary was quite a gal, an adventurous and brave woman! In 1786 at age 21, Mary was found guilty of stealing a cloak and was sentenced to death. Luckily for Mary, her sentence was later changed to seven years transportation. On the way to Australia, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter whom she named Charlotte, after the ship they sailed on. On board was another convict named William Bryant. Mary and William were married on 10 February 1788, just after arrival in the colony. They later had a son together, Emmanuel.
In just a few months, the food the First Fleet had brought with it had run out or was rotten. The convicts were almost starving and many people died. Desperate and hungry, Mary, William, and several other men decided that they would try to escape from the settlement of Port Jackson. They left at night on 28 March 1791, stealing the Governor’s tiny boat for their use. They headed for Timor, north of Australia, where many Dutch colonial settlements were. Amazingly, all of the escapees (including Mary’s two small children) survived the long journey to Coupang on Timor Island, arriving there on June 5. Their journey was over 5000 kilometres and would have been incredibly difficult and dangerous.
Upon arrival in Coupang, the escapees told the Dutch Governor they were survivors from a shipwreck. At first their story was believed, but soon the Dutch authorities learned who they really were. All were locked up and sent to Batavia (current day Jakarta), where Emmanuel and William died.
After arriving back in England in June 1792, Mary was sent to Newgate Prison to await trial for her crimes. Mary’s story became well known and was covered in the press. She became a celebrity and was officially pardoned and discharged in May 1793. She then returned to her family in Cornwall.
What is next for Convict?
Growing our artisan network is very important over the next couple of years to ensure a robust supply chain. We have plans for a small apparel range and are taking our first steps with exporting. We are even considering a Convict perfume!