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Interview · Feeona and Troy Baalham of Uimi

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 23rd November 2012

Feeona and Troy Baalham of Uimi in their Thornbury studio, with baby Bonnie!  Photo – Brooke Holm

Knitted Uimi blankets and cushions in their Thornbury studio.  Photo – Brooke Holm

I LOVE these knitted ‘gingham’ Uimi blankets!  Photo – Brooke Holm

Uimi blanket and cushions.  Photo – Brooke Holm

Even after almost five years writing this blog I have to say I still get so totally PUMPED when I stumble across a new Australian company, designing and manufacturing beautiful product locally.  I don’t know why but I just feel like high-fiving every single independent design business out there who are still manufacturing in Australia, YOU GUYS ROCK!  We first found Melbourne-based Uimi at Design : Made : Trade earlier this year, and instantly knew this was one local design studio worth keeping an eye on!

Uimi is the creation of textile designer Feeona Baalham and her husband Troy, whose background is in web development. From their small Thornbury factory overlooking the Darebin Creek, Uimi create an amazing range of knitted products for the home, as well as a womenwear and kids range.  My absolute FAVOUITE pieces are their stunning blankets, throw rugs and cushions, which come in the most vibrant colour combinations, using the finest, softest Italian wool and organic cotton.  All Uimi’s creations are knitted in house on one of four amazing knitting machines Uimi have invested in.  It’s a pretty impressive set up!

What is most impressive about Troy and Feeona is their commitment to doing everything themselves. With a small team of just five staff, Uimi design, sample and make every product in house.  Of course this means the quality control is truly incredible!  It also means Feeona and Troy can be quite flexible, and there is minimal wastage, because every order can essentially be made on demand.

Aside from the demands of running their own growing business, Feeona and Troy also have two gorgeous kids under 3!  In fact, their eldest, Lola, arrived in 2009 at about the same time that Uimi launched their first summer range… and now the family have been joined by sweet little Bonnie (who makes an appearance in the portrait up top!).  Of course, running your own small business doesn’t really offer up a whole lot of maternity leave, so inevitably, Feeona has mastered the fine art of maternal multi-tasking! Bonnie can often be found in the Uimi studio and office, being wheeled around in her highchair whilst Feeona attends to enquiries and designs new products!

Uimi is stocked at a wide range of retail stores Australia wide, all are listed here.  We’re also thrilled that we’ll be stocking some of our favourite knitted blankets and bold geometric cushions by Uimi at The Design Files Open House in Melbourne next week!  Because, as we proved last year, you just can never have too many cushions!

Tell us a little bit about each of your backgrounds – what led you to textile design originally, how did you first cross paths, and what spurred you to eventually launch Uimi in 2009?

Feeona: I completed a BA in Textile Design at RMIT, specialising in knit. In my honours year I did a job placement at a knitwear manufacturer. It was there that I was introduced to industrial knitting machines. I’d been using hand-knitting machines in my course, and while the concept is the same, I was fascinated by the potential of these machines.

Soon after graduating I went into partnership with another textile designer and we formed a specialised knit studio called Pleksi. The business offered two services – swatch design development and a small run production service. As the production part of the business grew, I realised using hand-knitting machines wasn’t going to be sustainable. We invested in a second hand industrial knitting machine and went on to do work for well-known Melbourne labels including Saba, Calibre, T.L.Wood, and other smaller independent labels. The seven years experience I gained at Pleksi allowed me to develop my own approach to knit and gave me the confidence to start Uimi.

Little did I know that creating Uimi would coincide with another creation, our
first child, Lola!

Troy: If you told me 10 years ago I’d be running a knitwear company, I wouldn’t have believed it. When I first met Feeona I was working for a US computer company as a web developer. I knew nothing about knitwear. I guess I learned a thing or two over the years, but more importantly, I realised just how passionate and talented Fee was.

In 2008 Fee started kicking around the idea of starting up a knitwear company. We decided to give it a shot, and Uimi was born. In early 2009 we found out that Fee was expecting our first child, Lola. We decided to forge ahead with uimi, even though it seemed a little crazy at the time. Lola was born in June, and then five weeks later our first summer range was born.

Things have been very busy ever since.

