Interview - Lara Davies, Jess Wright and Emma Byrnes of Harvest Textiles

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
20th of July 2012
The super clever ladies from Harvest Textiles in Melbourne! From left, Jess Wright, Emma Byrnes and Lara Davies.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
AMAZING NEW TOTEBAG (one of many fab new designs!) by Harvest Textiles! Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Sweet new pouches / toiletry bags by Harvest Textiles.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Emma (behind counter) and Lara play shop!  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Can I start by saying I can't believe I have never actually interviewed Lara Davies, Jess Wright and Emma Byrnes from Harvest Textiles before.  MAJOR oversight. As it turns out, NOW is the perfect time to finally run an in-depth profile on this super inspiring local business - because after two years of running their prolific little studio, conducting an incredible variety of creative classes and workshops, offering residencies and a pop-up space for many local creatives, participating in countless local design events and markets, and generally multi-tasking their hearts out, this week Harvest open their very first permanent retail space! It makes sense really.  With a ripper shopfront location in Lygon st East Brunswick, which until now has been used for various pop-up events by local creatives, it was only a matter of time before the clever Harvest girls got around to creating their very own dedicated retail space. The result is 'Harvest Storeroom', and it opens today! In preparation for this new venture, Lara, Jess and Emma have been super busy creating an extensive range of new product, from cushions, tote bags, utility bags / pouches, all organic cotton bedlinen and kids clothes and adult leggings.  Now I know I'm prone to gush but in all honesty, I cannot BELIEVE how outrageously fab this range is.  Seriously!  The tote bags are especially amazing.  In fact if anyone has seen a more amazing tote bag than the ones pictured in this post I will be legitimately gobsmacked.  I have already placed my order - get on it peeps.  These girls will be inundated. Harvest Storeroom will initially be open  on Fridays and Saturdays only from 12.00 - 5.00, starting today!  Here you can expect to see all Harvest products mentioned above - including heaps of limited edition products and colours as well as their much-loved staples.  Everything in the range is printed by hand, in the Harvest Workroom out the back of the shop!    They're also selling screen printing supplies - water based inks, blank screens, squeeges, hinge clamps as well as stencil paper and some blank fabrics for your own creations. Much respect to Lara, Emma and Jess for following their hearts and working so very hard to achieve such amazing success with Harvest over the past two years!  SUPER inspiring. I have no idea how they manage to do so much with five kids between them.  Super clever, motivated, busy ladies! Harvest Storeroom - open today!  (12.00 - 5.00pm) 510- 512 Lygon Street East Brunswick Victoria 3057 Harvest also have an online store which is not 100% stocked with their new range just yet, but soon will be!  
Can you tell us a little about your respective backgrounds – what study/career path led each of you to co-founding Harvest in 2010?
Lara Davies (LD): I did a Fine Art degree at RMIT majoring in drawing where I undertook screen printing electives that I loved. After uni I did a few units at RMIT Tafe studying textile design as I really wanted to get some more technical screen printing experience. It was after this secondary studying stint that I started working for my partner's family business, Melbourne Artists' Supplies, and an ex-teacher of mine called me up to see if I wanted to teach a textile design class at the CAE. I got to write my own course that I loved teaching and when I went on maternity leave I asked Jess to teach my class for me. After my first son Frankie was born I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to spend my days doing and Harvest was started as a way to continue my passion for teaching screen printing to others, while keeping productive and creating more work. The creation of some of the original products stemmed from some drawings I had lying around for ages that just naturally lent themselves to becoming prints. I initially started printing kids t-shirts. In fact Shelley Panton was actually our first ever stockist as she saw one on Frankie and asked if I would make them for her shop. After approaching Ink & Spindle we began subletting their studio, and with a whole lot of support from them and Melbourne Artists' Supplies, Harvest was born! Jess Wright (JW): My mum is a high school textiles teacher (and a former fabric hoarder) and she instilled in me the mantra that the bigger your fabric stash the happier your life will be. I continue to live by this mantra. After high school I studied Creative Arts, which shockingly lead to zero job opportunities, so I decided to go back and study graphic design at RMIT. I ended up working in the children's clothing industry for a long time, it was fun but ultimately unfulfilling. After my son Milo was born I started getting antsy, and luckily Em and Lara came along to rescue me from a lifetime of drawing faux-graffiti kid's graphics! Emma Byrnes (EB): I've always been interested in small business having grown up in one, where my mum owned a fabulous little continental style coffee house in Sydney when I was a youngster. This environment obviously informed my early years but I didn't think of it as a career influence as much when I instead headed off to university to study Broadcast Journalism. Once I graduated from this degree I worked in a small film production company for a fabulous Italian couple who really took me under their wing. I then went on to study design and animation and began work as a web designer for five years. After many years sitting in front of a screen pushing pixels I craved something more tangible and so opened up an organic grocery store, PLUMP, in Yarraville with my friend Jock. To some this seemed like a random path for me to take, but this transition made complete sense to me considering my early exposure to and love of small business. Jock and I ran the store together until I fell pregnant with my second child. I took some time out from work during the pregnancy, but as fate would have it Jess, Lara and I got together and before I knew it I was embroiled in yet another exciting project.  This 'project' would later develop into Harvest and combined what I most love about a working environment – creating a platform for people to come together and be inspired enough to exchange ideas, skills and laughs!
What have been one or two favourite highlights of running Harvest in the past couple of years?
