You know you are passionate about your craft when you happily drive 1200kms to take your goods to market. That is exactly what bag designer Claire Chapman of Small World Dreams does at least twice a year. Based in Mackay in northern Queensland, her love of making was forged watching her grandmother make wrist bags from scraps of fabric in Zimbabwe. The skills she learned in her formative years have stuck with her, and more recently have become a medicine of sorts – providing a cathartic release and invaluable positive head space when times have been tough.
Drawing on her upbringing where the most was made of limited resources, Claire places a high importance on incorporating sustainable design principals throughout her bag range. She supports local textile artists who use natural and organic fabrics and solvent free inks. She adds reclaimed hardware to her designs when available, and manufactures to order from her own home studio space. In addition to selling beautifully crafted clutches, cross body purses and hand bags, she also occasionally bundles up and sells her leather offcuts to other makers – her grandmother’s legacy of minimising waste still runs true.
What inspired you to start a bag design business? My grandmother made bags out of scrap when I was a little girl. She was very creative and very thrifty. She was the seed for my idea. My children where nearly finished school and I got laid off from my work and suffered from a bout of depression. I started sewing bags to clear my head and before I knew it, I was attending markets, started an Etsy shop, then a website and people actually liked what I was doing.
What influences your designs? Oh, wow, my African heritage, my love for earthy, organic fabrics and nature. My designs are simple, practical and of course well made, but what influences my designs is the way we live our lives. We recycle, grow our own veggies, and try to reduce our consumer footprint. My teenage girls too – they provide a sound board for my designs and tell me what is trending, so I can keep my designs current.
I love being able to create a bag with reclaimed hardware, organic, earth friendly fabrics. Other media artists who I have collaborated are also inspiring. Julie from Little Loom is an absolute macrame genius. Together we created a bag with a macrame tassel to auction off for Beyond Blue, another charity we are both passionate about.
You incorporate many organic fabrics from various Australian textile designers that I love. Why is it important to you to use their textiles? Because it is so important to support and buy locally. I try to buy all my supplies in Australia and especially my feature fabric which is all made by small businesses run by women. We have so much talent here in Australia and they share my values, providing sustainably and eco friendly fabrics painted with solvent free inks.
What are the biggest challenges you face running a design business in Australia? The biggest challenge is operating it from a small town in North Queensland, where the only fabric store is Spotlight. I crave the creativity that a big city has to offer. To hop in a car to visit a supplier is something I envy. Sometimes ordering leather online is a nightmare – what you see online is not necessarily what you get in real life. Attending markets, is also logistically quite hard. I attend one or two markets in Brisbane every year and it is a case of packing up a car and driving 1200km.
What can we expect to see in the Small World Dreams shop over the next 12 months? Well, firstly my website re-launch by early June which I am very excited about. I have had professionally styled photos taken and a professional re-design of the website. This will be done just in time for Brisbane Finders Keepers market, which I am attending in July.
I am very passionate about wildlife conservation, so 5% of all website sales is going to a Wildlife charity back in my home country, Zimbabwe. Elephant and rhino conservation is very important to me.
I also want to work with some batik artists, back home in Zimbabwe to incorporate the wonderful Sadza batik art they produce there and to provide work for woman there.
If you love what you see, head on over to Claire’s online store to view her great range of ethical fashion bags and support her work.