More than three years ago Maxine Smith was watching a group of women from Laos make silk scarves. The idea struck her that she could take them back to Australia - along with other wares from her travels - and sell them to people who treasured handmade and crafted textiles and decorative objects for their home. Maxine spends considerable time sourcing each piece for her online store Barefoot Gypsy, and travels around the globe hunting out pieces she would want in her own place, always with an eye towards ethical pieces.
What five words best describe you? Passionate, enthusiastic, focused.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I have always loved travelling and collecting beautiful pieces along the way. In 2009 I was recently separated from my then husband and business partner. Together we had created a building business, which gave me a keen insight into the world of business and architectural design. Now a single mother with five children, I took a trip to Laos. In hindsight, it really was a trip of reflection, a time to think about the future. I was in a community in Laos admiring the silk scarves the women were making which gave them an income for their family when I had that “light bulb” moment and thought what if I could bring in the scarves and sell them to small boutiques and home and gift stores. I haven’t looked back, each day the collection broadening in scope and destinations I source from.
What's the best lesson you've learnt along the way? That you can't do it all yourself.
What's your proudest career achievement? Our newly launched catalogue and the fantastic response it has received from my customers and others in the industry. It is really gratifying when you work so hard on something and people respond well to it.
What's been your best decision? To not waiver in my decision to keep the collection organic and to care where products are sourced. While I often work with vintage pieces, one of my new collections is made in India. I didn't want my products made by women in appalling working conditions or the use of child labour, so I went there unannounced to see who was making the products and the working conditions. Needless to say I was happy with the working environment. I do believe you always need to care how and where things are made.
Who inspires you? A lot of things inspire me but it is the artisans who keep their craft and traditions alive that keep me constantly motivated to continue finding new pieces. I love that I can be part of the process of sharing their craft and traditions with different audiences.
What are you passionate about? People and their cultures. I love the textiles and objects that are part of the communities I discover through my travels and embrace the stories behind them.
Which person, living or dead would you like most to meet? I couldn’t choose just one - maybe we could host a Moroccan style brunch and I could put together the guest list so we could invite all the amazing people I would love to meet in person.
What dream do you still want to fulfill? I would like to design and develop a clothing and soft furnishings range.
What are you reading? I demolish mountains of magazines on interior design. One favourite magazine at the moment is The Renegade Collective, a great source for inspiring tips for small business. I also enjoy trawling through my endless Nomad Textile books.
images courtesy of barefoot gypsy