Studio details – fancy metallic fibres and a knitted machine creating one of Uimi’s knitted blankets. Photo – Brooke Holm
Uimi specialises in eco-friendly knitwear for the home and the body, and is committed to manufacturing in Australia, in fact all of your products are designed and made right here in Melbourne. Why is local manufacture such an integral part of your business, and what challenges do you face in maintaining this commitment?

There was no question for us about manufacturing in-house. It gives us more flexibility and control over design and quality. We can offer our customers better lead times and more options. This means a bigger investment for us up front in equipment, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

We are extremely proud to be one of only a handful of knitwear manufacturers helping to rebuild a vanishing trade. Since joining this industry over 10 years ago there are half as many knitting mills as there used to be, and even then there weren’t many.

We are passionate about using the highest quality sustainable and safe natural fibres. This poses a challenge for us in maintaining reasonable price points, as we import all of our yarn from overseas.

Imported Italian yarn in Uimi’s factory –  Photo – Brooke Holm
What general process is involved in the creation and construction of your designs? How did you learn this trade and master the knit machine?

Feeona: Generally I like to devote two days a week to developing new products. Our knitwear programmer comes to the factory on one of these days and we run through and sample up new ideas. We are so fortunate that we have the freedom to do this.

The first step is putting together colour palettes for our three ranges – Home, Body and Kids. We quite often have our yarns dyed up in our own colours. Getting the palette right for the season is one of the most important processes.

We love to experiment with pattern and colour and sometimes, mistakes become best sellers! Texture is also an obsession of ours; we have enjoyed such a positive reaction to our blankets and cushions. We are currently working on extending our range of women’s wear, using whole garment technology.

Using the hand-knitting machine during my course gave me a solid technical understanding of how knitting machines work. When I upgraded to the industrial knitting machine I was surprised at the similarities. We also have great support from our machine supplier, and our clever knitwear programmer.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Uimi – how is your studio and factory structured, how many people do you employ and in what roles? Do you outsource any significant roles?

After growing out of two different studio spaces in Clifton Hill, we relocated to our shiny new factory in Thornbury in March 2012. We now have plenty of room for our knitting machines (and more down the track), as well as a showroom and office overlooking Darebin Creek. Hopefully we will be staying put for a while!

I oversee product design and development, and manage production. Troy handles the day-to-day aspects of running the business, as well as marketing and managing our online and social media presence.

Team Uimi consists of five fantastic and dedicated individuals. We have two full-time hand finishers, two part time factory staff, and one part-time design assistant. It’s a small team, and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

We outsource the programming required to run our designs on the knitting machines, but all aspects of production happen in house.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

There is no such thing as a typical day at Uimi – every day comes with its own set of challenges.

Our first priority of the day is reviewing our knitting schedule, and getting the
knitting machines up and running.

The usual tasks of finishing and preparing what we’ve knitted the day before, and checking and shipping orders, are interspersed with showroom visits, yarn stocktakes and orders, and lots of hugs and kisses with Bonnie, our youngest daughter who spends her days at the factory with us.

Feeona programs the knitting machine.  Photo – Brooke Holm
Not only are you are both business partners, but also real life partners with two adorable children under three! What’s the secret to working successfully as a husband and wife team?!

There’s no secret – we just work well together. It also helps that we manage distinct parts of the business. Troy has input into the creative process, and I contribute to the general business side of things, but ultimately, we let each other focus on what we know best.

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

Genty Marshall from New Black Global Trends – we contributed to Genty’s Design Futures “Colour Visions” exhibit at this year’s Decoration+Design trade show. Aly from Maiike makes simply amazing quilts and toys. Dee Jenkins’ unique illustrations have brought the Uimi brand to life. We’re also inspired by Toni Maticevski’s creations, who also designed my (Feeona) wedding dress, and we also like the work Katie Geppert is producing.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?!

We regularly check Textile View magazine, Collezioni Trends magazine, Pinterest and The Design Files (of course!) and View On Colour magazine.

What would be your dream creative project?

We are lucky enough to be able to say that Uimi is our dream creative project. A close second would be renovating and decorating our slightly unloved house. One day…

What are you looking forward to?

We are counting down the days until our annual extended family trip to Fiji next year. It’s nice to live on ‘Fiji time’ for a week instead of ‘Uimi time’.

