Connection means a lot to us, and we believe that lots of little stories create big connection. The #Inu8women series is how we share little stories about women who inspire us through their active lives. Learning from and sharing wisdom with like-minded women helps us to feel stronger, to feel supported and to be free to follow our joy. We believe we are better together.
We are honoured to introduce Melissa Cole, the Founder of Yaye, Australia's 1st Indigenous owned bath, body and beauty range, where traditional bush medicine is infused into uniquely Australian body care products.
We discovered Yaye (pronounced Yah-Yah, meaning Big Sister in Arrernte Language) on Arrernte Country last year. We loved the luxe feel of the products, the scent and the infusion of beautiful bush botanicals so much we felt the call to reach out and learn more about Melissa's story.
Melissa is a Warumungu and Luritja woman from Central Australia and has created her brand to celebrate cultural knowledge and to showcase ancient wisdom. Melissa's passion is contagious, deeply rooted in connection and purpose.
Can you use just a few words to describe how you live your life?
I live my life trying to be kind. It is the most important thing to me. I have high values and I instil them in all my decisions. I live my life elevating my community which is the Indigenous community that I come from. Everything I do is about my family and the country that I’m from, which is Central Australia.
What is the work you do in the world?
It’s funny because I have two jobs and I always joke and say that one I get paid for and the other I don’t ... as yet.
I am an educator. I have been a teacher for 33 years – working in Aboriginal education. I grew up in Alice Springs, I went to University in Adelaide and as soon as I graduated I went back to Alice Springs. I was always raised to give back to my community so I've worked in lots of marginalised schools with children from the Town Camps* and remote communities across the Northern Territory. Education is my expertise and I’ve worked really hard to master the craft of teaching and I’d like to think I'm a really good teacher.
My other job is the work I do with Yaye, which I founded nearly 2 years ago. That has pushed me in a way that I’ve never been pushed before. My goal is to pivot out of education and focus on Yaye, my bath and body brand full time. I’m at the awkward stage where I’m doing both and I’m treading water but keeping my eye on my goal.
I have to say that at the moment my teaching job is probably the best job I've ever had so isn’t it funny how the stars align? I feel like the universe has given me the gift of making my paid job amazing while I’m on this journey of bumpy discovery with Yaye.
It’s a blessing to be work content and business content and family content. My life has never been better. I am totally living my best life at the moment.
What is unexpected about being a businesswoman is the sisterhood and the support that comes with it. I feel like I am in an incredibly supportive environment.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My typical day is not exactly aspirational at the moment! I pack a lot in and it’s not really the life I want ultimately. Twice this week I ran to my car dodging torrential rain to take zoom meetings in the back seat during lunch! I am burning the candle at both ends so I am mindful this is not something I want to put out there as an example.
A typical day involves an early start, getting to work at 6.45am, meetings at lunch time and the occasional travel. I aim to squeeze in some exercise and then I’m working on Yaye in the evening.
I do incorporate my mindfulness practice, yoga, journaling and visualisation. I don’t always do it every day, but I do the best I can. I am happy to say I’m a work in progress.
What is your favourite way to exercise/move your body?
I love yoga and attempt to do it most days. I have scoliosis and I’m 50 so I’m mindful to move it or lose it. I embed mindfulness into the practice.
Every Sunday my husband and I do what we call ‘grounding’ and walk on the beach here in Darwin. It’s actually the thing I love to do the most in the week. When I don’t do it I feel like I haven’t let go of the last week and I’m not welcoming in the new week. I’ve done it for years with my kids but now we are empty nesters my husband has decided to come along and now he’s the main one who loves it.
What is the most important thing for you when it comes to activewear?
The fabric is super important to me. I can’t wear a lot of heavy, non-breathable lycra given the heat of the Northern Territory. We have a funny saying in our Aboriginal community called ‘rub rub’ - rub rub is chaffing and we cure it with corn starch. Rub rub is a big no no. We avoid that! Rubbing under the boobs is not okay! I personally love fabric that doesn't cause rub rub.
What I love about brands like yours is that if you can put something on and immediately feel good, psychologically you are in the right space to do exercise. If it's beautiful fabric, the cut is good (you know it’s not going to ride up or slip over your head when you are doing downward dog) it’s a win!
You mentioned you are burning the candle at both ends yet are mindful of embedding good habits - is taking time for rest important to you?
So important that I started a brand of bath and body products and the first products I made (apart from handwash) were bath crystals and bubble bath.
I’m about to create an app that links to soundscapes of Arrernte Country and Arrernte language. I’d like people to be transported to the beauty of the Northern Territory. I want my brand to be about place and to help people unwind. I feel that sense is very important, and I would like to stimulate as many of the senses as possible during a relaxing bath experience. When I feel the most relaxed is when I’m on country and I’d like to share that with others.
I like to say about my brand Yaye that it's a love letter to Central Australia. I want to help people feel more connected, to lift up community and to give back to charity.
What was your motivation for establishing Yaye?
