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Interview · Berry Liberman of Dumbo Feather & Small Giants

Creative People

19th July, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 19th July 2013

Dumbo Feather amazing new iPad APP!  Photos by David Michael / Dumbo Feather.

Dumbo Feather iPad APP!  Photos by David Michael / Dumbo Feather.

Berry Liberman with Dumbo Feather's digital editor Brendan McKnight reviewing the new iPad App!  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Dumbo Feather amazing new iPad APP!  Photos by David Michael / Dumbo Feather.

Berry Liberman at 'The White House' in St Kilda.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Berry Liberman is a name I knew, long before I met the woman herself.  Berry's surname is well known in Australia - synonymous with hard work, determination and success in the business world, on account of Berry's paternal grandfather, who built an incredibly successful business from the ground up, after immigrating to Melbourne as a Holocaust survivor after WWII.  As she mentions below, Berry is intensely aware of the legacy left by her grandfather and father, and feels a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, using her business as a powerful tool for social change.

Berry is many things.  She's the co-founder and Creative Director of Small Giants, the 'business love child' she started with her husband Danny Almagor in 2007, with a vision to nurture and invest in entrepreneurial projects with the potential to change the world.  She is also Publisher and Editor of Dumbo Feather magazine, a role entrusted to her by the magazines' founding editor, Kate Bezar, in 2011.  AND last but certainly not least, she's also Mum to three very small children - baby Leo, who is four months old, Amos who is five, and Willow, three.  Let's just say, this is a woman who fits more into each day than most!

I was lucky recently to spend a wonderful morning with Berry and her team in the 'White House' - a beautiful Victorian mansion in St Kilda which houses Dumbo Feather HQ, as well as many of the enterprising businesses Small Giants supports.  We chatted over hot tea (poured from a teapot into proper a cup and saucer, if you don't mind), and in just a few hours, it really began to feel as if I'd known Berry for a lifetime.   No exaggeration! There is something so earnest, so warm and generous about Berry - she wears her heart on her sleeve at all times, and her eyes twinkle with genuine excitement as she discusses the various projects Small Giants supports.

It's clear though, that Dumbo Feather holds a special place in Berry's heart.  After taking over the magazine in 2011, Dumbo Feather provided Berry the creative outlet she had yearned for since leaving behind a career in screenwriting to start a family in 2008.  For Berry, the magazine is a labour of love - and the heart and soul of Small Giants.  'Dumbo Feather is a litmus test for great ideas, people and businesses around the world' says Berry below.  Indeed, it's a publication that perfectly encapsulates in printed form all that Small Giants stands for.

This is a special week for Berry and the Dumbo Feather team.  We are pretty excited to let you all know that Dumbo Feather has a BRAND NEW iPad APP which launched just yesterday, and the best part is, supported by a successful kickstarter campaign last year, it's 100% FREE!  Download the app on itunes for the full back catalogue of all Dumbo Feather content, from Issue #1 to today.   Huge congrats to the entire Dumbo Feather team on the launch of this truly beautiful digital project - a year in the making!  If you have an iPad, you gotta check it out.  SO BEAUTIFUL.

Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, and what path led you to what you’re doing today?

I did a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts. It was an amazing degree which allowed for a very broad arts study that included half theory and practice. I majored in writing and photography, and straight after uni I obtained the feature film rights to Mirka Mora’s autobiography. I was all of 21! Suffice to say I had a lot to learn, and quickly took myself off to live in LA so I could gain experience in the industry.

I was there on and off for five years where I did screenwriting, and then began to direct short films. There was a turning point for me when I met my future husband. I realised that to have the life I wanted I couldn’t stay in LA and keep working in film. It would require all that I had, and I wanted a family. So I came home, got married, had two children and kept searching for the right opportunity to keep my creativity alive. I was always a huge fan of Dumbo Feather, so when the opportunity came up to take over the magazine, I jumped at it. Looking back it all makes sense now!

Your surname is well known in Melbourne, and Australia - synonymous with hard work, determination and success in the business world. How has your family life and upbringing influenced your career choices and the growth of Small Giants? Is there a particular sense of work ethic, entrepreneurship or other attributes you feel you've inherited from your family, who built incredible success after immigrating to Melbourne as Holocaust survivors after WWII?

Growing up I was surrounded with a lot of love, food and hard work. My grandfather, father and uncle were refugee entrepreneurs - so that meant family and work were inseparable. I think I did inherit that work ethic, and I get very immersed and passionate about our projects. Sadly my father died when he was very young (45) and this impacted me deeply. I realised that growth at any cost was not a good model for Small Giants - or for our lives!  It was clear to me that business should represent all stakeholders, not just shareholders.  I am also intensely aware of the privileges I have been blessed with, and that my role in life is to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, using our business as a tool for powerful change, to nourish my family and community and leave things a little better than when I arrived (fingers crossed).

You’re a creative entrepreneur and serial collaborator, and the invisible force behind many inspired projects including The School of Life Melbourne, TOMS, and The Commons, which all sit under the umbrella of your core business – Small Giants. Can you briefly tell us about the business philosophy behind Small Giants, and some of the projects you are currently involved with?

Small Giants is the business love child of my husband Danny and myself. We both come from different disciplines, Danny was the founding CEO of Engineers Without Borders Australia, and I came from the film world and my family's history was finance (investing). Our joint passions for the environment, human rights, justice, art, creativity, business and creating meaningful experiences led us to start Small Giants. It’s based on a book of the same name, which proposes that business can be great instead of big. That 'growth at all costs' is not a good paradigm of business for the future. Small Giants is founded on the premise that business can be a powerful tool of change in the world.

