Three Minute Squiz With… Margot Spalding

In 1995, Margot and her husband Alan Spalding started furniture company Jimmy Possum which grew to be an Aussie icon. Since closing it in 2016, Margot and Alan have ventured into fashion with Mimi The Label– a brand that is true to Margot’s bold, brave and fabulous style. Margot is heavily involved in the Bendigo community and is also a keen Squizer. We’re stoked to have her as our Three Minute Squiz subject this week.

Before we get stuck in, how and where do you Squiz?
Often on the loo first thing in the morning or when I come home from my early morning walk. I love it! I feel clever immediately. And I generally have a chuckle.

You and your husband Alan started Jimmy Possum from your garden shed. How hard was it to walk away from a business that had been your life for the best part of twenty years?
It was an enormous decision to retire Jimmy but Alan was facing a second round of prostate cancer and I was working eight days a week. I couldn’t even take him to his medical appointments. Your priorities change when faced with serious health issues. Jimmy Possum was a great business but all consuming. We lived & breathed it. We were enormously proud of the business for what we created and the workplace we provided. But the time came to focus on other things.

Continuing in the Jimmy Possum tradition, you have created a fashion label for stylish women. Tell us about Mimi the Label?
We were retired for two weeks and were at an incredible fabric market in Jakarta. I said “Al, let’s buy a whole lot of fabric and start a fashion business?” He was in and asked how could he help. That looked like being tricky but Alan has learned cutting. He now holds the prestigious position of The Chief Cutter.

Just as Jimmy Possum had a focus on fantastic fabric so does Mimi. At Mimi, we produce my designs. We focus on fabulous fabrics sewn into great shapes. The idea is that we find the shape which suits each lady and then work with that to make beautiful garments which make her look and feel fantastic. I enjoy being quite dramatic but not all Mimi ladies do. We make sparkling pieces for special occasions and lots of very stylish sensible for day wear.

The majority of sales are via Instagram. I spend a lot of time on social media and have made great mates with ladies across the nation. It’s like having hundreds of pen pals. Alan and I like making things. We made beautiful furniture for 35 years. Now we make beautiful clothing.

Both your businesses have been run from Bendigo, a community you are heavily involved with and passionate about. Have you faced any challenges being regionally-based or has it worked in your favour?
I have often represented regional Victoria talking up the positives of being regionally based. I would never have been able to achieve what I have in life if we were based in a metropolitan area. Jimmy stood out because we told the story of belonging to the community of Bendigo. People love a sense of community so we brought all staff to Bendigo for training and they, in turn, took Bendigo to customers. Customers loved the community stories and they bought into that.

The biggest difference as a regional business was freight so we bought our own trucks and freighted directly from Bendigo to our interstate stores.

From the perspective of raising children, and we share seven, it is way easier to be able to leave the factory at the time when the school bell would ring and I’d be in the car park when the kids got there. It’s easier for kids to become independent in a regional city too. Life is an easier pace and the social life for the whole family is way better.

Some Squizers may have come to know about you when you appeared on Australian Story in 2015. In that profile, you spoke about founding Believe in Bendigo, an organisation committed to stopping anti-mosque sentiment in the region. Three years on, have things changed?
Believe in Bendigo was formed to speak out against hate speech, to make the Muslim community and other minorities know they are welcome in Bendigo. I assembled a group of leaders in our lounge room religious leaders, community leaders, political leaders, media leaders, sporting leaders. We wanted to restore the great name of Bendigo as a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. Bendigo had been taken over by far-right extremists who objected to the building of a mosque being approved by the local council. It was a horror time in our city. Violent and ugly. Believe in Bendigo was a very successful movement because we believe the majority of people are good people, inclusive & welcoming.

As the Muslim community raise the funds to build the mosque, which is the most stunning design, there is still a small group of people who still go out to the mosque site most days. Draped in Aussie flags, carrying vulgar signs, banging on about the terror of Islam and Muslims.Could you be bothered? Do they not have anything positive to do with their days? And who will be the next group of people they hate & target?

