Award-winning business: a model for Indigenous inclusion

When Winya Indigenous Furniture swept the board at the Sydney City Business Awards, it led the way for businesses to be part of a workplace revolution.

It started as a plan for a furniture-making business in western Sydney to offer job opportunities to local Indigenous youngsters. It quickly morphed into a unique and successful national business model.

Taking out Excellence in Small Business and Excellence in Sustainability, Winya was also crowned Business of the Year at the recent gala event at Sydney Town Hall.

Wood sourced from Arnhem Land mining scrap is used to make the arms of chairs and sofas by local Indigenous workers.

The winning business was recognised for its sustainable office fitouts, Indigenous trainee programs and work with a supply chain of like-minded businesses. The business creates sought-after and sustainable pieces of office furniture that are as beautiful as they are practical.

Greg Welsh founded Winya Indigenous Furniture in 2015 with Deb Barwick, head of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce NSW. With her background in labour hire and recruitment and his background in commercial furniture supplies, together they’ve transformed a traditional industry with a new profit-for-purpose business model.

Win-win business model

“We approached contacts across the country to see if there was appetite to employ Indigenous workers and apprentices if we gave work to their businesses,” Greg said.

There was universal uptake from businesses who wanted to be part of an Indigenous engagement program and could see that it was also good for the Australian furniture industry. It was a win-win for everyone.

Winya is a design, installation and project management company that has grown quickly. The small Sydney business is able to do large scale fitouts for big organisations and government departments across the country. The word winya means to “sit now” in Wiradjuri dialect.

Working with Indigenous artists

“We work with remote communities in Cape York and Arnhem Land, getting timber supplies from mine site clearings that would have been burnt and are now turned into beautiful arms for chairs and lounges by local Indigenous workers,” Greg explained.

Renowned Indigenous artist Bibi Barba merges a strong sense of design and colour with vivid stories of her culture.

“Designs by students at art schools in central Australia are woven into fabric designs for lounges and acoustic panel screens. We get local artists to create themed designs used across artworks and furniture that reflects the local Indigenous cultures.

“Our newest design pieces will feature Indigenous art on glassboards instead of whiteboards. This is part of our social inclusion program and is really exciting and special,” Greg said.

Winya has a panel of Indigenous artists who design custom pieces in bespoke colours and theming.

The company also creates one-off pieces using the commissioned artworks of renowned Indigenous artists, including Bibi Barba and Danielle Mate Sullivan.

Winya has also pioneered programs in prisons, supporting Indigenous furniture-making trainee programs.

Indigenous empowerment

But the busy business isn’t resting on its winning laurels. Next up, its city showroom is turning into a base for education, events and business talks.

“We want to offer corporates and government departments the opportunity to immerse themselves in more and more Indigenous business opportunities and offer programs focusing on Indigenous empowerment,” Greg said.

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