Karen Adie, Convict Bags
Meet the Australian brand that tells a great Australian story. Founder KAREN ADIE has created a range of beautifully designed, unique handbags with Australia at its heart. Influenced by the raw landscapes of Australia and a connection to the iconic poem My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar, CONVICT bags are made in Australia and poetically capture the raw beauty and barefoot beach style of Australia. Find out more about the birth of this inspiring local brand, the creative talent behind it and how important Australia is to the essence of the brand.
All image by Karen Adie, Convict
What is Convict?
I’m referring to those who were convicted for crimes by the British government and, to alleviate overcrowding in British prisons, were transported to Australia penal colonies as a labour source. I believe they’ve helped shape our national identity and indeed, much has been written about this by writers and historians. I can’t imagine the hardship they faced, and I’m fascinated by the stories of what happened to them after they arrived here – whether it’s good, bad or indifferent I love retelling them. Around one in seven Australians are descended from a Convict, as am I, we’ve long ago lost the stigma and recognise the contribution they made.
What do you mean by #weareconvicts?
When travelling in the UK, Europe or the States you often get ribbed about coming from a land of Convicts. Using #weareconvicts is a statement about that, it’s a big yes we know and we’re proud of it.
You carried out vast research in developing the brand story for Convict Bags. Can you share a short convict story?
This one is a favourite.
Annette Myers (c. 1819-1879)
Annette Myers, aged 26, was tried for ‘wilful murder’ of a handsome Coldstream Guardsman Henry Ducker by firing a pistol ball straight into his head. She stated to two constables “I did it, I intended to do it. I have intended to do it for a long time”. She was sentenced to capital punishment, but after two years it was commuted and she sailed to Van Diemen’s Land on the Emma Eugenia, arriving in 1851. Annette’s story captivated the public and indeed, a ballad was written on it.
Born in Paris and raised in Brussels, and was a servant to the Curtis family of Hyde Park Gardens. Her love letters to Henry were read to the court, and as the indignities of her life were aired, she came to be seen as Henry’s victim. He was a cad. He’d used and abused her. By contrast, she was ‘of irreproachable character, very superior to the station she occupied in life’.
Although Annette worked in service she claimed to be the niece of prominent lawyer Sir Francis Myers but was thought to be his illegitimate child. Annette Meyers was resident with them at the time of the 1841 Census, in the capacity of servant and certainly not acknowledged as a niece. She was just 15. Her aunt and uncle were both 50. Hers was complicated story and the social silence protected the reputations of Henry Ducker of the Coldstream Guards and Sir Francis Myers.
Upon arriving in Van Diemen’s Land Annette Myers was sent to Great Swan Port, to work for John and Lillias Lyne at their property ‘Apslawn’. There she met her future husband John Desmond, an Irish convict assigned at the neighbouring property. John and Annette’s son, Francis, was born at Spring Bay in 1854. The family later moved to Launceston before, like many former convicts, they moved to Victoria—either to improve their lot in life or to escape the convict stain. The family eventually settled on the fringes of gentility in South Yarra where John worked as a gardener. Francis married and fathered a son, yet when he died at the Kew Lunatic Asylum in 1926, he died alone.
Annette died in 1879 aged 60. Annette’s death certificate stated that she was born in Paris. She never knew her mother. She did, however, know who her father was—Francis Myers.
She had survived. Henry Ducker was dead and she had lived to tell a version of her tale, to bear a son and name a father.
Tell us about your connection to the iconic poem My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar. When did that start? How has it translated into your brand?
When I’ve lived overseas or travel, I always miss Australia’s wild beauty, the raw landscapes. Mackellar’s poem captures those landscapes and the sentiment so beautifully. I wanted Convict to give a nod to the essence of that beauty, I think it’s delivered in the raw beauty of our handbags.
What is your design philosophy?
The design philosophy is simple, we are looking for pared-back, understated bags, with great functionality and a luxe-y feel. We use soft buttery leathers and hand choose all the hair-on cowhides. I don’t want to create disposable, throwaway fashion, I want to make beautiful products that our customers can continue to enjoy for many years. I love that our handbags are made by hand using the amazing traditional artisan skills of European fashion houses, but they’re made right here in Australia. I believe we all now have a responsibility to minimise our impact on the planet and need to consider this in our design and processes.
How would you describe your design process?
It’s a long process and always starts with the inspiration phase, although I think I’m pretty much always in that phase. I get inspiration from art, nature, street fashion, and trend forecasts. I take lots of photo’s and keep them in an inspiration folder. I also like to look to the past, I’m a fan of vintage style. Once you’ve decided on a style, you draw it up as a sketch, make measurements, make a pattern, sew it up and source the materials you want for the design, always keeping in mind the end costs. Then I take it to one of my makers and we discuss the design and perhaps alter it based on their feedback – they are way more experienced than I am! The next stage would be creating the first sample for trial.
I usually wear the bag in a testing phase of a few weeks to a month; I’m looking for comfort and ease of functionality, and to see the reaction I get while I’m out and about. If I’m asked where it came from, I know I’m onto a winner. There may be further adjustments required followed by more testing. Then you go into production and source enough materials to make a reasonable run of product. Meanwhile, you will have been doing your sums for wholesale and/or retail pricing, scheduling photography and then preparing promotional material.
I work with artisans in Perth, Ballarat, and Sydney. Who I use might depend on their schedules, their skill sets and the type of sewing machines they have in their studios. Different designs need different machines.
The design process often takes six or more months, but you know at the end of it you have a tested and quality product.
What does Australia mean to you?
Relaxed, easy, barefoot living.
For someone who has never been to Australia, how would you describe the raw landscapes of Australia?
We’re such a vast country, with a small population mostly living on the coastal plains, so much of our landscape is untouched, the landscapes remain as it’s been for eons. It’s red, dry, sun bleached, harsh with vast plains and golden sunsets. Its bush is soft greys and olive, muted colours that spring into life with fields of wildflowers. It’s not been landscaped or sculpted into order, it is as it always was.
Where would you suggest someone visit in this vast nation?
That’s a hard one, I’d suggest a tasting plate experience; our beautiful Perth beaches – they’re the best in Australia, the wildness of the Kimberley ranges in Western Australia, a chilled week in our South West wine region for a sense of our barefoot lifestyle, then visit our spiritual red centre Uluru and finish with dining under the stars while you’re there.
How would you describe the style of Australia?
Relaxed, barefoot beach style – our summers are long.
How has style changed in Australia?
We used to be more conservative but also casual and not necessarily in a good way. We were often a season or so behind in trends, but all that has now changed. There’s more sophistication in our style even when translated to beach style. And of course, we have many talented designer’s Australian designers producing beautiful work.
What is your favourite thing about Australia?
Space, clean air
Which local phrase/titbit should one must know about Australia?
Gidday = Hello