Making an Indigenous Australian Company with Products Made in Australia - Our Journey and Indigenous
Sourcing manufacturers to supply and make products for the Téa&Belle collection has been an eye-opening experience for us here at Téa&Belle. Over the 7 months since we have launched has been a crazy ride. When we started Téa&Belle our vision "Australian owned brand that promotes and celebrates Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultures that all the world citizens are proud to wear".
This meant we were committed to wherever possible to ethical, fair-trade and Australian made products. Sourcing these products has been an experience and a steep learning curve both for us here at Téa&Belle and for the manufacturers engaged to produce these products.
Below is a breakdown of the challenges, the champions and Indigenous lands where our products are manufactured.
What has become a best seller for Téa&Belle was one of the hardest products to manufacture.
The product needed to be:
100% Australian Made
No palm oil
Only use native Australian scents
BIG ASK, as we found out. Most candles are made offshore and/or use palm oil and the scents used in candle manufacturers are usually sourced from overseas suppliers. After many phone calls, Google searches until my eyes googled and tears of frustration we found a candle manufacturer in Perth. This woman and her team have been amazing from sourcing scents from one of the only perfumery manufacturers in Australia, based in Melbourne to making a 40 hour burning candle that looks and smells amazing.
From her team making up dozens of candles scents, taking what would seem like hundreds of phone calls from us, talking us through the logistics of shipping and packaging a glass candle and above all wanting to know more about Indigenous culture and how she could do more in her local community this partner has made our life so much easier with her get shit done attitude . Small Australian businesses give you what large manufacturers can't; their time. This company through taking time and caring about another small business now has ongoing business from us and with our goal to export this year could well be a lucrative partnership that started with a phone call and the openness to share and help another small business.
It needed to be
Hooley Dooley sounds simple but oh no!
Who makes Bamboo?
Is it Organic?
Who makes Organic, Bamboo, Australian Made in large qualities with a specific design?
After being given the bum steer by many manufacturers who promised us the earth
"Of course we can make it, no problem!"
"Yep, Definitely organic Bamboo"
"No, it's all good, easy to place a digital image on baby clothes"
Again it was back to the phone and google, lucky we are tenacious problem solvers who think outside the box. Firstly to find someone who could make the product, after exhausting all leads with manufacturers, many terse conversations with the team about taking it offshore to China to get it made and being overturned and sent back to our vision statement, in desperation I reached out to small business owners on ETSY. After messaging many asking if they would be willing to make a large amount of product, that wasn't their brand, working with a material that is notoriously difficult to cut and sew and with a turn around time of two weeks we received a message from an Etsy seller who gave us the number of a women that she knows in Brisbane who may be interested,
This woman was Amy, A single mum, who was studying and working part-time. I explained our dilemma and without hesitation, Amy's answer was "yes, no problem, I'll get my mum to help out also". Amy and her mother worked tirelessly to produce a beautiful bespoke garment in the time given. The feedback from our customers who have purchased this item all says the same "what a beautifully made product". Again a small businesswoman who just gets shit done. We are in awe of Amy and can't wait to produce more beautifully garments with her and her mum in 2018.
But the story doesn't end there, this is only the beginning. we needed to source that 100% Organic, Australian Made Bamboo Fabric, arggghhhhh. Back to the phones.
Does anyone have any idea how much 100% Organic Australian Made Bamboo Costs?
After speaking with many manufacturers both here and overseas and about to give up on the product, I rang a fabric store in Ballina hoping they may have some Bamboo Material that wasn't selling that we could buy. I spoke with the owner, explained our companies vision, the journey I had thus far getting this product made, her answer astounded me "yes we have 100% Australian Bamboo Fabric, I love what you are trying to do and I will sell you the fabric at cost".
The clouds parted the sun shone, Hallelujah!. There seems to be a theme here, women helping women, small businesses helping small businesses. Since that initial frantic phone call, we have gone on to buy many many more metres of 100% Organic Bamboo fabric from this amazing woman and her team.
Ok, so we have a seamstress, we have the fabric and we are feeling pretty smug, oh yeah all our orders will be ready for delivery in the allocated time. The last thing to do in this process is to have our beautifully illustrated Boab Tree Digitally printed on the front (We gave ourselves a day to get this done, we were stupid).
Amy has now sent the onesies to our manufacturer in Sydney and as I said we were feeling pretty smug until we received the phone call that changed all that. "Sally, we can't digitally print on such a small item", Then came silence .................................................................... "what does that mean, Johnny?" I say. "It means we can't finish your product," says Johnny. But what johnny said next is why small businesses rock! "Sally we work with a social enterprise company that teaches newly arrived refugees the trade of screen printing and I could ask them if they could do this job"
Even though we were afraid that the product would not look as good screen printed as digitally printed I told johnny to go ahead. He got back to us and not only could they do it they could do the print run in one day.
Like great inventions that started as a mistake; Apple Tart Tatin, Pacemakers, fireworks and others, our Baby Boab Onesie turned out to be 100 times more beautifully as a screen print. Sometimes mistakes work.
From start to finish our Baby Boab Onesie has been a labour of love for all involved. This one item has created lifelong friendships and a loss leader for us but we will always have this product for sale.
This collection was the second to be launched by Téa&Belle. These products were inspired by Téa Devows Great Grandfather who was a stockman furthermore the girls wanted to honour the Indigenous Stockman past & present.
The Hilary "Dib" Thomas Collection needed to be:
Made with Kangeroo Leather
Made in Australia.
By now I was a little savvier or so I thought. NOPE!
My advice is that you are into craft and want to open a business, start a leather craft business, you'll clean up. That 101 of business, supply and demand hits home here. Never have leather manufacturers been so busy in Australia. People are wanting bespoke, handmade leather products and they cannot keep up the demand. Leathersmiths have a lead time of at least three months due to the amount of orders. Which leaves me with a problem of finding a supplier who can scale with us. The thing with leathersmiths is their community, they are a close bunch but their willingness to help is awesome. From a few conversations, one of our contacts hooked us up with a young woman in Brisbane who was starting out.
This young woman is one of the hardest working people we know. From the initial conversation where I explained we needed Kangaroo leather, various colour leathers in vege dye and handstitched (and a short turnaround time). Lee then went to work from sourcing the Kangaroo skins through to Vege dye colours and making the product. These products are now being modified for corporate sales and Lee has expanded her business to facilitate this. We love Lee.
These products travelled over many Indigenous Countries from Wailwan where the kangaroos are skinned and stretched to Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul to be vege dyed to YUGAMBEH/KOMBUMERRI to be created into bespoke Téa&Belle products.
With us sticking to our vision we achieved:
Ethical & Fair-trade Suppliers who gave advice and help willingly and who undertook knowledge based learning on Indigenous Culture with verve and excitement.
Small Business Networks that have been invaluable in scaling and making our business a success.
So where did all these products end up?
Have a look