2018 Round-up: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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The older Amy and I get, the faster the years seem to go. It feels like just yesterday we moved to Australia, but this autumn will be three years. Since moving here, time feels different than it did in New York. It’s both slowed down and sped up, but one thing is for sure: 2018 flew by for us.

I started off the year visiting my family in New York wondering how just after a couple of years in a warm climate I could lose an entire life’s worth of cold weather resilience. The city was a frozen tundra and although I was so happy to be home, I was freezing! Amy smartly stayed away from a NYC winter and swam her heart out in Sydney. By the time I got back, I had gotten the flu not once, but twice.

Jumping straight into work, I had the privilege of having a slew of interesting art opportunities in the beginning of the year, highlights of which included: creating a painted guide dog for Chinese New Year at Circular Quay to raise money for Guide Dogs Australia, exhibiting and selling my piece in Botanica: Symbiosis, at the Botanic Gardens Sydney, and then creating two paintings with the help of Botanic Gardens scientist, Dr. John Martin: 1) birds in Sydney thriving in an urban environment 2) birds in Sydney once abundant, but have disappeared. These paintings were in collaboration with the U.S. organization Creature Converve for a touring exhibition: Urban Wildlife: Learning to Co-Exist. The paintings were exhibited twice in 2018 and then selected to tour to the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, U.S.A. during summer 2020. It was an especially rewarding project to learn more about how urbanization has affected Sydney’s birds.

While I was painting at the beginning of the year, Amy was busy redesigning our website, creating new products, new packaging for everything and working on a photoshoot. We created new cracker designs and added ten new ornaments to our range plus stand up mushrooms and pelicans. We launched our new Rainbow Lorikeet ornament at The Tribe in Darlinghurst as part of a special Mardi Gras exhibition in February. After kicking our business into full gear at the end of 2017 we were so excited for what 2018 held.

Full of possibility, we knew we wanted to make the most of the 2018 Christmas season, but while we still had some free time, we did as much birding and snorkeling and bushwalking as possible to get inspired in this first half of the year. We even visited Japan in June and fulfilled a dream of visiting the Harry Potter Wizarding World in Osaka! (read: Amy in full cloak with wand, me: full of Butter Beer). Our birding highlight for the year was undoubtedly visiting Inala on Bruny Island in Tasmania. Long loved as a birding touring company, Inala has created their own jurassic botanic garden that you can visit. Beautifully planted, this garden attracts all the Tasmanian native birds and we were having trouble keeping up with how many we saw there. It was a magical place and stayed with us all year afterwards.

But. Without further adieu, here is the good, the bad and the ugly for our 2018 Christmas Season:

The Good:

2018 was our biggest year yet. We’ve worked hard to grow our business and Amy and I were thrilled and totally humbled to get into all the markets we applied for. We had several firsts including the Makers & Shakers Market, the Big Design Market, Maker’s Nest and the Artisans in the Gardens exhibition at the Botanic Gardens. We also did Handmade Canberra for the first time in 2018 and returned to the Australian Design Centre’s Makers Market twice, Finders Keepers and the Hyde Park Barracks Christmas Market. We even got to do the artwork for one of our favorite markets - the Sydneymade Local Etsy Market. We painted and tagged and twined our hearts out, kicking off Christmas production in July.

The best part of the year were the people we met along the way, both as customers and other makers. We were visited by so many people with a serious passion for protecting our beautiful planet and it was such an inspiration to hear stories about people’s connections to Australia’s plants and animals. Our customers are beautiful eco-minded people that give us hope and inspire us to keep creating. We <3 you guys - thank you for making this past year an incredible journey for us.

Doing so many markets, we really got a chance to connect more with other makers. There are too many to list, but it was such a highlight to get to have a chat or a laugh with you all and we truly feel like part of the best community in the world. It’s such an inspiration to see so many makers creating something from nothing and so many local makers who lift up all makers in Sydney. Amy and I feel like we really got to know so many of you and it turns out you guys are totally awesome. Thank you to everyone for your help along the way - everything from lending some double-sided tape to an ear and in some cases even a beer.

