If there’s one thing that excites me even more than AUSTRALIAN DESIGN and LOCAL MANUFACTURE, it has got to be a factory visit! Ha ha. What can I say… I love a bustling hive of industry!
I had the great opportunity this week of learning a little more about Melbourne-based design house Tait. I’ve long been a fan of Tait’s fabulous locally made furniture and outdoor accessories, and with the launch of their brand new range just last week, it seemed opportune timing to pay Gordon and Suzie Tait a proper visit! It was truly inspiring to check out their busy 2000 square metre factory in Thornbury, where a staff of skilled metalworkers, welders, carpenters and factory managers produce Tait’s furniture ranges and various custom work for architectural projects. Both Gordon and Suzie are passionate about manufacturing locally – this enables a hands on, flexible approach to their work, and close relationships with clients and customers.
As you may have gathered, Tait is a family business, run by husband and wife team Gordon and Suzie Tait. With a background in sheetmetal fabrication, Gordon takes care of product and sales, while Suzie heads up the creative and marketing. This industrious pair also have two daughters – Lily (16) and Coco (12) who have grown up alongside their parents’ business, almost as if it were their third sibling!
‘When I first joined Tait, I dragged Lily around to meetings and she literally slept in a porta-cot next to us in our office, as we lived above our little factory in Fitzroy’ recalls Suzie, who joined the company in 1997. ‘They both know Tait inside out and sometimes get sick to death of us talking work, as it is impossible not to. When Coco was about 4, she used to ask ‘did you sell a table today?’ and if we said yes, she would be very pleased and say ‘does that mean I can get a bike for my birthday?’, so they understand we might be a bit too busy, but that’s how we put food on the table. Despite all the eye rolling I think they are secretly proud!’
Tait turned 20 this year! (AMAZING). But there is certainly no sign of slowing down with age! In recent years, Tait have opened a Sydney showroom, supporting their fabulous retail space in Melbourne, they’ve moved their workshop from Fitzroy to the enormous space in Thornbury you see pictured here, and have grown to a team of 10 factory workers and 6 retail staff. Although they’re still a relatively small business, Tait are incredibly prolific, they’ve completed a number of high profile design projects in recent years – such as outdoor furniture and custom design solutions for the Australian Catholic University, Royal Childrens Hospital, University of Woollongong, Gusman & Gomez food chain, and Westfield shopping centres.
Just this week Tait have launched an extensive new furniture range, new branding by super talented local design studio Round, AND a brand new extremely swish website! (Do support their immense efforts with a little friendly click!). And if you’re in the market for outdoor furniture as the warmer months draw near, I highly recommend paying Tait a little visit in either Melbourne or Sydney. SO much local design goodness under one roof!
176 Johnston Street
(03) 9419 7484
611 Elizabeth Street
(02) 9310 1333
I left school when I was 16 and went straight into the sheetmetal trade. I had always made things, and looking back, thank God I learnt a trade – I was good at it, and have been doing it for 32 years. Initially I worked for a bespoke printing machinery manufacturer, and after hours I’d dabble in furniture making. I’d get the odd commission and a few wholesale orders, which eventually paid the way to bigger things.
My bosses, Bill and David, were very supportive and always encouraged me to work on my own stuff. In turn, these days I encourage my staff too.
I’m very grateful to my old bosses, as in the early 90’s they had to let me go. It was ‘the recession we had to have’ and no orders were coming in. Bill and David gave me a client list and some small machinery and sent me on my way. Suzie and I then rented a factory in Fitzroy. We were away…
Suzie joined Tait in 1997, after having our first daughter Lily, when we lived in the flat above our factory. Suzie has a BA in textile design and ended up with a high profile job working as Red Earth’s Creative Director, where she created the brand imagery for the retail stores, marketing campaigns and packaging. So we now have a creative eye on the products as well as a manufacturers perspective.
We are way more process oriented these days, it’s the only way for a product to succeed.
In the early days we were very focused on one-off products, and I loved that, along with the challenge of creating something new, and the look on the client’s face when we would deliver the final piece.
It’s different now since the company has grown and expanded. I’m mainly office bound, where I oversee two showrooms and a 2000 square meter factory. It can be quite taxing! When I’m not at the desk, I’m usually running from one meeting to another with Suzie.
Local manufacturing is important to us – I come from a sheetmetal trade background and seeing the trade slowly disappear saddens me. My trade teacher taught me how to hand-beat metals into bowls and other forms, the process involved annealing the material, so it wouldn’t harden and crack. Everything is so high tech these days, but I still love this hands on approach to manufacturing.
Also making locally gives us the opportunity to employ people to make the products; from welders through to industrial designers. I guess with me coming from a trade background, and Suzie from a textile/craft background, we hate to see skills dying out. We both enjoy making with our hands, working out solutions through creative thinking and encouraging others to do so. With so many manufacturers going off shore, there is no where for skilled trades people to go. We really enjoy the whole process of coming up with concepts and seeing them through from design to prototype. It’s so exciting to see a scribble become a piece of furniture – all under the one roof!
The Volley has been in development for about eight months. We knew that we wanted to create a volume product with Adam Goodrum and after a few meetings in Sydney discussing what we should collaborate on, he turned up with these amazing renders of what is now the Volley. We thought we HAVE to make that. So we did!
Breeze and Softline were designed in-house over a few months. We love the simplicity and softness of the Softline planters and the concealed wheels makes them easy to move them around. The Breeze outdoor sofa is our take on a Balinese day bed – generous and airy. We felt we needed a lounge in the collection, and are now planning to roll out a modular system for this product.
We have a great team at the moment of ten people in the factory, and six across our two retail stores. All of our employees have specific roles – production manager, factory manager, sheetmetal workers, welder etc. We employ mainly trade qualified staff at the factory and when things get busy we add factory assistants and casual staff to fill the gaps. We are very quality and ‘on time’ focussed, after all happy customers are the best customers. We have spent a lot of time over the years improving our procedures and this equates to better efficiency (which we also track).
As a husband and wife team we think it’s important to have your own specific roles. I take care of the product and sales side of Tait, while Suzie heads up the creative and marketing departments. Suzie is also very organised and a prolific note taker so you can’t get away with anything, ha! Out of the 20 years we have been in business, Suzie has been with Tait for 15. It works for us, we don’t argue as much in meetings these days, we are good mates!
Inari Kiuru does some amazing sculptural jewellery and photography. I love her work. We are collaborating on a sculpture together soon, it’s very exciting.
Usually getting pulled in a million directions. There are production meetings, quality meetings, sales, liaising with the showrooms, checking prototyping is on track, but most importantly taking my dog Tiller for a walk along the Merri Creek.
To receive a large commission for my sculptural work – a freeway installation will do!
Adventures. I’ve been on three this year (luxurious I know), but hey, someone has to do it! It’s important to me that I get away and clear the head every now and then, in my experience that’s when the best ideas surface.
It has to be anywhere in-between Fitzroy and Northcote. We love the north side, we don’t need to travel far for anything, and we love buying local, there’s just so much choice for eating, drinking, music etc.
We use large national suppliers for raw materials, love Angelton’s on Smith Street for stationery and office supplies, and recently worked with Studio Round to rebrand the Tait logo and creative identity.
Umberto in Thornbury – amazing home style Italian fare.
At Tasos cafe in Thornbury. My dad goes there to meet with the locals and their dogs, otherwise I may be in Blackwood at our cabin in the bush.