Considered by REAL


REAL Social Impact Design // Virginia Bruce on design & social enterprise.

Design, Hands That Shape Humanity, Ethical Brands, Social InitiativesVirginia Bruce

The R.E.A.L Design for Social Impact mentoring program has once again partnered with COFA, one of Australia’s leading design institutes, to turn ‘ordinary’ designers into budding social entrepreneurs.

Through a staged process, the program offers mentoring, guidance and connections to industry professionals, and for the selected designers, a platform for distribution and marketing through The R.E.A.L Store.

Bridging the gap between ideas and reality, ‘R.E.A.L Design for Social Impact’ builds a professional pathway for emerging designers to use their own set of skills towards a positive and tangible social impact beyond the classroom.

Virginia Bruce, founder of the R.E.A.L Group, shares how she helps students to realise their own potential as ‘impact designers’, what it takes to make it onto the shelves of The R.E.A.L Store and how simple it really is to make a difference.

Designers will be designers. How are the students encouraged to be ambitious while also being realistic ?

For some, the project will quite comfortably end at the end of the 15 weeks. I am comfortable to say that just doing the program is enough of a social impact by the fact that we have made them think about their role as designers.

And for others, they don’t even realise just how ambitious they are but it is this naivety that I love about the program and that we need to nurture, to allow it to be a free-thinking platform where the sky is the limit, infinite possibilities exist within.

From an innovation perspective, it is our role to ask, “How do we take it to the next level?”

Where the idea comes from doesn’t matter. It can come from somebody who has no idea about the realities of what they are trying to do. That’s OK. You can bring in the experts later so I’m big on not putting any ceilings on it or any judgement other than guidance.

How does The R.E.A.L Store support the program ? 

The R.E.A.L store acts as a channel to market that allows this creativity, these ideas and designers to be showcased. We have often talked about it as being like a community centre or a catalyst, a space through which things pass to give them a sense of presence and the visibility to make an impact.

Whenever possible, we have provided paid internships for the graduates to develop their project into a social enterprise. We have been able to do it in some capacity however it is our hope to secure sponsorship to make this opportunity accessible to more graduates.

How does a social enterprise define the words “profit” and “success”?

We talk about “people, planet, profit” so a social enterprise needs to be both economically and socially profitable.

To succeed, it needs to have a positive impact so how do you define a ‘positive impact’?

Just a beautiful vase in someone’s home, coming from somebody who loved what they did and handed it to someone who loved what they received, that to me is positive.

The R.E.A.L Store goes from one extreme to the other. I have a high respect for people’s positive energy and how they want to contribute as much as I have for somebody who would go into a slum and really put everything on the line to help these people move their way out of poverty.

With Santina’s (Life In Parts – pictured below) work, I thought it was so fragile and beautiful in her message around mental health. It worked to have just 30 pieces to sell in the store. That was enough. It didn’t have to be s.e.a.t (pictured above) and become an education program that I’m trying to take global. They don’t all have to be big, they can just be beautiful.

What is your message to people who would say, “I am not (smart/rich/famous) enough to make a difference?”

Every hand shapes humanity but the difference is doing it consciously.

Whether it’s teaching children with s.e.a.t or mentoring at COFA, it’s about putting each person at the centre of their universe and recognising that their value is just by the fact that they were born, that each one of us has something to offer.

As a social impact designer, what are you going to design that you love? What are you going to design that is part of who you are but also makes a contribution to other people’s worlds?

The journey is trying to get it right.

Designer Spotlight: Ceramics by Katherine Mahoney

Design, Eco HomewaresVirginia Bruce

There is a special place in our heart for Katherine Mahoney and her beautiful ceramic pieces. Not only do we stock many of Katherine’s pieces, we also have the privilege of working with her through the REAL Foundation Mentoring program for which she is a dedicated mentor.

Originally from Kent, England, Katherine began her training in the 70′s working as a production thrower for Keith Harding at Cranbook Station Pottery. She soon opened her own pottery studio (Fulling Mill Pottery) with her brother, where they designed and produced a range of domestic ware. Katherine then moved to Hong Kong where, inspired by the rich culture of Asian ceramics, she turned her hand and attention to creating sculptural single pieces, which were successfully sold and exhibited throughout Asia.

Today, Katherine is based in Sydney and continues to create stunning pieces that are sculptural yet functional, delicate yet robust.

Katherine’s pieces reflect her journey Eastward and Down Under. Sake cups glazed the colour of our Australian desert, a minimalist aesthetic weighed down by an earthy pull. Worked with a combination of porcelain and stoneware, these pieces are both exquisite and durable. All glazes are made in the studio and range from rich earthly reds and ochres, to cool blues and greens – only to be offset by strikingly simple white and black pieces.

Katherine’s work embodies the beauty of an art form that easily finds its place in a museum or gallery but that is most at home on a dining table, a mantelpiece, or a sidebench… in other words, at home.

Through the REAL Foundation Mentoring Program, we have been lucky enough the count Katherine as one of our mentors. She has previously guided COFA student Santina Ingui through her “Life In Parts” project – a limited edition of sculptural ceramic vessels – while this year, she mentors Ayusha on developing a range of ceramic homewares to be produced in Nepal