This creative biz story all began after a weekend away in a delightful sandstone cottage, which eventually led to a thriving holiday rental and homewares business. Tara’s love for all things linen inspired her to create her own range, Simpson Cottage Home, including bedding, bathroom and kitchenware, which not only adorn the cottage, but are also available for sale through her website.
1. When and why did you start your own creative business?
It all started after we stayed in a heritage listed sandstone cottage for a weekend, and fell in love with it. A year later we discovered it was for sale, so we moved heaven and earth and after a year of negotiations became the owners and custodians of Simpson Cottage. From there our holiday rental business began.
I knew guests hated having to bring linen and towels with them for a weekend away. So in 2014, when on a trip to magical Turkey, I tracked down hand-woven Turkish towels and Simpson Cottage Home was born. I wanted to provide guests with products that not only had provenance and historical value, but that were beautiful as well. I like products made by artisans using old-world methods.
2. Tell us about your business – what products do you create, and why?
I make kitchen linen and bedding from pure linen that I import from selected mills in Europe that have been operating for hundreds of years. The linen has a story of it’s own. I know where it was grown, processed and woven.
Linen is the oldest known textile to man and one of the first cultivated crops ever discovered, so it’s a logical choice of fabric for our little cottage. I have designed, cut and made each and every piece of the linen from start to finish. What I make and offer is constantly evolving and much of it is made to order.
I also import and sell Turkish towels that are woven on old wooden looms using the skills that have been in operation for hundreds of years. There are only a small number of people in Turkey who still weave on the old looms; it was once a thriving industry but technology and automation have almost destroyed the skill of these weavers. If they don’t have anybody to pass the skill on to, sadly it will be completely lost.
3. What motivates you to run a creative business?
I have a love of linen and textiles and enjoy the fact that the products in Simpson Cottage aren’t made by someone who works in a ‘sweat shop’ for hours on end, earning a pittance for what they do. For me, one of the most satisfying parts of running a creative business is when somebody takes the time to say thanks, and tell me that they loved staying at the cottage or something that I’ve made. Putting your heart and soul into something that others have the opportunity to criticize can make you vulnerable so when somebody else loves it, my energy cup and motivation is renewed.
4. What has been the hardest lesson you have learnt so far about working for yourself?
There are so many things! 1. You can’t please all the people all of the time. 2. Take criticism as a compliment so you can improve, but remember the first rule. 3. Ask for help and be patient and kind to yourself. Also, I have never learned so much so fast, or had so many job titles, since creating a website. I’ve learnt a whole new language – tech-speak – and can understand some HTML code. I didn’t think I could afford to pay somebody to build my website for me, and that I would manage it myself, but in the end I needed to get help. So, I’d say one of the biggest lessons is do what you do well and beg, borrow or barter to find people who can help you with things they can do better than you!
5. Roughly what percentage of time do you spend on the creative side of your business?
I’d like to say 80 per cent, but I think the 80-20 rule is well and truly broken here. It’s probably 99 per cent, which is why the mail and bills are neglected for weeks on end!
6. What part of your business have you/or would you like to outsource? Definitely the technical stuff, and the photography as I don’t enjoy either and find them both time consuming. I have recently tried to find a sewer who can help with a huge order. Unfortunately, being a perfectionist has made it hard for me to find somebody that I trust to sew my precious linen to my expectations. It has been rather disastrous. The one person who fitted the role was sadly unaffordable – they once turned down a job working with Collette Dinnegan (the amazing seamstress, pattern maker and designer) but we’ve become friends, so it wasn’t an entirely futile exercise!
I probably should outsource social media as well, as it also takes up a lot of time. But I find it’s working well, and think the soul and essence of what I do and love could be lost if I didn’t do it myself.
7. What is your top tip for someone thinking of starting an independent design business?
Learn to juggle; you’re probably going to have to be all and everything for the business from toilet cleaner to web-designer as well as creator. Keep focused on what you love. If you love it enough and are prepared to let it evolve it will happen. Create a one, two, three and five year plan, then take baby steps. It can seem that you don’t get very far in one year, but each year the steps gets bigger.
8. What’s the most fun/satisfying part of your working day?
The obvious answer is when somebody loves what I make enough to spend money on it. I’m really conscious that there are heaps of choices people can make, so when they choose my stuff I’m thrilled. I also love it when people share my things on Instagram (it’s my favourite social media outlet). But personally the best part is when I finally finish a prototype. Beforehand I lay in bed for hours working out the steps and measurements.
9. Who would you most like to collaborate with, and why?
Elise Pioch from Maison Balzac. If she could capture the smell of freshly washed linen hanging after being line dried I’d fill my house with those candles. And anybody who loves linen as much as I do!
10. What are you working on for the year ahead and do you have anything new coming up?
I’ve just launched a very limited number of indigo dyed aprons and pillow-cases. I’d love to spend more time doing that. I also have an idea for a new apron design and table linen.
Name: Tara Larnach
Business name: Simpson Cottage Home
Website address: simpsoncottage.com.au
Do you sell wholesale? No
Do you ship overseas? Yes
Link to your website or shop page: www.simpsoncottage.com.au/shop