We are so proud to be featured on the Commonwealth Bank's "Women In Focus" website. How our small business made a big impact in some kid's lives through our charity #oobifytheworld
Read about designer Alexandra Riggs' business journey and how she turned her passion for screen printing into a business with a "purpose". Love it!
As a child, Alex Riggs would call anything magical or indescribable ‘Oobi’. It was her go to word for those things that make a child’s world special.
Growing up, Alex’s passion for screen printing turned lucrative as she funded her university years by taking her art to the markets. Designing girls dresses from her whimsical, childlike fabric designs opened her sliding door one sunny market Sunday - ‘Oobi Baby and Kids’ was born and the rest is fanciful history.
With a goal to make kids happy, the big difference in this small business is that Alex built Oobi Baby and Kids on a solid foundation of charitable giving. Moved by the thought that some children have never had a birthday party, a childhood, or even a gift, Alex aimed to give a birthday gift to as many kids possible.
Here Alex shares Oobi’s humble beginnings, her ambitious pledge and advice for other small businesses wanting to create a for purpose element.
Alex, how did Oobi begin?
The word was used in our household because of my mum. She was a fashion designer in the late 1960s and had a store called ‘Oobi Things’ in Melbourne. It was the ‘60s so I can’t even begin to wonder how she came up with that word but I can take a guess. When we were kids anything that was magic or indescribable or something a kid just couldn’t find the words for, we would call it “Oobi”.
I started studying Art History at university and had an opportunity to do post graduate work. Because I wanted to eat and have a life, I needed to fund my lifestyle somehow. And that’s when I decided to take my passion for screen printing fabrics to the markets.
My mum and I slaved over creating some children’s garments from my fabrics. My designs are quite naïve and child-like, and I adore kids, so it was natural to design some little girl’s dresses.
I hit Glebe Markets one sunny Saturday and my stand created something of a mega buzz. Back then it was pink for girls and blue for boys and a few colours for ‘neutral’. Nobody had seen the kinds of designs that I was creating. Colour, bold prints and a unique mix and match patchwork of fabrics.
As a crowd circled my stall, I’ll never forget a woman started pushing her business card into my hand. She was a buyer from an actual shop. And then, a buyer from Myer visiting from Melbourne came to see what I was doing and gave me his card too.
The rest, as they say, is history. I never completed my PhD but I did create a business. I don’t sell in any of the major stores anymore, I decided to retain my ‘boutique’ nature and stay independent. But that was a decision made later in my career.
Can you share your charitable program concept - Oobi-Fy The World?
Oobi has always been charitable. Because my partner and I were unable to have kids, we wanted to leave a legacy in a different way.
Our goal is to make kids happy. It’s as simple as that. I went to a talk given by The Mirabel Foundation and was moved to tears by the simple words “some kids have never had a birthday party, a childhood, or even a gift”. So that’s my goal - a birthday gift, for as many kids possible.
Making a difference to a child’s life could have an impact on that person as an adult. It could make them feel special, cared for, loved. Maybe someone looks back at a difficult childhood and remembers that time they were given a beautiful gift, wrapped, handed to them with love.
One day I read about an entrepreneur creating extra stock to donate to a person in need for everything they made to sell. And I thought this is do-able. If you remove the costs for selling and marketing and just make a little more, you can, as a business, reconfigure the costs per garment.
I shared the idea with my staff. What if we donated a piece of what we call ‘Oobi Magic’ to a child in need for everything we sold? It would mean partnering with fewer charities, strongly aligning ourselves with them, making a commitment to them and to our customer base. Once it was out there, it was set in stone so we put a dedicated system in place to make it happen, even though it meant more work – but everyone was 100% on board.
I felt good yet scared – it’s a risk to make a pledge like that. I’m also not ‘preachy’ so there’s no obligation for customers to give, we donate a piece in the purchaser’s honour. People with families have different obligations, stresses and commitments to mine. So this is our way of creating a community for giving.
Who are your charity partners?
We started discussions with The Mirabel Foundation on that first night and also partner with Thread Together and Good360 who have ended up being such a valuable partner for helping us deal with logistics. They are all amazing and I’m consistently impressed by how willing everyone is to give up time and emotional space in the commitment to doing good.
My other way of giving back is through a weekly mentoring group with Global Sisters which gives me great joy. Each week a start up or mumpreneur is invited to do an ‘elevator pitch’ of their business and we listen, take notes, and offer advice and our services.
Global Sisters are amazing and Mandy never ceases to amaze me. She is so dynamic and energetic and she is truly passionate about her cause. Empowerment!
What is your advice for small businesses wanting to make a difference?
Do your maths. You can’t help people if you’re not in a position to give with a free and open heart. So if it’s too great a cost for you personally, or for your business, then it’s not the right time. But if it feels right, I think that it’s important to vet your charities, partner with people that speak to your values, and have the same motivation as you.