Balarinji's MD Ros Moriarty writes for Inside Small Business
When your business idea is left field, you may find yourself having to create a new category, trailblazing into a space that has never existed before. Opening up a new category has huge market potential, but it can also be high risk.
When we started Balarinji in 1983, Indigenous design was rarely showcased or celebrated. It meant the first few years in business were tough. It literally took painting a Qantas jumbo jet with Aboriginal artwork for people to notice our work and see the potential for Indigenous design.
Three decades on there’s a lot we’ve learned about what it takes to create your own category and thrive.
Capitalise on your uniqueness
Define your unique area of expertise well. Being different allows you to stand out and get the attention of the right clients. However, be clear about your innovative proposition so clients and partners can see the vision and have confidence.
When we approached the CEO of Qantas, James Strong, with the idea of covering an aircraft in Aboriginal art in the early 90s, it had never been done before, and I don’t think ever even thought of. At the time, the “I Still Call Australia Home” campaign was widely popular, and when Wunala Dreaming was launched in 1994 it created a groundswell of national pride. It was so popular it flew for 17 years even though Qantas had only planned a three-month promotion.
Believe in your idea
When you are creating a new category it will likely take some time to gain traction. During these difficult times it will be your belief in your business idea and passion that will enable you to keep going.
It took us several years to build commercial sustainability and it was challenging. However, throughout this time we stayed committed to our guiding passion of using design to build a bridge of influence for other Australian organisations to see Indigenous design as part of the nation’s identity.
Explore different avenues
While we’ve always stayed true to what Balarinji is at its core, an Indigenous design studio that authentically collaborates with Aboriginal people, culture, art, stories, and identity, we’ve explored many ways to do that. We created fashion, textiles and homewares, before focusing our practice on working with architects, designers, and urban planners to activate the Indigenous voice for major national infrastructure projects.
Be the best
If you find success in your category, you’ll likely attract competitors so maintain your leadership position by setting the standard for best practice.
Being Aboriginal-owned and Australia’s first Indigenous design agency, we’ve established a best practice approach for engaging and collaborating with Aboriginal custodians, artists, and storytellers in genuine co-design.
Ultimately, creating your own category in business isn’t an easy undertaking, there is risk, and until it’s established you will frequently question whether you can make it work. But if you get it right and you build a lasting and sustainable business, you will have the satisfaction of trailblazing something new and worthwhile that changes your life, as well as the lives of your employees, partners, and stakeholders.