The dream to own a business, be financially independent, and simultaneously remain true to your fundamental values isn’t always easy. Yorta Yorta / Boonwurrung woman, Corina Muir has faced plenty of challenges when running her company – children’s apparel brand Amber Days – but will never stray from her mission: to create beautiful garments made in collaboration with Indigenous women and women of colour, using materials and manufacturing processes that have less environmental impact, while engaging ethical employment practises. “We always aim to be as transparent as possible,” Corina says, “and we are always aiming to do better than we have the day before.”
While Corina always had drive, and an interest in fabrics and fashion, the low expectations others held for her when she was younger chipped away at her self-confidence. “I was told that I wasn’t very academic, that I wasn’t going to make anything of myself,” she says. “Growing up as an Aboriginal woman in a lower socioeconomic area, I had a lot going on through high school... A lot of barriers that I had to overcome and, to be honest, I didn’t think I would become anything.” She found herself put into unsupportive and unfulfilling classes at school. “The narrative when I was growing up about Aboriginal people was that we weren’t going to make anything of ourselves, so I guess I never thought that I could build a business,” she explains. “It took a good 10 years to be able to change that for myself and figure out that I actually can make something of myself and that I deserve that.”
After working back and forth in community and on creative endeavours, Corina made the decision to pursue something she has been passionate about since she was a child. “My grandma was always talking about fabrics and had me checking labels from when I was really little,” she says. “As a kid I was like, ‘Ooh no, I don’t want to wear polyester.’” Newly pregnant, Corina began thinking about dressing her own child and imagined her ideal clothing brand, but couldn’t find it. “I wanted to prepare and have all these cute little clothes for my baby girl and I wanted to make sure that the clothes that I was buying were ethical, that the people who were making them were getting a fair wage, and had fair working conditions. I wanted to know about the impacts of creating the cloth, the dyeing of the fabric – every step,” she says. “I’m thinking about bringing my baby into this world and dressing her in something cute at the expense of others or of the environment and it didn’t sit well with me.”
What Corina did discover was that it’s difficult to find brands that are doing everything they can, ethically. She says, “Quite often labels will stand out because of their environmental policies, or they’ll stand out because of their ethical trade policies, but it’s hard to find labels that do both.” Since she couldn’t find her ideal brand, she founded it.
For each collection, Corina collaborates with Aboriginal women and women of colour all around Australia, making the byproducts of Amber Days connection and community. “We are supporting each other, pushing each other, guiding, giving advice. We are there for each other when you’re having a bad day,” she explains.
Corina finds inspiration from the women she works with, from those memories of her grandmother, but it’s her daughter Sapphire who continues to play the biggest role. “It’s really beautiful to see her strength and such a strong connection to her culture,” Corina says, and tells a story that illustrates that. “It was 10:30 at night and Saph was about two, running down our apartment hallway singing, ‘Always was always will be Aboriginal land’. I thought, ‘If you were screaming anything else I’d be telling you to be quiet’ but I’m just so proud of her. That’s coming from inside her. Lately she’s been telling me her blood is red, black and yellow.” That same pride and connection are what Corina hopes her brings the kids who wear it. “Part of Amber Days is strengthening our Indigenous kids’ identity and how they feel about themselves. It’s also about strengthening all children, and all of their connection to Country,” she explains.
While her company is flourishing at just two years old, Corina admits that those moments of self-doubt still sometimes occur, but she has evidence of her success to counter that negativity now. “I didn’t even finish high school, I don’t have any fashion degrees, I studied for a few months at Billy Blue but then came back to Melbourne. What often gets in our way, if we don’t have a formal education, is that you doubt yourself all the time.” She accredits many advantageous decisions to intuition – something that everybody has, but that takes practise to trust. “Sometimes you might not make much on one product, but it has a message that I feel is worth investing my time and energy into,” she explains. “We’re never going to have a huge margin; printing ethically, paying workers properly... I guess part of our ethos is also about trying to support that change of slow fashion – of meaningful and mindful purchases, about knowing where it’s coming from, what’s gone into it. It makes that piece of clothing that you’re wearing so much more powerful.”
Identifying and harnessing your own power is crucial to professional success, no matter the industry. “As women we just have this strength in us. Instead of trying to push it down, I think it’s important to just recognise that and use it,” she says. “I didn’t know that I could succeed in this, but I knew my whole life that I was ready to take on anything that got in my way. I was a quiet, reserved, very timid, pretty shy and introverted person, but… I’ve always had that fight.” With an understanding of your potential and your innate strength, Corina’s advice is simple: “Just go for it.”