Aside from Small Giants, you are also the Editor-in-Chief of one of our favourite local publications - Dumbo Feather. How did you become involved with Dumbo Feather and what has been your vision for the publication since taking on this role?

I was always a huge fan of Kate Bezar, the founding editor of Dumbo Feather, and what she had created. Dumbo Feather filled a gap in the magazine market that was inspiring to read and to hold. So I did what all fans do and wrote her a fan letter! We became good friends after that, and over the years kept in touch regularly. After I had my second child and she had her first, we were on Skype, breastfeeding, rocking the babies and trying to have an adult conversation (very hard to try and do all at the same time!).

I marveled at the fact that she was managing becoming a mother for the first time and publishing the magazine. Kate admitted that she felt she was doing neither very well, and wanted to pass her beloved mag on to someone else. But who? It took me two weeks to realise it could be us. After Dan and I took over Dumbo Feather in 2011, we realised this publication could be the heart and soul of Small Giants - a litmus test for great ideas, people and businesses around the world.

My vision for Dumbo Feather keeps evolving, the core of which is to inspire people to live with passion and purpose. I want the magazine to feel accessible, readable and nourishing. It’s important that it is made with the highest standards of design and production in mind – so that it’s a collectible. Something you keep and treasure (hopefully!). I don’t want to add to the daily churn of information. It’s definitely a labour of love.

Berry Liberman at the Dumbo Feather offices in St Kilda.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
Most would know Dumbo Feather for its in depth profile on local and international creatives, presented so beautifully in print, but we are excited to announce Dumbo Feather has just launched a new iPad app! What can we expect to see from the app, and how long has it been in development?

Our app has been in development for almost a year now (argh!). After our successful Kickstarter campaign we began the search for developers. Then we had to design the app, which took months of conversations, collaborations and sleepless nights. This incredible process has resulted in something we are all very proud of, and which we think is pretty exciting.  It’s not your traditional magazine app. The search process is based on what kind of mood you are in, and the experience you wish to have. All of our content from Issue #1 to Issue #35 is available, and here’s the big news - the app is free. We figured if we wanted to have a big impact, we had to make it accessible to all.

The app has been a huge undertaking for our whole team, most especially our Digital Editor Brendan Mcknight, and Art Director David Michael - two of the nicest guys you will ever meet in your life. They also happen to be excruciatingly talented! After many days and nights of problem solving and detailing, they have come up with this incredible new suite of Dumbo Feather goodness – from our groundbreaking app to the new website. Download it for free and feel the love.

Dumbo Feather digital editor Brendan McKnight gives the iPad app a final test run. Photo - Eve Wilson.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your businesses including both Dumbo Feather and Small Giants  – where are you based, how is your office structured, and how many staff do you employ?

We are based in St Kilda in a beautiful old house which belonged to the first Solicitor General of Victoria in 1852. There are 13 people who make up the team at Small Giants and Dumbo Feather. It is a family business, so we like to keep things intimate and innovative. Everyone’s favourite time of the week is Friday lunch, we all sit together around the big dining table, and usually there are guests who come along and share their story. It’s a very special environment which we all treasure.

Dumbo Feather staff in The White House 'ballroom'.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
What does a typical day in the life of the Berry Liberman involve?

I wake up every day around 6.00am and feed my little baby Leo, who is four months old. Then I stagger to the kettle to turn it on. Leo sits in his bouncer and we talk while I get breakfast ready for the two bigger kids, Amos and Willow, who are five and three.

Dan comes down around 7.00am and then it’s game on – tag team logistics! Breakfast, lunches, school bags, getting dressed (lots of arguing, some shouting, general resistance from the small people to starting the day). Dan takes the big kids to school and I put Leo back to bed. Then it’s shower time and hopefully I’m at work by 9.30 latest. If I go into the office, I take Leo and our nanny with me so I can feed during the day. By 3.00pm one of us picks up the big kids, and then it’s after school activities, dinner, bath and bedtime. After the monkeys are all asleep Dan and I have dinner and often go back to work until midnight. It’s a bit mental but we love it. Life is very full and often overwhelming but in the long run it’s worth it.

Which local creative people are you loving at the moment?

I love Clare Bowditch, she’s doing wonderful things with her Big Hearted Business initiative (and of course her music!). Shelley Panton, a local potter whose work I love, and I admire the work of The Social Studio in Collingwood.

Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you're in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?

1. The Design Files!
2. TED is totally genius and an endless inspiration.
3. Pia Jane Bijkerk’s blog is tender, romantic and beautiful.
4. NPR from the US for podcasts, music and news.
5. The Glow, an addictive website that shares interviews with and photographic essays of amazing working mums.

What would be your dream creative project?

I get to do my dream creative project every day!

What are you looking forward to?

I’m very much looking forward to growing extremely old with my husband Danny and watching our children grow up.

Family photos on display in Berry's office. Photo - Eve Wilson.


Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I love so many different neighbourhoods in Melbourne for different reasons. Elwood because it’s green, peaceful and smells of the beach, Collingwood because the Children’s Farm is there, Brunswick because it’s edgy and interesting, and the city because it has such wonderful public spaces.

What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?

Saigon Sally, it has such a great vibe and yum food.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In my pyjamas watching Peter Pan or some other kids' film for the seventeenth time.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The paella stand at the South Melbourne market on Saturday.

Lush gardens surrounding The White House.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

'The White House' in St Kilda.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email