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Inside stories: Once upon a time

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2015 89 (12) LIJ, p.99

A crowd-funded creative enterprise also aims to support disadvantaged communities build basic literacy and numeracy skills. By Karin Derkley 

On extended sick leave late last year, Matthew Taylor had more time than he’d had in a while to think about creativity. Art, music and literature had always been an important part of his life, but as a junior litigation lawyer at DLA Piper Australia he hadn’t had much chance to continue his artistic pursuits.

While recovering from illness, he thought of a design concept that would celebrate language, ideas and culture while at the same time encourage others to re-engage with this too often neglected part of their lives. The concept was to use T-shirts as a blank canvas to carry a selection of unfinished literary quotes. “The idea was that people could insert themselves into the quote, prompting them to engage and explore – if just for a moment,” said Mr Taylor.

Convinced the concept was marketable, Mr Taylor got together with friends Jack Lang and Amy Gilmour to set up an enterprise – MET, short for Metamorphosis.

Their first run of five T-shirt designs includes quotes from F Scott Fitzgerald (“In my younger and more vulnerable years my. . .”), James Joyce (“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a . . .”) and Jane Austen (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that . . .”).

Future series will draw on philosophy, cinema, art and music, and there are plans to extend the brand into stationery and other accessories.

The past year has been spent setting up the enterprise, including a crowd-funding campaign via Pozible that at the time of publication had raised more than $10,000 to fund its first production run of T-shirt designs.

But MET was never about generating profits for themselves, Mr Taylor said. “We always wanted to support human rights and education as well as invigorating arts and culture.”

As someone with a passion for literature, Mr Taylor said he is all too aware that many Australians lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, struggling with even the most basic of texts. “And if you miss out on these core skills in early childhood you are likely to fall behind for the rest of your life.”

Wanting to lend their support to an organisation with a mission to address that fundamental injustice, Mr Taylor and his friends came across the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. The ANLF was set up in 1999 with the aim of ensuring all children are given equal access to literacy and numeracy skills. Their Australia-wide program particularly focuses on children from Indigenous and refugee communities.

“What impressed us was the whole-of-community approach that the organisation adopts,” Mr Taylor said. “In Indigenous communities, for instance, it isn’t just about imposing English language, but about recognising the importance of Indigenous culture and language as well.”

It’s been a very busy year, on top of an already heavy workload in his day job, Mr Taylor acknowledges. “It’s more than a part-time job. I work a couple of hours most weeknights, plus much of the weekend too. There’s a significant amount of work to do in terms of setting up the business framework, but also marketing, networking and fundraising.”

His firm has been amazingly supportive, Mr Taylor said. “They have provided pro bono advice regarding our IP and structuring the business, which is normally very expensive. My colleagues are very socially minded.”

What has surprised and delighted him has been the extent to which people are willing to support important social concerns, as long as they are confident that their contribution will help achieve something they believe in, Mr Taylor said.

Indigenous literacy: the facts
  • In 2014 34.9 per cent of Indigenous students in very remote areas met or exceeded the National Minimum Standards for Year 7 reading.
  • The 2014 Naplan test results show that 57 per cent of Indigenous students in Year 3 in the NT achieved below the national minimum standard in numeracy.
  • The proportion of Indigenous young people who completed Year 12 was 59 per cent in 2013, compared to 88 per cent for non-Indigenous young people.
  • Sources: ABS, Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Productivity Commission “Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Fact Sheet 8”
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