Monique Chiari’s Clumsy Cushions
She creates the softest, cosiest cushions, handmade from excess offcuts and stuffed with recycled water bottle fibres. More recently, she’s even started to dabble in creating handbags.
We sat down with Monique to talk about her entrepreneurial journey and her focus on sustainable practices.
Could you talk a little bit about your journey since leaving Santa Maria? What drew you to Melbourne?
I left pretty much straight after graduating. I remember a few days after I turned 18, I jetted straight to art school at RMIT and never came back. I always felt that I never really fit in with much of what was happening in Perth growing up, so moving over was just the natural next step.
What was the initial inspiration behind starting your business, Clumsy?
It was born out of intense boredom with feelings of stagnation in my share house, with a desire to get some sort of joy from making things for my friends who were having a similar experience. It started in the second Melbourne lockdown when I wasn’t working and was watching too much Drag Race. I started cutting up my old band t-shirts and making them into cushions. I also got obsessively into Facebook Marketplace and saw a rough trade post advertising an old sewing machine. I offered to trade my big devil’s ivy plant for it, and it all kind of went from there. I learned how to sew all the basic stuff from YouTube tutorials, and everything just kind of expanded really organically from there.
Could you elaborate on the sustainable practices you use to reduce landfill?
Clumsy has always operated as a minimal waste/upcycled practice. Over time I’ve just refined it to be as minimal waste and conscious as possible. I began Clumsy as limited edition runs of dead stock fabrics so that each cushion could not be sourced by any other makers and was also used instead of making its way to the bin. At the moment, every cushion is stuffed with a combination of fibres, mostly recycled water bottle fibres and offcuts from local designers blended. I’ve spent a lot of time refining Clumsy packaging so that there isn’t any unusable waste created from it. Every Clumsy product is packed 100% plastic-free, using compostable postage bags, and comes in a custom dust bag that you can wash your pillow in when it gets a little too much love.
Recently I’ve begun partnering with local makers in an offcut program which I’m hoping to expand into an off-cut business called Scrappy, where I collect unusable scraps and repurpose them into cushion stuffing. Small offcuts are unavoidable for all makers, no matter how conscious or waste-free orientated they are, and it’s something that most businesses don’t tend to discuss. Having a conscious local business that can rescue most of your waste and give it another life alleviates heaps of the guilt suppressed by many makers who care about how much they’re putting in the bin at the end of every day.
How has Clumsy been received by the local community in Melbourne?
Really well! The Narrm community is my biggest supporter for sure, and I love them all.
Which has been your most popular product so far?
I released my classic collection last year in a white boucle, in three different classic shapes, which have definitely had the most commercial appeal.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Most of the time, my ideas start from some sort of silly joke. The creative process usually starts with me coming up with something ridiculous and seeing how it floats.
What has been one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneur! Wow! Fancy word. Umm, I love having the business as a way of connecting with creative and interesting people around me — so I guess the best part of it all is building a real sense of community around Clumsy.
Were there any programs or teachers at Santa Maria that may have helped you develop your entrepreneurial mindset?
I remember my English teacher Ms Morey had a really large impact on me. I used to have so many big ideas that I found I wasn’t able to easily put them into words. Ms Morey spent a lot of time with me to make sure I could. Mr King, my Politics & Law teacher was such a dedicated and intelligent teacher as well, shout out to Stephen — I’m now forever cursed with an interest in Australian politics.
I was one of those students who took doing all the co-curriculars a bit far… I reckon I had a crack at most things. I was really big into the team sports like swimming, water polo, netball, and cross country. I loved all the more nerdy stuff too, like public speaking, debating, and philosophy club, and in my last few years was really into the art department and its fashion parades and exhibitions. I was really proud of being Visual Arts Captain and I took it pretty seriously too (lol).
What are your plans for the future?
I’m starting up a little mini-music project on the side of clumsy where we’ll be releasing ambient tapes and records, which I really hope to continue with. I would love to be able to keep expanding and eventually move into a larger space and hire some other people to help me with everything as well. As long as I’m stoked about going to work every day for myself, I’d honestly just be happy to continue doing this for a long time.