People Snugglers

For Kate Evans, puns and politics are a perfect match.



If Kate Evans had known converting a pun into a series of 100 woolly jumpers would be so damn complicated, she would have jumped ship long ago. “It ended up being a ridiculously long process that took me a year and a half,” she says. “but I’m just the kind of person that when I have an idea I have to see it through.”

Restless with a comfortable Canberra life, Kate and her partner Sam relocated to Bogor, Indonesia in 2012, where she spent a year working as a video journalist producing tropical rainforest documentaries and reporting for the Australian media. This was during the height of the Australian election campaign, where words like “people smuggler” were being thrown around like a political football. “I wanted to deconstruct some of the rhetoric around people smuggling,” says Kate, “…in a pun, because I love puns.” After spending time interviewing shark fishermen on a remote island off West Java, Kate began to grasp the human side to this situation. She discovered the isolated location and lack of income opportunities on the island drew many of these fishermen into the only viable employment alternative after the price of the shark fin dropped – transporting asylum seekers in unsafe boats across to the Australian mainland. Many of the men saw people smuggling and illegal shark fishing practices as an equal risk, with Australian gaol-time preferable to Indonesian lock up. Kate discovered the majority of the fishermen involved were poorer than the asylum seekers themselves, “They were simply responding to a need that was there. It was an opportunity for them when they had very few others.”

Kate was joking with her partner about how the swap of a single letter could humanise this loaded term, and decided they definitely needed a series matching jumpers to parade their witty pun. “You couldn’t just have t-shirt that said: “People Snuggler”, it has to be something soft and cuddly for the whole joke to fly,” says Kate.

For the project to reflect the cause, Kate knew the jumpers needed to be made in Indonesia. – specifically in Bogor, a key transit point for asylum seekers on their way to Australia. While the idea came in a flash, the manufacturing was a whole other story. Beginning with a motorbike ride down a narrow village lane way to inspect knitting factories, to the lengthy search for 60kg of yarn that didn’t involve cruelty to Chinese angora rabbits, Kate has tried it on for size (and sent it back because it didn’t fit). After test driving expensive New Zealand angora goat and possum blended wool, and discovering it was horribly itchy, Kate finally got her hands on an affordable and ethically produced alpaca combo. Pangkat, Kate’s Indonesian manufacturing contact and chief producer of European football merchandise in Bogar, set to work on creating the limited edition series of jumpers. By this time Kate had moved back to her hometown in New Zealand, now relying on her Indonesian contacts to send sample squares between the two countries for her approval.

Finally a delivery of 130 jumpers arrived in last December, a year and a half after the initial lightbulb moment. “It was such a relief,” says Kate. “I’ve hardly sold any but I almost don’t care.” In an attempt to bring the project full circle, $10 from the sale of every jumper on Etsy will be donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource centre who provide support programs to asylum seekers settling in Australia. Kate has also made children’s jumpers, perfect for the little one she’s expecting in July. “I love the idea of people politicising their children,” she says.

Are there more semi-political puns out there, just waiting to be crafted onto a snuggly jumper? “I feel like it’s just this one off good idea that I had to execute,” says Kate. “I’m just pleased that it actually happened in the end, that I’ve amused people and made them think a bit.”