LD: Designing and setting up the Harvest print-room! It was such a pleasure being able to plan the dream studio space both to teach and make in, and we especially love continuously being able to come up with new and interesting ways to use this space. When we moved in it was just a big dusty warehouse, but with a lot of love and help from each of our partners and families it has become a pretty special space to work in every day. JW: The Harvest Xmas market last year was pretty amazing. It was crazy busy and all the customers and stallholders were thrilled by it. I think opening Harvest Storeroom is a really big milestone for us too – we're just too exhausted to be excited about it today! EB: Our 2011 Harvest Xmas market was a real highlight so far. The market really came together for us and felt like everything had fallen into place with our space. It was almost like a mini Harvest reunion, as many of the stallholders were had been many of past artists-in-residents and guest teachers, and it was exciting to be able to provide a platform for them showcase their handcrafted goodies to so many people.
You have a new range of products coming out and a new retail space – what inspired this new focus on your own range and creating a dedicated retail space?
LD: It's really the final piece of the puzzle where we can design and make a product and get it into our Storeroom within a week. It just makes the whole process of production much more exciting and creative!
Sweet details at Harvest HQ in Brunswick. LOVE the screenprinted circular swing tags.  Photos - Sean Fennessy.
JW: We have been dying to make some more one-off, fun products that might not be suitable to put into full production, and the Storeroom is perfect for that. We also stock printing supplies. Our aim is to become a 'one-stop screen printing shop' so that we can lure more people into the cult of screen printing…! EB: We have been in our studio now for almost two years. It is a very unique space as we have two retail frontages onto Lygon Street and our print studio runs across the back. Ever since we acquired the space we have imagined that one of the retail spaces would become our permanent retail space but we have been careful not to run into it too quickly as there were other aspects of our business that we needed to focus on first. So instead we have filled both spaces with loads of different pop-up shops, exhibitions, open studios and markets. A few months ago we decided to set ourselves a deadline for the retail store as inevitably time would pass and we would never get it happening. So we picked a date and here we are! The exciting part of having our own shop will be that we can experiment with short runs of ideas that we have and stay on our toes with fun printing projects rather than being committed to a fixed production run. We will also stock the shop with screen printing supplies that will give our printing students easy access to the supplies that they need to get their home printing studios set up.
Lara tweaks the window display.  How good are those tote bags!?  I am dying here. Sooo cute.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
What does a typical day at work involve at Harvest?
EB: Our weeks are often unpredictable and hectic as we all have little kids and childcare time tables that don't always sync up, so we don't usually work together five full days a week. Having said this, on our studio days we usually all rock up after dropping the kids off at various places, have a meeting about various e-mails, orders, ideas, admin then usually do some printing. Or as Jess sums up quite nicely we do "lots of printing, coffee and talking."
Can you name for us 5 resources across any media (ie 5 specific magazines, websites, blogs or other) that you visit regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration, or just to be kept in the loop!?
LD: I love listening to the Craft Victoria ladies on RRR on their show called The Grapevine, I also love to look at Beci Orpin's blog, Odette New York, Peaches and Keen, Mr Kitly, Ganim's Store and this really funny blog called Lloyd's Blog, which is all about small houses (I don't know why but I love it!). JW: Well Em is totally addicted to Instagram. There is an intervention in the works! Meanwhile I am pretty obsessed with Dell Stewart's website and I love scrolling through Patternity. I also spend a lot of time watching Maru on YouTube, not sure if that counts. EB: Now that Jess has exposed me, I admit it, I am totally addicted to Instagram!
Which other local creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Super Rad Nail Sisters (Rohani's wardrobe is amazing!), The Hungry Workshop, Peaches + Keen, Emily Green, Jo Fowles, Indie from Monolog, Maryann Talia Pau, Pop Craft, Sunday Ganim, Beci Orpin, Kirra Jamison…the list of talented Melbourne peeps is endless. We are also big, big fans of Craft Victoria.
What are you most proud of professionally?
EB: We love our space and the great people we meet through our work. But we also love working with each other. Being working mums and working in such a fantastic supportive dynamic threesome is a great feeling.
What would be your dream creative project?
Setting up Harvest Storeroom has actually been a bit of a dream come true - it's been so much fun coming up with new prints and products for our little shop! Our next dream creative project? Hmmmm......we'd love to write a screen printing bible to create some more converts!
What are you looking forward to?
LD: Having the chance to be more creative with our production and designing now that we have our own shop up and running. As well as getting to hang out with all our upcoming artists in residence: Super Rad Nail Sisters, Hello Sandwich, Maryann Talia Pau, Ghostpatrol & Miso, Peaches + Keen as well as Jackson Slattery. Being able to curate interesting events and workshops is a really fun aspect of running the studio. JW: I am looking forward to tricking the Super Rad Nail Sisters into being my new best friends. (They're doing a residency at Harvest starting tomorrow!)

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite local neighbourhood and why?
Easy! East Brunswick.  We love our hood.
Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?
Melbourne Artists' Supplies, All Australian Screen Printing Supplies, Ceres for studio plants, GJs fabrics. We also have various favourite op shops we frequent including Queenscliff Op Shop and Amaroo House, which are particularly amazing.
Where/what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
LD: A beautiful roast made by Fran Wilson who works for Harvest. She is the best cook ever and also has a Medhurst wine named after her! JW: Lara's pea and ham soup. It's life changing. EB: Masala Craft on High Street in Thornbury. The tandoori mushrooms are a must!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
LD: Usually one of the three of us will be teaching a screen printing workshop at Harvest Workroom so we will head in early and grab a coffee from The East Brunswick Project, then make sure the studio is welcoming and ready for class. When we are not teaching we all spend Saturday mornings with our families having breakfast and enjoying a quiet start.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
JW: Full Drop Co. We're pretty sure the word is going to get out soon but these girls are going to take over the world. Stay tuned for their Harvest residency in 2013!
Cushions and bags in Harvest's new retail space - Harvest Storeroom.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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