Nestled into a leafy corner of Tarragindi sit three little shops. A florist, a workroom and a boutique. They are the kinds of little shops that are filled with treasures. The biggest treasures of all being the women who run them.
Today on the blog I am I talking to Nikky, the owner of LaBelle Designs. She speaks about the need to be creative, owning a small business, managing a brain that never stops working and the importance of supporting locally made.
Tell us a little bit about your history and the history of the shop…
I have always worked in the creative industry, whether it be fashion, jewellery, interior design or homewares. I have worked in the corporate and strategic arenas and within creation and design. I have worked for myself and I have worked for large corporations. But I have found that I am at my happiness when I am sewing. When I am behind the machine, I find peace – it’s the thing I need to do daily to stay sane.
For a few years I had been designing and creating clothing as wholesale business from my home. It wasn’t any fun for my family to live in a perpetual fitting and workroom. So about a year ago, I moved my business into this space, LaBelle Designs had a shop and my husband was grateful that the crafty clutter moved with it.
What do you sell in the shop?
At LaBelle Designs we sell a range of women’s clothing which I design and sew right here. My clothes are all about high quality fabric and simple but clever designs. I also create homewares and candles. And then there are lots of locally made goods. It’s important to me to support local creatives – people who also love to make things. I also create bespoke, made to measure clothing for my clients and run my HomeBelle line, which is a range of shell inspired homewares. In addition to all of that, I do a fair bit of styling at Christmas time. Lots of things, which is the way my mind works.
Owning and operating an independent shop is no easy feat, what made you take the plunge?
It was a combination of circumstances. The right space became available at the right time. I could see that having my business within my home wasn’t fair on my family. It had taken over our living space. Now I have place where people can come for fittings and I don’t have to tidy the house first! I have to create – for me it’s like breathing. I need to support my family. I am a naturally busy person, with a million ideas and I have to work. But I had to change what I was doing, so a shop and workroom was the best solution.
You would have needed a good degree of confidence in yourself and your business to make that change …
I think anyone who owns a business needs to really trust their decisions and back themselves 100%. You have to be a fighter. You have to be willing to make your mark and be heard, no matter what is going on around you. There were, and still are, nay-sayers. But my customers are incredibly positive, my husband is incredibly understanding and my son (8) is my biggest support. He is really proud of me and the shop.
Tell me more about your son and what he thinks of the shop …
He loves it. He is really proud of it and loves showing people around. He does little jobs for me, he gets involved with creating things and he even hands out lollies to the smaller kids when they come in. A small wage is spent on cupcakes from the bakery next door. He really does see it as “his” shop as well. There is this great social factor as well – he knows all the shopkeepers in our strip and they know him.
How did your approach to creativity and career change when you become a mother?
Drastically. When I fell pregnant, I was working in a corporate position and it took me two years to realise that I just couldn’t make it work how I wanted it to. So I created my wholesale business and went from there.
You seem to have millions of ideas, how do you manage your endless stream of creativity?
Well, I don’t sleep! I do have a constant stream of ideas and I think you have to in fashion. If you make something great, someone will always copy it. You can’t get upset about that. You have to keep on the edge of the next new idea. And my attention span means that I am always wanting to try something new. Inspiration hits at all times of the day. I have a dress I call my “2am dress” because that’s when I designed it.
I do plan each evening what I intend to do the next day, but it seldom works out that way – I always ended up chasing a different butterfly.
What is the absolute favourite part of what you do?
Sitting behind the machine and just sewing. It’s where I do all my thinking and planning. The sewing part is automatic and my brain works through all the things it needs to. I have someone help me in the shop front. I have learned to delegate things like book keeping. But this is the heart of it. I have tried to outsource manufacturing before and it hasn’t worked for me.
You are very passionate about locally made. Can you tell more about that?
As part of my corporate fashion career I had to go to an overseas clothing factory. The kind that most of our mass-produced clothing are made in. I was completely disillusioned by that experience. It doesn’t have to be that way. The clothes I make at LaBelle designs are of a very high quality. They are made from beautiful fabrics and because the designs are elegant and simple and my rental overheads aren’t like they would be at a Westfield, I can sell them at reasonable prices. It doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive. The LaBelle philosophy is: Why buy mass produced products from overseas when you can buy unique, better quality, locally made products at reasonable prices?
The prices at LaBelle designs are reasonable and the clothes are beautifully tailored.
It is a cosy, welcoming space full of trinkets and treasures, most of which have either be made by Nikky herself or a local craftsperson. There is a feeling of community – a place to stop and have a chat, a place to find a unique present or just to pamper yourself. It is the complete opposite of a sterile chain store in a clinical mall. If you happen to be in Tarragindi, pop in. And make sure you check out Flow next door – the loveliest of little florists.
If you are a bit further away, have a look for that little shop in your area supporting locally made. They do still exist and I, for one, want to see them thrive.
Thank you so much to Nikky for chatting to me.
You can visit the store at Shop 1, 56 Pring St Tarragindi
Do you love shopping local? Are you as in awe of people that follow their creative dreams as I am?