Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Allison, founder of Made in Darwin.
Here’s what Allison had to say about the experience:
“I enlisted Gayle to capture images of my home based business last month. Generally I detest having photos taken of me, but she was able to take natural images in a relaxed manner which put me completely at ease. The final images were delivered incredibly quickly, were stunning and have given my Instagram and Facebook pages a boost along with making my business much more professional. I would highly recommend Gayle.” – Allison.
One of Allison’s many talents is making the creation of her universal pram liners look effortless. She is also a teacher, Mum to identical twin boys and has spent a night in a tent with a lion outside!! Read on to find out more about this amazing lady and her thriving business (…& watch out for the pigeon roosting outside her kitchen window in the slideshow below).
Tell me about someone or something that influenced your desire to learn to sew?
It seemed that my mum was always sewing on her old green Singer when I was young. I remember watching on in trepidation and awe at the needle moving so fast and so close to her fingers. Later I found out that before we were born she worked in a garment factory and when I was a baby she had a line of long flowing lace bassinet covers which sold in the local baby shops. My auntie Maureen gave me a toy sewing machine as a present and whilst it sewed, it didn’t contain a bobbin so the tension was never tight on anything that I made. Eventually her and my Nan got me an ancient Regal sewing machine which I used for over a decade. Nans health declined over these years and she would spend the school holidays with us, even though she was paralysed down one side of her body she could still instruct me as to how things should be done.
Upon finishing university, I became a teacher and never really found the time or need to sew. When I moved to Darwin in 2006 I left my sewing machine (which had sat unused for at least four years) in Victoria. After working for years in leadership positions in education, I finally found the time to sew again. After our twin boys were born, upon suggesting to my husband that I would buy a new sewing machine and make some items for the boys he exclaimed “You can’t sew! That machine will just become another white elephant collecting dust!” as for the decade which we had known each other, he had never actually sighted me at a sewing machine. He had to eat his words 24 hours after the machine arrived, when I had produced a new set of sleeping bags and bibs for them.
What made you decide to sell your products?
I started selling a few bibs and pram liners on the local Facebook Buy Swap and Sell sites, not as a business venture, I was more aiming to use up some fabric left over from my own projects and then to invest into new dress fabric. A few months later I decided that I wanted to buy a Thermomix, of course my husband could not be convinced that we needed any type of appliance with a $2000 price tag, so I told him that I was just going to start popping the cash I was making from my items aside and that one day a decade down the track I may get a thermomix. About three months later I had earned the cash needed, by that stage I had a Facebook page, a registered business name (which I actually put very little thought into) and an ABN and Made in Darwin had been born.
Tell me about the first item that you sold?
It was a set of four brightly coloured bibs for $20. I listed them on the Buy Swap Sell site and they were sold in about 20 minutes.
What is the best thing to come from starting your own business?
Flexibility. Now that I’ve got it humming along smoothly with set processes, online ordering and purchasing working efficiently, it’s really quite flexible. I still teach three days a week and I can work around that and around family life. Some days I work early mornings, other days I work really late. These days I have one day each week where I work from home all day as a dedicated sewing day, packaging products occurs when I get a spare five minutes here or there during my day.
What do you find most challenging about running your own business?
Saying “No” to the many requests that I get to make products which I don’t usually make. Two years ago I sat in despair at my dining table literally surrounded by two months’ worth of orders, I had stopped taking orders a month before that time and had been working a crazy amount of hours, worried that I would never finish the mountain of work which was surrounding me. As every item was different I needed different amounts of fabric, different measurements and different processes for making them, so my progress was slow. Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to have a business which caused me to feel guilty if I was doing anything other than sewing, that was when I moved to only selling pre-made items. To be honest at this stage I wouldn’t have been too concerned if Made in Darwin hadn’t continued at all, as it was taking it’s toll on me physically and it was impacting the whole family. I then moved to selling my universal pram liners on eBay and they started flying out of my door. This was the definitive moment when I realised that keeping it simple and selling online was going to make it workable and worthwhile for me. After 18 months of not taking any orders, I finally opened orders for pram liners again with great trepidation and although I was overwhelmed with the amount at the start they have plateaued out and remain manageable at this stage.
What do you do when you’re not sewing up a storm?
Three days a week I teach Middle School at one of the local private schools which even after so many years I still love. I am also the proud mum to identical twin boys who keep me on my toes. We enjoy getting out camping or holidaying further afield from time to time too. Over the past few years I’ve been on the committee of the local Multiple Birth Club which has allowed me to find my group of amazing twin mums, although with Made in Darwin getting busier and my boys getting older I’m not as involved in the club as I once was.
Tell me something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve hauled a back pack around a fair bit of the world and created a lot of memories (and funny stories); from long boating in the Pangalanes canals of Madagascar to climbing to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, getting robbed of pretty much everything in South Africa to being admitted into a Kenyan hospital after a ride in what can only be described as a meat wagon and not called an ambulance. Exploring the Pyramids of Egypt and Sudan, tracking Mountain Gorillas, discovering that New York taxi drivers are completely crazy and even touring a textile mill and garment factory in Uganda. I can truthfully say that I’ve slept in a tent in a service station forecourt in Syria and spent one night inside a tent with a lion outside (I cannot say that I even slept a wink!). I also survived a New Year’s eve drinking cheap Turkish wine, (although I swear my liver still hurts from that memory).
What motivates you to keep creating your products?
I enjoy making them. Every Made in Darwin pram liner being used is like a tiny little win over the large companies who outsource their manufacturing to factories in developing countries to save money. So many people have said to me “manufacturing is not a viable business in Australia at the moment, it’s a service industry, you won’t make a wage” but I’m making it work and the money stays in the local Australian economy and doesn’t flow out to other countries or fill the pockets of big CEO’s. The purchasing of most of my materials supports other Australian small businesses or supports local jobs here in Darwin.
Where can people find your products?
A quick stroll around any of the local shopping centres or parks will showcase a range of Made in Darwin pram liners being wheeled around keeping prams clean and looking good, but for every pram liner you see in Darwin there is another nine pram liners wheeling about interstate! These days 90% of what I sell goes straight into the post and interstate. But if you’re wanting to purchase and not just view them, then Made in Darwin products can be purchased from www.madeindarwin.com where I have a range of ready made items or you are welcome to select two fabrics to be made into your reversible universal pram liner.
Does your online business reflect your personal brand? Let me help you tell your story with photos. One well planned photo session can create enough online content for the next 3 months. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a meeting.