I was suffering some serious heat/humidity induced brain drain by the time I knocked on the door of Kelley Sheenan’s Brisbane home and the Peppermint magazine HQ. Thankfully, in this part of the world they are well equip to combat their climate and after downing some icy water and sapping up the cool of the basement workspace I began to return to normal. The recovery time gave me a great opportunity to make myself comfortable and shoot the breeze with super friendly Kelley, piecing together the journey that led her to set up, design, edit and publish Australia’s first publication focused on sustainable and ethical fashion. In fact by midway through Kelley’s story her Peppermint advertising manager; Sally Cage and assistant editor; Emily Lush were eagerly asking questions themselves having had no idea quite how their place of work had come about!
Born and raised in Invercargill; the deep south of NZ, at 21 Kelley did what many young kiwis do and exited stage right, landing in Melbourne. Over 9 years there she did everything from telemarketing, selling car batteries (!!) and working in insurance. An eventual return to Auckland led to administration work for a graphic design school and also marked her first real efforts at indulging her creative interests. In the evenings she spent time collating and writing a vegetarian cookbook. She was so dedicated to it’s development she cornered Jamie Oliver in a back alley, post book signing to try to glean some advice! This initially worked in her favour with early talks with his UK based publisher…however it was quickly deemed that because she wasn’t famous it really was a no go. (Haha….all it takes now is a stint on a reality show!)
Not discouraged she pushed forward with self publishing in mind and with a few strings pulled at the graphic design school she was lucky enough to get her book taken on as a project for students. Then perhaps, the first step that led to her current career was was taken. On viewing the results of the students work she quickly realised that she was an intense perfectionist and really needed to do the job herself -promptly quitting her desk position and enrolling in a full time graphic design course.
On graduating her course (and with the cook book shelved for now) she marched into a local graphic design agency and in short – insisted they give her a job. When the manager came out to deal with the persistent intruder they quickly realised they were both from the same area in the South Island and she was employed! Graphic design had given her the creative outlet she had been searching for for years and during the time with the company she joined forces with husband Ben to put her skills to use on a personal project by designing and selling printed t shirts at a central city market.
Her first awareness of ethical fashion came about when her t-shirt supplier introduced a new option of printing onto “green cotton” garments. Many of her fellow stall holders were beginning to source from China to cut costs, a decision that didn’t sit comfortably with Kelley and Ben- hence her own research began. This interest then snowballed when she fell pregnant and began hunting for organic fabrics for the arrival of her baby. Hunting high and low locally and online she entered a new world of fashion and business she hadn’t been aware existed.
Her new knowledge stirred her up. She realised quickly that if she herself had only been able to unearth this information by intensive research that many others out there that shared her values were also starved of it. Armed with an 18 month year old and husband she jumped the Tasman again this time to settle in Brisbane. With the intent to give a positive and solutions based front to the sustainable and ethical practice in fashion she decided that her favoured medium would be print. And in 2008 the skeleton of Peppermint magazine began to form.
What followed was some serious hard graft. With the help and support of Ben she worked on sourcing content and designing the publication herself. She endured learning curve after learning curve over self publishing, selling advertising and balancing her role as a mother and wife. Her past sales experience obviously paid off as she was able to fund her first print run of 1000 copies entirely on advertising revenue. This maiden issue was then distributed for free around businesses, shops, brands, cafes – anywhere she thought she would have an interested audience.
As it turned out – she had quite a big one! The response was overwhelmingly positive but also then poised the next huge challenge of doing it again! She started to look into what was required to sell through book shops/newsagents and the answer was a little scary in terms of the print run demanded. However, with an early and positive partnership with a distributor she was once again able to get another magazine out generated by advertising. With a proven audience out there and increasing interest from the fashion and ethical business industries she realised that the Peppermint “beast” she had created might just be getting all a little too much. Two unsuccessful and generally depressing meetings with publishers made her realise that corporate ownership simply was only going to lead the magazine away from her core values. With some timely inspiration from Anita Roddicks book; “Business as Unusual” she excepted that Peppermint was “her beast” and that she was determined to see it grow in a way that matched the causes and issues it was based on.
Up until 2011, Peppermint was a labour of unpaid love for Kelley and friend Tess Curran who came on board in 2009 and is now Deputy Editor. Working out of Kelley’s living room with no pay for years would have had most people questioning the magazines viability. But Peppermint was becoming a barometer of Australia’s interest and growing awareness of this type of industry. Initially a friend had questioned Kelley on what she would do once she had profiled all six of Australia’s sustainable fashion designers? This was a fair point to make in 2009 but now Peppermint sustains a staff of 5 (not including Kelleys 6 year old son Ryder who is “Manager of Print and Photocopy Machinery”) all in response to the explosion of the industry and it’s popularity. Submissions vastly outweigh what was previously heavily sourced material and the magazine sits well among fashion, creative and business based publications in stores.
Taking her journey into account, it’s hard not to be massively impressed and downright inspired by this Invercargill born expat bringing sustainable and ethical issues to living room tables minus the guilt and hippy status.
From left: Assistant Editor; Emily Lush, Advertising Manager; Sally Cage, Editor/Publisher/Designer; Kelley Sheenan.
Absent but loved! Deputy Editor; Tess Curran, Administration/Accounts/Design; Brent Wilson and Manager of Print and Photocopy Machinery; Ryder.
Kelley + Brisbane 101
Lives:Red Hill, Brisbane with son Ryder
What she loves most about Brisbane:
-It’s a city finally finding it’s feet creatively, so is currently a groundswell of creativity and innovation.
-It’s big enough to be interesting but small enough to feel like a community
What she misses most about NZ:
-Being able to lie on grass without being bitten by something!
-Family and friends
-The secondhand shops (I always clean up when back in Invers)
What I learnt from Kelley:
It’s impossible to read our own future but when you find that “thing” that really spins your wheels take hold of it in some form and indulge your passion. It might not become your business, but it might be the most rewarding thing you ever do.