Making ethical choices

Mount Vic and Me® has taken a sustainable approach to business from the outset. In fact, my previous (pre-marriage, pre-kids) business was Kara Smith Handbags, where I crafted beautiful bags from vintage and recycled fabrics, using up everything from tiny fabric scraps to old buttons and buckles. I left the advertising & design world moving to the Northern Territory, keen to leave that industry far behind. I sought out contracts with Parks & Wildlife there, where I better use my graphic design and illustration skills.

My long-held interest in sustainability is evident at home, where we run on solar, have four water tanks in place, keep chooks and grow an abundance of herbs and vegetables. When it came to establishing Mount Vic and Me, seeking out eco solutions was automatic.

To help ensure each product I design takes it easy on the environment, I keep as many aspects of the work as local as possible. The cutting, sewing and packing of all tea towels and cushions is done in nearby Lithgow by Corrective Services Industries (read further below). All other packaging is hand-collated in the studio attached to our retail space, and the printing companies we work with are environmentally responsible.

In-store the focus is on responsible consumerism, achieved by supporting products that are either made locally or carry the Australian Made logo. The long-term goal here is to contribute to re-growing Australian manufacturing, which in turn will open up more opportunities for effective green solutions.

We partner with dropshipping companies for our t shirts and mugs. By creating t shirts on demand, this means less waste with further reductions on impacts within the apparel supply chain.

We are moving to eco-friendly shipping packaging. Watch out for the new black satchels!

Recycling is a natural element of Mount Vic and Me’s everyday operations and our small team is always on the lookout for even greener packaging and printing solutions. When it comes to stockists, we are aligned with businesses that have a similar ethos to us.

Mount Vic and Me has Australian Made campaign accreditation for several products, including Blue Mountains Socks, cushion covers, brooches, tea towels and stationery.

When you buy a product from Mount Vic and Me, you can rest assured that it is made with great care in Australia and is helping to support a small business.

Working with Corrective Services NSW

Since 2019, Mount Vic and Me® has worked with Corrective Services Industries (CSI), the commercial arm of Corrective Services NSW, to produce our range of tea towels and cushions. This ongoing partnership has allowed us to grow while assisting CSI with the rehabilitation aspect of its program. Having inmates working across a diverse range of industries, including everything from textiles and print services to technology and engineering, helps to ensure Corrective Services NSW remains self-sustainable.

Here Kara answers some frequently asked questions about the partnership.

Photos: Corrective Services New South Wales

How did your partnership with Lithgow CSI come about?

Initially it was all about convenience. Our tea-towel range started taking off and I quickly realised it wasn’t viable for me to hem each piece myself or to outsource to just one or two people. In order to focus on other areas of the business, and to see it grow, I needed a small team of workers and I ideally needed them to be in close proximity.

A friend who had worked in Corrective Services pointed me in the direction of Lithgow CSI and the partnership progressed quickly from there. I was hesitant at first but Mount Vic and Me has a strong commitment to social enterprise and I believe in providing opportunities to people seeking rehabilitation, so the partnership fits in with this ethos.

Who actually does your work?

The male inmates help with my weekly production. This is primarily because the women who find themselves in Corrective Services tend to have lesser sentences than the men, so there generally isn’t enough time to train them up. The goal is to give the men new skills, income and a routine, all of which assist with rehabilitation.

The men work on my tea towel and cushion ranges. They do the cutting, hemming, quality control, folding and packaging. They also mark up anything with errors, check each other’s work and produce a high-volume turnover.

Have you observed any direct benefits to the men who work on your products?

I’ve heard from Lithgow CSI that the men have developed a supportive way of working together, and the men have mentioned to me directly how exciting it is to be involved in the growth of my business – they can tell by the increase in their workload that everything is moving along.

The work the men do for me is impeccable and they clearly take pride in doing a great job. Gaining these type of work skills obviously enhances future employment opportunities and helps with successful reintegration into the community.

Would you recommend that other small businesses utilise CSI’s services?

Definitely. My own experience has been extremely positive. In the Blue Mountains, and across many other regional centres, there is a lack of local manufacturing in the textiles industry. For Mount Vic and Me, Lithgow CSI has filled the gap and helps us to proudly carry the Australian Made Campaign logo on our products.

You can find out more about CSI at https://www.csi.nsw.gov.au/