Walya Swimwear is an Aboriginal business originating from the Northern Territory. It is owned and managed by Damien Loizou, a Warlpiri man. The word Walya means earth in Warlpiri.
Damien started Walya Swimwear ten years ago, because he “wanted to develop a community initiative to raise the self-esteem of the community.” He wanted to assist with the process of breaking the poverty cycle afflicting Aboriginal communities. Everything pointed at art and craft, but he was conscious of the fact that many Indigenous communities were involved in art and craft and he wanted to avoid cut-throat competition. “Then the unique idea for swimwear just popped into my head.”
From day one, Damien knew he had to target the international tourist market. Two things worked in his favour: 1) Australia is associated with beaches and swimming, and 2) he used traditional designs to create a distinctive Australiana product. At the time, Walya was the only business using dreaming stories for fabric design. Damien combined authentic Aboriginal Dreaming designs with quality printing and garment manufacturing. The printed symbols represent rock holes, clouds, lightning, and hail stones. The swimwear was 100% Australian owned and manufactured. At the Darwin Mindil Beach market, he received his first indication of how his products would be received on the international market. Very, very well.
A man who owned a shop called Australiana Treasures in Holland made Damien a considerable offer to supply his swimwear. Later, Damien was contacted by a French man who also sold Australian goods – he requested Walya visit Paris for a tradeshow. Damien was also approached by industry fashion magazines and large Australian newspapers. All fingers were pointing at Walya becoming a designer label product. But there was a problem. Although it was estimated that he would sell considerably in France alone, he needed to develop a consistent profile there first. And to do that, Walya would need to attend multiple trade events, at $15,000 each, which was simply not feasible. The opportunity slipped by, and in the domestic market, Damien learned the foible of selling swimwear in tourist outlets – no change rooms.
Life got in the way of the business for a number of years. Then Walya attended the L’Oreal fashion festival this year and was identified as “market ready”. This was the impetus Damien needed to get the business back up and running. “The tourist outlets don’t have change rooms, and that was a problem ten years ago,” says Damien. “But in the meantime, online shopping has changed the way people think about clothing purchases. They’re more willing to make a purchase without trying it on.”
He recently approached the Indigenous Business Incubator for assistance with a website, marketing, getting a business plan for funding applications, as well as guidance and support. “I have plans to extend the business into casual wear. This will include Manchester, kitchen linen, upholstery, corporate uniforms, and sportswear,” Damien shares. “It’s just a matter of getting a website up and running and advertising to an international market.”
About the series
The High Growth Speaker Series is dedicated to the strategic, tactical and psychological development of high growth entrepreneurs. Grounded in cutting edge entrepreneurship research and science, the series is designed and hosted by RMIT Lecturer and high growth entrepreneur, Lauren Rielly.
- RMIT’s Global Entrepreneurship students receive a closed one hour lecture at 5.30pm each Thursday.
- High growth speakers take the theatre stage at 6.30pm to share their story, wisdom and action steps. Each event in the Speaker Series has been made open to the public, for the first 50 people to RSVP.
- 7.30pm kicks off the entrepreneurship social event at Oxford Scholar Hotel.
Learn about the High Growth Speaker Series at http://laurenrielly.com/high-growth-speaker-series/.
RSVP to discover more about Damien's journey of entrepreneurship and to secure your seat in the theatre during his performance.
Have questions about High growth speaker series: Damien Loizou on growth by indigenous entrepreneurship? Contact Lauren Rielly