Can you give us some advice on how to pick brave furniture for the home?
The first thing to do with interior home design is to choose a colour palette. Colours you love, colours which make you feel comfortable, colours which make your heart skip a beat.It’s better to have less furniture (says she who lives in a very over-furnished home!) but quality furniture. Furniture chosen well should last decades. I’m very opposed to cheap product which is cast off a year down the track.

What is the best part about being a grandmother?
Most of our children are in their 40s so when do they stop being ‘our children’? We had three each and then we had one… she calls herself the love child. And we have 14 grandchildren currently, 12 of whom are boys. I was on a mission to have a very big family because my family died when I was a child and standing on your own in life is not a good place to be.

One of the great things about being a grandmother is being more relaxed about things. Rules. What they eat. What time they go to bed. We are very closely involved and often have several grandchildren sleeping in our room with us. And do you know what? They rush past me and say “Mimi where’s Par?” Alan adores them and is wonderful with them. He was an only child.

What would you say is the most overrated virtue?
Well, I’ll now be thinking about that for days trying to work out what is the most overrated virtue. I think an underrated virtue is kindness. It’s pretty simple, but simple kindness goes a very long way and can change lives. Sound like a politician not answering the question but popping in my own message.

What qualities do you most value in a friend?
I love my friends. Friends give and take. Friends need to be generous of spirit. My closest friends have a very strong social conscience. I’ve always had this test in my mind about a great friend – if I called at 3am and said “I need you, please come,” they’d come immediately without asking why. And you’ve gotta be able to have fun with your mates.

Go-to karaoke song?
It’s been a thousand years since I’ve done karaoke but my claim to fame is winning a karaoke competition years ago. I was singing with one of the Jimmy Possum truck drivers at the New China restaurant in Bendigo at a Jimmy Possum party. Geez, we were good! And Jimmy Possum parties were legendary.

If you could invite any four people – living or dead – to dinner, who would they be? And what are you cooking?
I have to go and get in the shower and think about this…Nup, the list became too long. But it was based around women, so instead of answering your question about dinner at our place I’m going to tell you about some dinners I already hold at our place

When all the mosque troubles were happening in Bendigo I invited a few Muslim ladies and a few of my mates around for cake ..I made halal cake!! They were such fun occasions. But now these events have developed into Interested, Interesting Ladies Dinners. There are now over 200 on the event list which is done via Facebook, so people have to friend me. Everyone is invited for dinner at our place. Everyone brings something to share. Food or drink. The point of the dinners is that ladies talk to other ladies… the noise is incredible. The food is fantastic. The Pakistani ladies are very glamorous. When their mums are in Australia staying for months, they come too. None of them speak English but they love these events. I’ve made great friends with some of the Middle Eastern grandmothers. We can’t speak to each other but we love it when we catch up.

How do we snag an invite?
To get a guernsey you just have to bump into me really. Or someone else who comes along. It’s not a closed shop but we do need to know who’s coming into our home. I bump into women all over the place and if I think they are interested or interesting I invite them along. We have business women, community workers, refugees, mums at home, migrants, doctors, lawyers, shop keepers, fitness people, nurses, retired ladies, etc. A couple comes from Melbourne. One from Swan Hill. We support Annie North, a refuge for women in Bendigo. One of the best places to spend the evening is in the kitchen washing up. A lot happens at the sink.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
I’d like to be able to write a book. But I just cannot understand how you can concentrate long enough, assemble all those words and produce a great book. I also think I’d like to be a journalist. I think excellent journalism is now more important than ever. So maybe I’m wanting to be an introvert because both those things require a lot of time on your own, whereas I really like to spend all day out and about chatting to people.

What would you say is the most overlooked news story of the moment?
The extraordinary slaughter of women in our community. Murdered by their partners, husbands or ex-men. It’s kind of talked about but it’s become too regular, or always was happening and now just noticed. It is an unthinkable horror that so many women have to live in fear with someone, or when the relationship is over. Live in fear of that person forever. Our community needs to stand up. It is totally unacceptable.

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