Around the same time Sasha Titschkosky was about to celebrate the significant milestone of turning 18, the 1987 market crash happened. This resulted in her parents losing everything, including their family home.
“For me, it was a bit of a shock seeing all of that happen and experiencing it, but maybe I didn’t really understand the impact it was going to have until much later,” she says.
And she was right. When Sasha and her husband, Russell Koskela, decided to quit their jobs, and leave corporate life behind to start their own Sydney-based homeware and furniture brand Koskela, they wanted to make sure to build it out so that it reflected their personal values.
“For Russ and I, when we started the business, it was more than just about making money, but that it stood for other things,” she says.
Sasha says it first started with making sure the furniture they were producing and selling was considerate of its environmental impact and that it was supportive of local manufacturers.
“When we first started, everyone told us – and it was at the time when all of the manufacturing was being handed over to China from Australia – we were crazy to start manufacturing locally and no-one would be able to do it,” she says.
“But we kept persisting and found people who were committed to doing that as well.
“It’s interesting now because it has kind of come full circle where we have corporate clients who want only Australian-made products.”
They decided to take it a step further by creating a social enterprise within Koskela that focuses on helping disadvantaged Indigenous artists living in remote parts of Australia.
“One area I’ve been passionate and perplexed about is Indigenous disadvantage,” she says.
“We thought about how we can create income opportunities for remote Indigenous artists, which enable them to have their income, so they can remain living in their homeland, practising their cultural belief that they choose to do.”
This social enterprise side of the business started in 2009, when it formed Yuta Badayala, which means “a new light”, together with Yolngu artists from Elcho Island Arts in the Northern Territory.
Artists are commissioned for their weaving skills – that are traditionally used to create coiled baskets, jewellery and mats – in which Kosekla has used to develop a range of interior lighting, some of which are on display in places including the Qantas headquarters and Powerhouse Museum of Australia.
“The idea is to inspire younger Indigenous people to continue with what is a traditional practice in their culture,” Sasha says.
Koskela’s collaboration circle with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists has since grown to include other Indigenous-owned and managed art centres around the country including Tjanpi weavers, Milingimbi Arts, Warlukurlangku Artists, Durrmu Arts and the artists of Yarrenyty Arltere.
Sasha adds the business also sometimes licenses the work of artists and uses it for other homeware products. One of the most recent collaboration was with renowned Indigenous artist Regina Wilson, where her linear paintings were used to produce an exclusive fabric range.
In a further effort to enhance the opportunities for local Indigenous artists, Sasha says: “This year, we have really stepped up our commitment in the area and have pledged 10 per cent of our total revenue to the further development of these projects.” The additional funds will derive from the sales of other Koskela items, such as sofas, tables and the business’ work on corporate projects.
“I think it’s a really interesting time being in this space,” Sasha says. “There is much bigger awareness of how precious that Indigenous cultural heritage is to Australia and there are more and more people who want to recognise and preserve it, and one way is to help them find income.”