We sat down with Monique Ryan-Musacchio, founder of Coastal Drift, importer of incredible hand-made goods from Indigenous African artisans. 

What inspired you to start your own business? 

Growing up in Malawi, Monique Ryan-Musacchio, Founder of Coastal Drift Interiors, was inspired to connect the talented craftspeople of her birth country with the markets that could support them.

After 20 years working in corporate strategic marketing for global brands across the UK and Australia, Monique became supremely well versed in reputation management, and it was the poor-quality imitations of Malawi chairs that encouraged her to take a stand for the artisans of Malawi.

“The imitation products weren’t only drawing income away from these artisans who had spent their lives developing their craft, but the poor quality was giving Malawi chairs a bad reputation. It was so disheartening to see global brands making money off the back of generations of design and talent. Having roots and connections in Malawi, I was in the position to make a difference: to empower the community and drive positive recognition for these chairs to the right people”.

Your birthplace will always be in your heart, and when I saw the opportunity to help the craftspeople who had made the toys I’d played with as a child – toys my daughter still owns – I knew it was a business model I could bring passion, purpose and positivity.

What were those first steps you took to launch? And what would you say was the scariest part/your biggest fear? 

As much as Monique’s creative background was wanting to jump into styling, shoots and catalogues, operations and logistics had to come first! Working with lifelong friends and connections within Malawi, Monique had to review supply sources artisan groups, finished product exporters, and locations within the country; to ensure the business could sustain the volume the Australian market demand potential.  She also had to button-down warehouse space and distribution at the local-end once containers tarted to roll in.

The scariest part?  Throwing every ounce of savings into the first container purchase! 

Who were the first people you hired and what were the positions? 

Kelly our Marketing and Content Manager; as even though strategic marketing was my corporate background; I was too close to the business and brand, plus my time was split too thinly across all other facets of the business – operations, sourcing, warehouse, distribution, dispatch, finance & legal.  Next came Chantell, who came on initially as our Office & Orders Assistant to take the weight of warehouse and dispatch.  Both Kelly and Chantell are still with the business 4 years later, with Chantell now heading up Sales & Customer Service – primarily with Wholesale and Trade.

Tell us a bit about how you design/make your products. 

The designs of some Coastal Drift products are traditional designs that have been passed on from generation to generation in Africa.  However, Monique and the team also work with their partners and artisan groups to use traditional weaving methods to develop new designs for furniture, lighting, basketware and jewellery.  By developing designs in Australia we are broadening the scale of the global market for artisans with pieces that are either more functional for Australian living, or where the designs an aesthetics are more suited to the Australian desires. 

Some of our stand-out Australian designs have been the Malawi Cane double hanging chair, the Malawi Cane Traditional and Classic bar stools, the Balcony Bench, our Kaya Pendants, and the soft fibres and tones of our Round Laundry basket sets from Zimbabwe (everyone loves a functional lid in Australia!)

Descrbe your customers and the community you have built/embraced. 

Like-minded customers who have an appreciation or ethical, sustainable, natural and handmade products.  This spreads wide and far between commercial,  hospitality, independent designers, stylists and of course our retailers.

What is it that you think your customers love about your brand? 

From a design perspective – that we are holistically working with artisan groups to either on-sell their age-old craft skills, and that we also utilise these skills to develop more neutral functional pieces for Australian homes.

From a brand and business perspective – many of our Trade and Wholesale clients value highly Monique’s story, connection to source of product and the artisans, and that she is still very much part of the everyday of the business.  There is a huge amount of trust and appreciation that has been developed over our 7 years in business.

How do you/your team stay inspired and authentic?

They are onboard from the get-go on our genuine and authentic traditional African crafted products, supporting the artisans who not only make the products, but from whom the traditional designs also originate.  It’s about protecting their livelihoods as well as these traditional crafts for future generations.

What path led you to Life Instyle and what is it about the show that makes it a great fit for Coastal Drift?

Life Instyle 2017 was our very first trade show. We wanted to show our brand and product in an environment that supported natural, handmade, sustainable, ethical products.  Plus be present in front of retailers and trade that shared those values and aesthetics – which come at a dearer price point.  So, in turn, they need the customers and client base to desire those particulars.

Who are some of the other brands at Life Instyle who you love and admire? 

Cloth & Co / Artisans of Fashion, Water Tiger, Saarde, Walter G:  All for staying true to their origins, beliefs and product, as well as respect for what they achieved on an international scale. But it is sad to have seen this hampered by the various travel lockdowns effecting the world these past few years.   In particular Cloth & Co for their very rooted approach to artisan development, protection and training. I wish they received more credit and market acknowledgement for the depth of work they do in rural India.

Wandering Sol – for seeing a gap in fairly new market, developing something unique and also their fast-thinking to broaden their offering during Covid to adapt to new consumer needs.

Bright Threads and Bow & Arrow for stand-out quality product that highlights timeless pieces and skill-set within regional Australia.

What is your favourite product that you stock and why?

Our trio of Round Fruit Trays – we pioneered the trio of small, medium and large; But I would also be lying if I didn’t also mention some of our specific Australian designs that have been borne from within Coastal Drift – the Malawi Cane double hanging chair and our Malawi Cane Balcony bench are firm favourites!

What is the best piece of business advice you have received? 

Grow your database list. Those contacts are the only true value you have to your business (be it for you, or other businesses).  Whilst social media can attract awareness, create presence and deliver content – you need to really be talking with your engaged customers.

Grow your database list. Those contacts are the only true value you have to your business (be it for you, or other businesses).

Can you share one of your proudest moments in business so far? 

Surviving a 2-year global pandemic that ensured artisans and crafts people in Africa continued to have a global marketplace to trade their pieces to. In addition, ensuring the Australian arm of the business could also survive, and keep our teams employed while they too experienced their own hardships throughout this uncertain period.

We will be ever thankful to our Australian & New Zealand customers, stockists and trade; for their continued support. Africa has been forgotten during the global pandemic (the whole continent receiving just 0.6% of the global pool of vaccines); and we can only support from afar via their incredible crafts and skills.

What advice would you give to someone else thinking of starting out? 

Believe in yourself, have patience, be passionate – if you have crunched all the numbers and know you have a quality offering; what will come, will come.

Quick Fire Questions

Where do you see yourself in five years' time? 

Hard to plan 5 years out with current Covid-climate, but we would like to ensure we continue our education piece on the importance of knowing who and where your homewares have been made; if we can still be supporting African artisans via a global marketplace, then we will be extremely happy.

What is your next dream travel destination? 

Anywhere beyond the passport gate at this stage!!

Favourite dinner recipe? 

Papardelle al ragu d’anatra

A moment when you were the happiest? 

Marrying my partner in crime under a baobab tree on the banks of the Zambezi surrounded by 40 of our closest family and friends.