Welcome to my new series for Womenfolk: Inspirational Women. This series is about profiling women who are doing great things in their lives – be it with their careers, their family or their creativity. My hope is that through this series of profiles, you will find someone that resonates with you and gives you that little spark or push you need to do that something that you’ve always wanted to do.
First in the series is my gorgeous sister-in-law Nicole McDonald; the creative force behind Eco Collective Aus: Handmade In Australia with Love & Sustainability. Nicole makes a range of leather handbags, clutches, backpacks, iPhone and iPad covers, wallets and belts. Her creations are all made by hand, in her home on the Gold Coast.
The leather she uses is vegetable-tanned as opposed to chrome-tanned. Chrome tanning uses harsh chemicals to prime and dye the leather. Vegetable tanning uses barks, leaves and rind to tan and colour the leather, so it is much kinder to the earth and ultimately much better for the customer, as they are not carrying a bag that emits harsh chemicals, next to their skin.
Nicole first completed Certificate IV in Shoe Production and Design at RMIT in Melbourne, when her first child was a baby. Her intention was to design and make sustainable footwear, with a European aesthetic. Nicole is originally from Switzerland so is heavily influenced by European fashion and did not want to create clunky, heavy ‘hippy-style’ footwear. Her vision was very clear so she set about researching the most sustainable products, ranging from leather, glue and thread for sewing.
After many months of research she came to the conclusion that footwear was not an option as the only glue strong enough to hold the footwear together was not sustainable and used harsh chemicals that were damaging to the environment. Totally committed to her vision of sustainability she put the footwear business on hold but used her research on the leathers and linen threads to hatch out a new plan for her creative business.
And this is how Eco Collective was born. Her mission statement for Eco Collective is ‘Made with Love and Sustainability’.
Nicole has always been creative and through following her creative vision intuitively, she now has a busy creative business which she manages between running a household with her husband and two children.
When asked what drives her to live a creative life, she explains that “If I have a period in my life where I am not creating, I feel like something is missing; like I’m not living my purpose.” There have been times where finding the time and resources to create have been challenging, but through these time she continued to paint and craft.
She is inspired by the spark of an idea and the thrill of seeing it become a reality. There has never been a time when Nicole hasn’t been involved in some sort of creativity and as a result is a woman of many talents. As well as a talented painter, she is beautiful seamstress and made her own wedding dress (stay tuned for her funky dresses, which she has planned for her EcoCollective Etsy shop in 2016). She is also a potter and recently made an entire dinner set for her husband’s birthday.
But like anything worth pursuing, getting to where she is today was not a straight forward process. There were some major hurdles that she had to overcome and faced some personal challenges, some coming from within herself. I think all women wrestle with self-doubt at some stage in their lives; Nicole was no exception.
Her most difficult barrier was around what she felt she ‘should be’ doing. She explains: “Growing up in Switzerland I felt there was an expectation that I would follow a standard path; do a degree and go out and get a job. I felt there was a social pressure to be doing something that was ‘respectable’.”
She acknowledges that this pressure came from within, but also sees that it was informed by her culture. Being raised in Switzerland, she recognised a cultural emphasis on academia and specific ideals of what it means to be successful. For quite some time she wrestled with the tension between nourishing her soul by making a living creatively and the practicalities of life – bills needing to be paid, kids delivered to school etc. But also the need to feel respected in what she did.
She credits her husband for supporting her creative endeavours and recognises that by supporting each other and allowing each other to self-actualise has put them on their own paths, achieving their own versions of success. Her family are incredibly important to her and so establishing EcoCollective was her way to keep her creative integrity and still be available for her family.
She says ‘you just have to jump in and swim with the tide’, and it is this easy-going flexibility that has brought her creative success. She recognised that she couldn’t work from 9 – 5 and that sometimes the children need her more, but by not having a fixed idea of when or how she should be working means that she can work around other commitments that are equally as important.
Asked for advice for other women who want to explore their creativity but don’t know where to start, she says:
“That thing that you’ve wanted to do for so long – just go and do it.”
Nicole’s creative journey has shown us that it is about self-actualisation and development, experimenting and looking. Set foot on the path and see where it takes you.
Nicole makes her wares with love; the creative process nourishes her soul and when you hold one of her beautiful bags, you can feel it.
You can view the EcoCollective Etsy Shop here.