In[ter]view: Alissa Nightingale

Daunting (and amazing) as it may be, Alissa Nightingale, the founder of the The Nightingale Collective, tells us how she has managed to have a social enterprise that is making a difference and the ins and outs of the running it.

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as inquisitive – I love discovering or learning new things. I’m also passionate about social change and some would describe me as an eternal optimist.

How did the idea of establishing The Nightingale Collective come about? Was there any significant source of inspiration?

The Nightingale Collective was born on a trip to Nepal while I was working for The Fred Hollows Foundation. It was evident that local artisans had incredible talent but were not supported for their work or had access to new markets. I wanted to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity and provide a platform for responsible commerce.

My trip also coincided with the devastating Nepal Earthquake of 2015. I saw that the community not only required substantial aid – but they needed a stable economy and investment in their local industries for them to be able to rebuild.

When someone purchases something from The Nightingale Collective they buy some beautiful art, jewellery and accessories and the proceeds directly go to the people and communities to help recover and rebuild from natural disasters, war and many other injustices. We believe ethics and style do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Could you tell us more about the idea of purchasing with purpose?

Essentially we are an online fashion accessories retailer, what differentiates us is our focus around ethical fashion, not fast fashion. While profit is important it is not our core focus. Rather our aim is to provide sustainable employment for women artisans, promote ethical production methods and play, even if a small role, in poverty reduction.

We want to encourage a more socially conscious consumer, one who knows and cares where the product they buy is made, the stories behind the people who made it, and how their purchase can have a meaningful impact upon communities.

What has the reception to the collective been like?

The feedback I hear from customers is they love the product but more importantly they love the positive impact their purchase is having after learning about the stories of the women artisans. We are still quite new and love getting feedback – we have some changes in the pipeline both to improve the customer experience but also the impact we are having on the women artisan cooperatives we collaborate with.

How do you choose which products to promote? How do you go about sourcing the products?

When sourcing our products we ensure the artisans, who are often women, receive fair wages, positive working environments and are supported by community development programs that improve the lives of their families and wider community.

We largely source our products through international non-profits who are closely connected to women artisan groups. We believe these organisations are most aware of the challenges faced by women artisans and can tailor social development programs to provide further support. This includes community health programs in Guatemala, literacy courses for women in Afghanistan and supporting women who are deaf in Kenya.

Did you have to face any kind of hurdle while forming the collective? Or any difficulties you have experienced in working so far?

As we largely work with developing communities there have been some logistical challenges. Australia is a new market for many of the artisan groups we collaborate with; this has meant at times we have incurred delays or higher distribution costs.

Our partners also operate in remote areas like Guatemala where technology and internet access isn’t always readily available or reliable. This is in stark contrast to Australia where we are connected 24/7 across numerous devices! So we have to factor in more lead-time to allow for delays in communication. But we also think this can be a nice reminder to not let technology consume every aspect of our lives. And juggling my role with the Westpac Foundation and my social enterprise can be a challenge too because it can sometimes seem there are not enough hours in a day!

In retrospect, did you ever think you would be doing what you are currently doing? 

When I was studying marketing at UniSA I didn’t think I would now be working at one of Australia’s Big 4 Banks and have a social enterprise on the side. But I feel fortunate that I get to combine my passion for social enterprise in my role with the Westpac Foundation where I have had the opportunity to support other social entrepreneurs who are passionate about making a difference.

I also think the future of work will significantly change over the next decade both in terms of technological innovation and also the types of employment. Career pathways aren’t as linear and increasingly fulltime employment is not the norm either. For example I currently work part-time with Westpac and then on my own projects, whether The Nightingale Collective or marketing consulting. I think it’s important to be adaptable and a continual learner when building a career as industries and roles are constantly changing.

Any lesson(s) that you have learned throughout this journey?

I think a lesson I’ve learnt is to be open to opportunities and stay inquisitive. Many of my favourite moments in my career and life have been through taking a chance and stepping out of my comfort zone. I also think it’s important to have a genuine interest in the world around you and be compassionate towards others.

Is there any mantra that you lead your life accordingly or any values you hold dear?

A quote that motivated me to start The Nightingale Collective was:

“The biggest difference between the person who lives his or her dreams and the person who aspires is the decision to convert that first spark of motivation into immediate action.”

I read it and thought – “I may not be quite ready, but I might as well give it a shot!”

Any future aspirations or projects in line?

I’ve recently relocated back to Adelaide from Sydney, so it’s exciting to be home! I’m keen to get more involved in and support the growing social enterprise scene in South Australia. I’m also considering completing further study (it’s almost 10 years since I finished my undergrad which is a little scary!)– so I may be back at UniSA some day soon!

Words by Rubina Chitraker.

Images by The Nightingale Collective.

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