This year we gained dream stockists and are so proud that our work is now sold at: QUAGOMA in Brisbane, Melbournalia in Melbourne, Sydney Living Museums in Sydney, and Aspects of King Park in Perth. We continue to sell our work at the Object Shop at the Australian Design Centre and also through Fairfax. We couldn’t imagine better partners or places to sell our items. Thank you to all of our incredible stockists <3

Lastly, for the good I’d like to say how surprised and humbled we were by this past year. We work our little tails to the bone because we love what we do and are passionate about it. To have been able to grow our business has been amazing. We ended the year with an article about what we’re trying to do in the Sydney Morning Herald and we had to pinch ourselves when it came out. Moving here almost three years ago, we had a hard time finding Australian souvenirs that were actually made in Australia to send to the U.S. - we created Outer Island with the tagline ‘Souvenirs from Planet Earth’ because we want to show that souvenirs don’t have to suck and can be well-designed, made in the country they’re promoting, benefit local vendors and also be sustainably made. The article talks about that and for those that know us, it’s rare for us to be quiet, but we were totally speechless when it came out.

Okay, now onto The Bad:

The bad this year was like a comedy of errors. I dramatically spilled liquids at not one, but two markets, of which both times the clean-up crew with mops had to come. Both times I was alone at the stall and Amy came back to find me and the mess. We had a mysterious leak at Finders Keepers, which turned out to be our plant, a beautiful medium sized plant we had for just a few months. It turns out the leaves cry and expel water, right onto all our printed signs. We were often scrambling, working seven days a week, long hours each day to make sure we met deadlines. When you’re that tired and singularly focused, funny things start to happen - like me, leaving the house and spending the entire day in shorts that were inside-out or Amy consistently forgetting to eat lunch or drink coffee, working away so diligently. For those that know me, know I never miss a cup of coffee. In fact I started drinking coffee all day long at a certain point in December. All restraint went right out the window.

Unfortunately, the bad also included severe arm strain from staining, sanding and painting. I’ve had problems in the past because I use my shoulder like a wrist (I hold my paintbrush funny). This means I don’t get carpal tunnel (thank god), but my arm felt like it was about to fall off and I had swollen fingers for a month. Amy had to carry almost everything for several market bump-ins/bump-outs. But in the biggest bit of bad, I had a car accident the week between Finders Keepers and The Big Design Market/Handmade Canberra. It was our most stressful timing of the year with big markets back to back and splitting our stock up while we went to different markets. I was supposed to drive down to Handmade Canberra, but Amy’s car went to the shop and I lost a day of work and had an injured leg which I’m still nursing back to health. Despite this, I’m very thankful it wasn’t worse. On the plus side I got to rent a car which had a brilliant navigation system and even took me to visit the Big Merino on my way back from Canberra!

T H E U G L Y :

Okay. The u-g-l-y. 2018 saw the release of a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the news wasn’t very good. The planet is in serious peril. As humans, we are coming face to face with an existential risk that we can see coming from a million miles away. Not only do we know about the future consequences of climate change, we know how to prevent them. The cost is a shifting paradigm; one that benefits the planet and not someone’s bank account. It’s a fight against human nature and at its most raw, an inability to look outside of ourselves, plan for the future and a pathological aversion to loss. The fight seems insurmountable most of the time.

We try to make sure our work at Outer Island simultaneously does not harm the planet while at the same time brings awareness to native Australian plants and animals. Australia is one of the most vulnerable places on the planet for extinctions. It’s going to take a village to stop it and we feel that if we can connect people to plants or animals in a way that brings them into their hearts and homes, maybe their ears will perk up when the fight comes to their backyard. And make no mistake, it will be a fight.

But. What we do know is that if the people we’ve met along the way are any indication of where this fight is going, there’s reason for tremendous hope. You’ve shared your stories with us and all around us in the city we’re seeing small movements take shape en masse. More keep cups, less straws, no plastic bags, more local shopping. You are all ambassadors of this planet and every small step counts. Small changes lead to big changes.

In 2018 we’re going to be focusing on more of Australia’s most vulnerable creatures, big and small and working with organizations that tirelessly support them. We want to do our part in the fight.

To sum it all up, we’re borrowing the words of the brilliant Dr. Jane Goodall - “Every single individual has a role to play. Every single individual matters. Every single individual makes some impact on the environment every single day, and we have a choice as to what kind of impact we make.”

Happy new year friends. May your choices this year be impactful.

Cheers,

Stephanie + Amy



Stephanie Chambers