Alana Deukett is one of those sweet, calm types that when you meet, you feel instantly at ease with, but don’t let her gentle nature fool you. Alana has guts, determination and a back bone strong enough to withstand the toughest challenges and countless set backs in a foreign country with completely contrasting cultural attitudes and values to her own. This is a woman on a very important, passion fuelled mission. Soul Sister Circle chats to her about the birth of Luludu, taking chances and keeping the faith.
SSC: Let’s begin with a little introduction. Tell us a bit about yourself?
ALANA: Hello Soul Sisters, thank you for having me! Well, I’m 28 years old and I love all things healthy, loving and kind – whether that be to animals, the earth, or to ourselves. I’m always trying to learn more about what’s going on in the world, and what little steps I can take to help make this earth a better place. I also love learning how to understand my mind, spirit and body better too.
SSC: Crochet shoes is such a unique and specific market. What inspired the creation of Luludu?
ALANA: I was working in Brisbane in a job that to a lot of people would have been ‘enough’, but it was getting so hard to accept that this was all there was…Go to work 5 days a week, turn on the tv every night, maybe go out drinking on a Friday night, shop for groceries on the weekends… I felt that there were so many amazing things happening, and so many ways to grow, but I couldn’t do that in the position I was in.
So I left, with no solid plan and nowhere specific to go (understandably, not everyone agreed with this decision!). I just wanted to learn what I could about living a more open, spiritual lifestyle, and there was no better place to do that than Byron Bay.
However it wasn’t very easy to get by there either, work was hard to come by and a lot of emotional things were bought to the surface which I was forced to work through.
As so many jobs had come and gone during this time, I knew I wanted to create something that I had control of, that was beautiful, positive, animal friendly and that aligned with my beliefs. And that’s when I found my Mums crochet shoes. They were perfect! And I started learning how to make them a few weeks later.
SSC: You recently went on a trip to Cambodia where you worked closely with local artisans, training them to create your hand-crafted products. Can you tell us about that experience?
ALANA: I had always dreamed of training a group of women on how to make my shoes, hoping it would be able to provide honest work to communities who needed help.
It wasn’t an easy start, we had 2 months’ worth of setbacks and I experienced some steep learning curves, but during this time I was able to source all the materials I needed, to write all my patterns, and take time to understand the local culture.
When I finally met Rachel and her team at tonlé (the company I work with in Cambodia) I felt like I had grown so much already. All the people at tonlé are so beautiful – some of the staff have been through more than I can ever comprehend but they’d show up every day with big smiles on their faces and were determined to keep trying again and again until they perfected the patterns. Overall it was a very emotional, but inspiring experience.
SSC: It must have been quite challenging to embrace a new culture and the way they “do business”. How did you deal with the delays and uncertainty?
ALANA: Before I arrived in Cambodia I had contacted a NGO who specialized in crocheting and we were looking forward to working together. However when I got there, so many things went wrong! The government refused to fund our project with the amount we needed, we had problems with trainers, and finally we had trouble finding women who actually wanted to learn!
In the end, we had to admit the project just wasn’t going to work. But just as that happened I met Rachel who offered to help me, and training started a few days later. Looking back now, it all worked out perfectly.
There are so many complex issues in Cambodia, especially after all they’ve been through with the Khmer Rouge. It’s a whole different culture, different language, different way of working, thinking, and so many things I didn’t understand, so it was hard at times but I was determined to keep trying. It was a very long two months of not giving up hope and truly believing everything was happening just as it was meant to.
SSC: Do you have any advice for people looking to travel to remote places to conduct business?
ALANA: I think going overseas to find help can be a beautiful way to allow your business to grow. I would recommend doing a lot of research in the beginning (there is a few dodgy businesses out there who promise to be ethical or fair trade but are nothing of the sort), be aware that issues will arise, but remember to keep an open mind and follow your intuition. Be clear with what you want to achieve, and be flexible.
Also, be respectful, understanding, and do not give up!
SSC: How has Luludu and your experiences in Cambodia shaped the way you think about the buying and selling of goods?
ALANA: I can now see through marketing and the exterior image of some stores. They might sell something that looks spiritual or classy or whatever, but if it’s made using slave labour or child labour the company only has profits on its mind, which is really sad to see.
I know the system we have created is not sustainable. Garment workers are real people, with families who need them, health issues that are long ignored, and bodies that have become exhausted… It’s not fair that it’s ‘just the way it is’. How did we create such a warped system? How has it been hidden or so long, and why are we still letting them get away with it?
While saying that though, I know not everything is black and white and it won’t change overnight. But I think understanding what these company’s truly represent and the part we play in it is the first step in moving forward.
The experience has made me more determined to keep going down the path I am, to help connect my customers with the women who make Luludu shoes, and to stand up for what is right. Nobody is more or less deserving than anyone else, we all deserve the same amount of respect no matter where we come from or what our jobs may be.
SSC: Finally, what would you say has been the greatest gift Luludu has brought into your life?
ALANA: Luludu has taught me patience, acceptance, strength and persistence. I’m excited to watch the business grow, to continue to support ethical businesses, and to keep learning along the way.