Uimi knitted blankets.  Photo – Brooke Holm

Melbourne Questions

Your favorite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

We have lived and worked in North Fitzroy and Clifton Hill for many years, and love the fact that pretty much everything is right there on your doorstep. Lots of great restaurants and cafés, and a growing list of interesting local retailers.

Your favorite fossicking spots in Melbourne for the tools or materials of your trade?

We’ve got a great yarn agent now, so we don’t really need to fossick, but there was a time when we visited the Yarn Barn in Coburg regularly to look for interesting colours and textures.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Classic Italian fare at our favorite family restaurant, Chianti Bistro, in Clifton Hill. Very kid friendly and great food. Lola loves the “sketty”.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

After picking up some strong lattes (and a babyccino for Lola), the whole family is usually off to the factory to kick-start the knitting machines for the weekend’s knitting. Then it’s back home to do normal family stuff with the girls. We work hard all week, so we try and keep the weekends family focused.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The best kept secret is what’s coming up in our winter 2013 range. You’ll have
to wait until February next year to find out!


by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 23rd November 2012

42 comments

  • Rachel 2 years ago

    Brilliant! I am a huge Uimi fan and really enjoyed this article. Well done guys, what a success story!

  • Barbara Fisher 2 years ago

    Beyond gorgeous! I want every single piece.

  • Kate Cronk 2 years ago

    Ever thought about extending to Bendigo? There are some very snazzy shops up here that would most likely love to add your products to their range…. Regards, Kate

  • Barbara 2 years ago

    I absolutely love that they do everything themselves, and their use of colour is so cheerful! I’ll be sure to grab one at the Design Files open house.

  • rattyclare 2 years ago

    Very very beautiful, exquisite colour balance. All looks so soft and enticing.
    One wee question (not a real gripe..): I’m not being churlish, just Australian – Don’t we have some top quality Merino wool here?

  • Alana 2 years ago

    Great article & gorgeous family.great to see Australian made.
    I think there may be a photo in the wrong spot…same pic spied in this article & the article below about the painter.

  • Natalie 2 years ago

    They actually rule! I need some of this in my life

  • Laura B 2 years ago

    Love this feature a lot. So inspiring and such happy colours for this gloomy morning x

  • leanne 2 years ago

    SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!!!

    just before clicking onto my daily read of TDF i sent off an email to confirm the purchase of an uimi throw!!!!!!!!!!

    slightly freaked out at the moment. LOVE these guys, gorgeous products xx

  • lizzz 2 years ago

    beautiful! ….keep up the good work ..we love the word ‘local’ !

  • jiah 2 years ago

    Wow what an inspiring couple. I’m expecting my first baby in February and launching a business at the same time so it’s great to read stories about creatives who can make it work. And those COLOURS!

  • Christie 2 years ago

    Gorgeous! I love them and am going straight out to buy a blanket and some cushions!

  • Annie Abbott 2 years ago

    Love a local colour lover! thanks for the heads up on a new Christmas shopping source.

  • Jenny Langmaid 2 years ago

    Which one is a Libran to choose? I mean really !!! LOVE !!

  • lexi 2 years ago

    This has got to be one of my all-time favourite posts. Sigh. Those blankets. The colours. The people. Wow. How inspiring.

  • suzie 2 years ago

    I have one of their shawl cardigans and it’s brilliant, I wear it so much, it seems to go with everything. Great designs and colours.

  • Future Shelter 2 years ago

    I love to hear great stories about the return to manufacturing! Craft is important but this small scale manufacturing is so important to growing a sustainable business. Such lovely well finished products all whilst having a young family too… I know how hard that can be! Beautiful designs and beautiful colors. Can’t wait for Christmas – I know what I’ll be requesting ;) so happy to read this story!

  • Kath W 2 years ago

    Very fetching textiles, and equally lovely family enterprise. Congratulations!

  • Lumiere Art + Co. 2 years ago

    Absolutely inspirational. Especially because its all made in house and Bonnie comes along with you! Love everything about this post. Keep up the amazing work Uimi.

  • Jess 2 years ago

    Always love hearing how interesting businesses come into being. Thanks for a great read!

  • Amanda Falson 2 years ago

    I’m not a designer, just an obsessed home hand knitter but this post makes me want to work for them desperately!! I could help look after bub and assist with knotting machines ( oh the possibilities!!) and even go on coffee runs for strong lattes and baby chinos!! I am in love with the colours and the textures… And jobs going, Fee??!

