, “If we can create this business that people love, when we came from nothing, imagine what our children can do with the opportunities they have! They can go beyond. So we hope we are setting an example for them, and to inspire other women to make a difference in their own community. Even if nothing comes of this business, we’re showing our children what it is to get something done.” 

– Mary Deng

Connection and community. They’re two words that may seem distant or even foreign right now, but for Mary Top and Mary Deng of Mat Tetni, they’re the very foundation of a successful business and a purposeful life. 

“We met and we had the opportunity to start this business together because we are in the same community,” says Mary Top. “Sharing and collaborating is something we just know how to do.”

Mary Deng continues, “In Africa, we did life together. I have five children and here in Australia, it is me – and only me – who is responsible for disciplining them. In Africa, anyone would discipline me! We ate food together, we danced together, we fought together. We did everything together and there was a strong sense of community.”

And the ‘Marys’ – as we have come to know them – are living proof of the power of that community. It’s one they have both carried through and cultivated since arriving in Australia from their homes in Africa. 

Both originally from South Sudan, Mary Top grew up as the youngest of seven in Ethiopia, and arrived in Australia in 2006 after a difficult journey via Egypt, where she was required to temporarily leave her one month old daughter behind. “It was very challenging,” she says. “I arrived having never been to school and without a word of English. But here, God has made a strong path for me. I have a better life, I am a better person and I am blessed to be here.”

This sense of gratitude is shared by Mary Deng, who grew up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. When she arrived in Australia in 2003, she was struck by how different everything was, but overwhelmingly, how lovingly her community took her under their wing. “Everything was new!” she laughs. “Cooking, shopping, laundry! But I was blessed because the people here showed me how to manage. My eldest son was 5 months old at the time, and now with five children, I hope I am showing them all how you can create your life.”

“That’s one of the things I love most about Australia, that you can make things happen here because people support you and people will help you,” says Mary Top. In fact, it’s the very sentiment that has gone on to inspire Mat Tetni, which means ‘the joining of hands together.’ 

“We came up with that name because we know that two hands can do more than one,” says Mary Top. “Even under the most difficult circumstances, we all have something to give. We all have something amazing in us.” 

Mary Deng continues, “If we can create this business that people love, when we came from nothing, imagine what our children can do with the opportunities they have! They can go beyond. So we hope we are setting an example for them, and to inspire other women to make a difference in their own community. Even if nothing comes of this business, we’re showing our children what it is to get something done.” 

Already featured on national television, Mat Tetni’s gorgeous aprons – made of upcycled jeans and traditional African fabrics – are one of Made By Many Hands’ most popular products, often selling out only minutes after they are posted on the store. So we think there may in fact be lots to come from this humble business. 

“We only started sewing 2 years ago,” says Mary Top. “But we thought, ‘What can people use every day?’ And our answer was an apron! So we followed instructions on YouTube, we bought patterns from Spotlight, we visualised it and we created it.”

Those colourful creations are hopefully just the start of what we’ll see from the Marys, who are already venturing into new types of apparel, and hope to one day open a shop. “I want people to walk in and think, ‘wow!’” says Mary Deng. “And most of all, I want us to be able to support our families and the children back home in South Sudan, who have nothing. Helping them and inspiring them is what we are here for.”

Mary and Mary, you’re just about as inspiring as it gets. 

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance writer