I was working at the Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, a two way bilingual school for kids in the Town Camps. The school would do learning on Country (and still do) and so as part of that we would go on excursions and the language speakers (who are predominantly the nanna’s), would get the kids to harvest bush medicine and boil up vats of antiseptic washes and bush tucker. I knew they could make antiseptic washes for healing and when covid came along I wondered ‘where is the hand wash with some of these bush medicines in it?’
It was something I was interested in and there really wasn’t anyone making the wash so I decided to have a go at making my own. The rest is history and of course, you can't just have a hand wash, I wanted to make a suite of products.
My dream is to really pump some resources into the Yipirinya School as I am still very connected to the people. It is a not-for-profit school and has so much potential. They have a beautiful language centre and I'd love to invest in the language and the culture. I think we need it more than ever.
It is the auntie's and the nanna's that are so generous with their knowledge and we need to record it and act on it and nurture it in the next generation. Like all generations they like the latest things and they are all on social media however we need to keep the custodians strong and the history strong.
To be honest, and I don’t want to be political but if we look at a lot of the issues in Alice Springs it can come back to loss of culture and language. If we keep this strong it is a step in the right direction. There are so many people working so hard in this space. They have for decades and they will continue and I’d like to see us value them more, to make sure the next generation can access Indigineous history. I want to see it on equal footing to the Australian curriculum – what I like about Yipirinya is that English and Maths standard are taught on equal measure to language and culture.
What do you love about this stage of your life?
The best thing for me is that I’ve been able to have a crack at business as an empty nester. In the lead up I literally cried at the prospect of life without kids. Yaye is my baby now. I obviously love my children but I’m really enjoying being an empty nester. I don’t have endless loads of washing and I’ve checked out of cooking. My husband now does the cooking and our relationship has changed. I count my blessings. I’m happy to see my children grow into the incredible people they are. Life is amazing as an empty nester.
There is a level of courage when you are in your twenties and you perhaps tolerate more than you should. With age comes a sense of discernment. Now I know I am closer to the finish line and I think 'I don’t have time for this'. I don’t want to spend my precious minutes on this planet feeling a certain way. I want to be lifted up, inspired. I think one of the things younger people can look forward to about getting older is really knowing yourself and what your worth is.
We'd love your thoughts on this .. what do you expect from a new activewear brand offering women a holistic approach?
I think you are nailing it. It’s not enough to say we are an environmental and ethical brand anymore. Your point of difference is your story and your values and your connection to what's important to you. That’s what needs to come through and I feel like you guys are doing that beautifully.
I also think it's important to do you best when it comes to sustainability. Before I started my business I obviously wanted to recycle and be biodegradable and I actually thought the technology at least for a product-based business was further along than it was. I’ve had to bring myself back. For example, my pumps are not 100% recycled. I presumed they would be but we have to do the best with the technology we have got. I know you are ticking all the boxes and I love your capsule collection, it’s so classy.
I love your photography and how it is natural and earthy. It resonates with me. I love that your customer avatar is not a 20 something year old that goes to the gym every day of the week. That is totally fine but I feel like your brand is really resonating with women like myself.
I feel that as we get older, we become more conscientious consumers, we want to make a difference, we understand the value of buying from small business, female led, indigenous, Australian .. we’ve mopped the floors, raised the kids, we’ve done the million loads of washing and now we’ve earned some time for ourselves and we will be discerning as to how we spend our money.
Yaye means Big Sister and I definitely get the sisterhood vibe from your brand. I feel our brand personalities are very similar.
What does simplicity mean to you?
Simplicity to me means elegance, it means quality. Simplicity means making it easy for the consumer to make good choices.
What does a feeling of being connected mean to you?
If I look through a cultural lens it means being connected to a sisterhood, to a network, to country and to place - this is very important to me.
When it comes to grounding your feet in the red dirt, troubles melt away. There is a reason for the saying ‘stop and smell the roses’.
In general, do you seek out new products that are created sustainably?
I’m a label reader but what I’ve learnt is that the labels are not always correct. But as a consumer you do the best you can and make informed decisions. Sustainability for me links to country and connection.
Which influential women do you admire the most? And why?
I admire enormously Nicole Eckels from Glasshouse Candles and Fragrances. I had the opportunity to connect with her and she is mentoring me – she's really doing it with class, grace and kindness.
Obviously (but maybe not so obvious to all) my mum and aunties and nanna’s are all women I admire.
What is exciting you at present?
I’m excited about my app. It really is in line with my values of celebrating language and culture.
I’m about to move into hotel amenities – shampoo conditioner and body washes and I'm exciting about the corporate gifting market.
Is there a phrase or a word that you live by?
It's a quote from the singer Jewel “In the end only kindness matters.” I want people to smile when they think of me.
Learn more about the Yipirinya School in Alice Springs.
Read more about our journey to Arrernte Country.
Photography supplied by Melissa and Liz Barnes Photo on Arrernte Country.
* In some areas the Town Camps were established in the 1970's and 80's to provide a place where Aboriginal people visiting from remote areas could stay for short periods. Over time some people have made the Town Camp their permanent home and have lived there for over a decade.