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Magpie Goose co-founders hand over the keys to Aboriginal owners in next step for impact

6 April 2021 at 8:43 am
Maggie Coggan
“We want to turn Magpie Goose into an iconic Australian brand, like the Aboriginal version of R.M. Williams,” new Magpie Goose director says. 

Maggie Coggan | 6 April 2021 at 8:43 am


Magpie Goose co-founders hand over the keys to Aboriginal owners in next step for impact
6 April 2021 at 8:43 am

“We want to turn Magpie Goose into an iconic Australian brand, like the Aboriginal version of R.M. Williams,” new Magpie Goose director says. 

The new owners of social enterprise fashion label Magpie Goose hope transitioning the business to Aboriginal ownership and leadership will encourage for-purpose businesses to think about their relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In a statement published earlier this year on the Magpie Goose website, non-Indigenous co-founders Maggie McGowan and Laura Egan said that having just welcomed a new baby, it was the right time for them to take a step back and hand over the reins to Murri woman Amanda Hayman and Kamilaroi man Troy Casey.   

The statement also said that this will mean Magpie Goose is now the first non-Indigenous company to transition to Indigenous ownership.

Since it was founded in 2016, the brand’s social impact has been two fold to create opportunities for non-Indigenous people to connect with Aboriginal art, culture and stories through fashion, and to grow economic opportunities for Aboriginal people in the textiles and fashion industry. 

The brand partners with independent Aboriginal artists and Aboriginal art centres to license designs for their clothing. This has generated over $403,000 in royalty payments for artists so far. 

The label has also worked with 32 screen printers in communities to get the designs onto fabric, it has worked with 56 Aboriginal models, and generated $3,000 for artists through an earring workshop for 57 artists.  

The next step in impact 

Casey and Hayman are the owners of Blacklash Creative, an organisation delivering cultural events and creative projects that showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. 

They also run Open House, a collaborative retail space (and stockist of Magpie Goose) that supports over 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses alongside a talented pool of local non-Indigenous makers and designers, and are directors of Aboriginal Art Co. 

Casey told Pro Bono News that by becoming the first non-Indigenous owned business to transition to Indigenous ownership, the business could now reach its full potential.  

“One of the reasons why it was time for Maggie and Laura to hand the business over is because it’s about to go into a growth phase in terms of employing more staff, producing more items and growing our reach for customers,” Casey said. 

“Seeing as the story about the brand is Aboriginal art and culture, who better to lead an organisation about that than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”  

Since taking over the business, Casey and Hayman have brought on three new staff members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. 

“For us, it’s not just about the two people at the top being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. It’s actually about increasing the opportunities for our community to become involved in the business and or fashion and textiles and wherever that leads to,” Casey said. 

This includes the business’ general manager, Chris Bassi, who was born of the Turrbal/Yaggera land and is a proud member of the Meriam and Yupanguthi Nations of the Torres Strait and Cape York Peninsula.     

Bassi told Pro Bono News that transitioning the label to Aboriginal ownership was something McGowan and Egan had always envisioned.  

“I think they always thought of themselves as minding the brand and working it up to a point where they could eventually transition over to Aboriginal ownership,” Casey said. 

“And I think that’s just the nature of the brand ethos and what it stands for in terms of empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”

Growing and learning 

In 2020, amid conversations sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement, questions were raised by the public around the motivations and intentions of Magpie Goose business model, ownership and leadership structure, and who was really benefiting from the sale of the clothing.    

In an open letter addressing the concerns, McGowan and Egan said they understood “that these fears stem from historical realities of dispossession and exploitation experienced by Aboriginal people since colonisation”. 

“We thought it would be good to re-introduce ourselves and share with you our motivations for starting Magpie Goose, and convey some of the business and personal realities we’ve been juggling while running this business,” the letter said. 

“We hope in doing this we can build empathy, understanding and trust; and our community’s expectations of us can be realistic and grounded in reality.”

Casey said these were important conversations to have, McGowan and Egan “were not the bad guys”.   

“They were actually running a successful enterprise that supported economic opportunities for remote artists,” he said. 

He said that he hoped that entering this next phase of the business would at the very least get for-purpose business owners thinking about their relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.     

“If your business is supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through for example, employment, are you thinking about how you can not only support those in need, but support people through professional development, through business opportunities and through leadership opportunities in an organisation which is structured to help our community?”  

“If it starts a conversation and starts people thinking about that and looking at that with a clearer lens, then I think that’s a win.” 

The start of something big 

Casey said that while the past year had been about learning everything there was to know about the business from McGowan and Egan, they were ready for Magpie Goose to “blow up” in 2021.  

“For us, 2021 is about expansion and growth,” he said. 

“We want to turn Magpie Goose into an iconic Australian brand, like the Aboriginal version of R.M. Williams.

“So that when people come to Australia, they want to buy a pair of R.M Williams boots, or a Magpie Goose item.” 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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