Gammin Threads represents much more than just clothing. T-shirts, hoodies and other apparel that speak of pride, women’s empowerment and community. Founder Tahnee Edwards always dreamed of a career in fashion, but when she worked as a design assistant for a Melbourne brand, she became disillusioned by the culture of fast fashion. She wanted to create clothes that people felt connected to. “I feel like when you buy a Gammin piece, its something you're gunna be proud of. You’re going to take care of it and hold onto it, or you might pass it onto a family member, which I’ve had mob do– they’re like, “Ooh, I need to buy another T-shirt, my Aunty flogged it.” Oh my god, that makes me so happy!”
Running the entire business alone, Melbourne-based Tahnee – a Yorta Yorta, Taungurung woman – is a successful entrepreneur, despite her feelings about the word. “It’s funny, the word ‘entrepreneur’... It’s a really intimidating word to me. Growing up, the representation of entrepreneurs were just like douchebags driving BMWs, hustling and pushing themselves and their product. That’s not what I’m about at all, so I don’t really like the word ‘entrepreneur’ for myself… I think I’m more a designer or an artist,” she says. “But I think businesses are changing, and the world’s changing.” This shift – a turn toward being more conscious of what we consume, what the impact is, what we spend money on and where that money goes – is at the crux of Gammin’s existence. “It’s a really good time for me to be doing Gammin Threads, I don’t think I could have done it 10 years ago,” she explains. “Now’s the time for Aboriginal businesses, there’s so many people who want to support you.”
Pivoting from a career in fashion, Tahnee works full-time at Djirra (an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation that provides support for women experiencing family violence) and started Gammin Threads as a hobby, a creative outlet. But it grew, and continues to. “I just started designing stuff not really realising what it was going to turn into,” she says. “I’d gone through a massive creative block ‘cus my mum was sick, and I knew she was terminally ill…so I was grieving” she says. “I wanted to get back into fashion, but I loved working in community so much – I was around all these strong Aboriginal women, I felt supported, and I was just finally doing work that I felt proud of.”
Gammin started when Tahnee made T-shirts for the NAIDOC March. She was inspired by the 2018 NAIDOC theme, ‘Because of her, we can’. “The work we were doing at Djirra inspired me to make these designs around the matriarchy and respecting women.” From there came Gammin’s ‘Respect the Blak Matriarchy’ and ‘Respect Blak Women’ t-shirts and hoodies. “I guess I started off sort of political,” she says. “I think being an Aboriginal woman; you naturally are. But I’m more about humour and pop culture, that’s what I love, so that’s what Gammin Threads has evolved into, but I’ll always have empowering women and the matriarchy at my core.”
It took time for Tahnee to find the creative outlet that was right for her. “There’s so much pressure to know exactly what you want to do when you are 15 years old and it’s ridiculous,” she says. “And there’s expectations for people to be successful when they’re young. I know that’s all to do with celebrities and influencers… but that’s not real life. It can take you a long time to work out what you actually want to do and what fulfils you.” During high school, Tahnee excelled in drama and art, but struggled with maths and sciences. She wanted to study design and fashion but coming from a small country town her study options were limited. “When I started graphic design at Uni I struggled a bit, heaps of what I was learning went over my head because I didn’t study design at high school,” she explains. “There’s a big difference between playing around with art at high school and studying actual design at uni.”
After trying out, but not loving a job as a graphic designer Tahnee returned to University as a mature age student to study Fashion Merchandising and excelled. “It’s funny, when you suddenly start doing something you love and are passionate about, you put your everything into it,” she says.
While Gammin is known and loved by customers around Australia, Tahnee still has moments of self-doubt. Being a one-woman show however shes learnt to just trust her gut and stay connected to her community. “Working by yourself can be isolating so I love it when I’m around other creatives. Also we need people around us who will remind you, ‘You’re doing deadly stuff, just trust yourself’... It’s really hard when you are accountable to community. It’s a big responsibility and I take that very seriously. I do tend to get in my head a bit, so it’s important to talk things out and staying connected with your support network– the people who are there to uplift you.”
Connectivity, culture and community exist as the foundations of Gammin Threads, from Tahnee’s first designs to her now-trademark ‘Young Aunty’ range. “Aunties are important in any culture; to be someone special in a kid’s life. It’s not about being blood related but you’re there for them, there to give some guidance and pull their head in when needed” she says. “I would love an actual Young Aunty’s Club. I would love a community around Gammin, like it would be Gammin Gang… I want to build that in an authentic, true way. Gammin is for everybody. I want everybody to take ownership of it and feel proud of it.”