  • lisa 2 years ago

    I want to gather all the blankets and the perfect rainbow coloured build a blanket fort of my dreams with them.
    Every piece is just stunning.

  • Mel 2 years ago

    I think the product range looks really beautiful! I had been looking for a throw & didn’t want to buy overseas. But like another commentor, I would have thought the yarn could have been sourced in Australia. Is it not up to the same quality?

  • Leeroy 2 years ago

    Thank you ONCE again for introducing another gem to my “need in my life” list Lucy!! Congrats Uimi… you’re amazing. I’m heading straight to Koskela after work to purchase those cushions!!

  • Emily 2 years ago

    To Mel and rattyclare, I believe it’s not the lack of merino wool that we have here, but the lack of yarn manufacturers… It’s highly likely that the Italian yarn sourced is actually from Australian wool.
    Once the local knitting mills close, all of the associate industries also close… Which makes it doubley hard to start it back up again!
    Good on you Uimi!

  • Mr Zee 2 years ago

    Beautiful. My grandma was involved in the local knitting industry in her day, so this brings back so many fond memories. I still remember the ‘zoosh zoosh’ sounds of those old knitting machines and the smell of oil from my childhood. God I hated wearing her sweaters and cardigans back then, but what I would give for them now!

  • Ali 2 years ago

    Wow… I love the colours and patterns! I have a hand knitting machine but I’m only just learning how to use it… I’d love to learn how to do this kind of thing

  • uimi 2 years ago

    Wow! Just wanted to say thanks to all of the wonderful comments so far. The response has been amazing.

    Emily’s comment about our yarn situation is spot on. We would buy locally in a heartbeat if someone in Australia was manufacturing the grade of yarn we need for our knitting machines.

    Fee & Troy @ uimi

  • Marga 2 years ago

    Another great interview as usual. This is a very inspiring story as my boyfriend and I am setting up a bigger studio back in Spain where we will be expanding the business and ranges, very exciting times as I spend most of my time in London where the brand is based but will hopefully soon be over there in sunny Gran Canaria, designing and working together. Marga from London

  • evie 2 years ago

    oh wow. beautiful colours, products and family! love this post.
    the final image looks like heaven! i can’t stop staring at it.

  • Marzena 2 years ago

    I can’t say enough about these guys. I tried to find one o their circular blankies for my baby and contacted them direct. I had a made-to-order one at my house a few days later. My daughter loves it. Receive comments all the time about how gorgeous it is. Will only buy their products for any future gifts. A brilliant, clever, colourful Australian product and gorgeous to boot x

  • kate 2 years ago

    that blue and green triangle blanket coming off the knitting machine is the bomb! i just checked out the website & i love it in both the ‘avocado’ and ‘mint’. stunning.

  • yael 2 years ago

    great colours – inspiring trade. Great work.

  • Carla Coulson 2 years ago

    Inspiring story and what a creative and talented couple! Just on there website and their products are gorgeous would love to be wrapped up in one of their colourful blankets on this gloomy day will pass on the word!
    Carla

  • Lisa 2 years ago

    We had the pleasure of meeting these guys at Design:Made:Trade earlier this year. Such a lovely couple, down to earth and really loved what they do. We could have easily bought one of everything in every colour. The scarfes are amazing. So soft and warm, perfect for our crazy Melbourne weather.

  • Simone 2 years ago

    Oh I thought these guys looked familiar I met them at a market in Melbourne. They are really lovely and so friendly and encouraging.

    I absolutely adore their product.

  • Avril 2 years ago

    I want to high five YOU Lucy for finding these people and sharing it on your blog for us!

    Uimi, I have major machine and workshop envy. And your products are spot on! I can’t wait to see what you’re making for next year.

  • Claire 2 years ago

    I love Uimi! My little lad was given a gorgeous brown duffle cardigan, I loved it so much I looked up the brand and was instantly in besotted by all the colours and patterns. The quality is outstanding. I have grand plans for a blanket when baby moves into his “big boy bed”. And I love that they’re made here, yay! (the teeny mary-jane shoes are also a sweet gift!)

  • Mellie Lang 1 year ago

    Wow this is amazing, its a dream setup, well done guys for making the investment in the machines and going for it. Gorgeous products, Uimi is now one of my favourite companies, thanks Design Files for sharing.

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