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Doing Business Across ‘The Ditch’

Creative People

While we may have stolen pavlova and Russell Crowe from them (personally, not so fussed about the latter), there’s no denying the long history of collaboration between New Zealanders and Australians.

We chat with owners of three inspiring small trans-Tasman businesses: furniture and lighting father-daughter duo Douglas & Bec, Rufus Knight of interior architecture and design studio Knight Associates, and Little Company founder Stacey Burt. Whether running showrooms in both countries or simply embarking on projects off-shore, this trio reflects on some of the challenges they’ve encountered and overcome.

We’re also happy to announce that we’re branching out ourselves; TDF will be covering New Zealand-based creatives and projects moving forward. We would love to hear any suggestions you may have at submissions@thedesignfiles.net.

25th April, 2018

Auckland/Melbourne-based furniture and lighting studio Douglas & Bec’sWall Light. Photo – Tony Brown.

To celebrate a decade in design, Douglas and Bec launched its most ambitious furniture and lighting collection to date last year. pictured here, the Arch Chair.  Photo – Tony Brown.

Inside Bec Dowie’s Clevedon home. ‘I’m spending more and more time in Melbourne – I love it, it’s such a contrast from my rural lifestyle. I get to slap on some glad rags and be a city girl!’ she tells. ‘After a few days, though, I like to get back to my children, dogs and husband!’ Photo – courtesy of Douglas & Bec.

From left to right: Douglas Snelling, Paul Dowie and Bec Dowie of Douglas & Bec.

Elle Murrell
Wednesday 25th April 2018

‘It was really a no-brainer to set up in Melbourne. When an opportunity arose I jumped on a plane the very next day!’ – Bec Dowie.

Douglas & Bec

Established in 2007, Douglas and Bec is a New Zealand-based furniture and lighting company led by father-and-daughter team Douglas Snelling and Bec Dowie. Today, they run showrooms in Auckland and Melbourne, showcasing their unique collection of timeless, contemporary furniture and lighting designs that hero old-fashioned craftsmanship.

Growing up on a farm in the north of NZ, Bec studied fine arts in Auckland. She spent her early 20s in Melbourne, working as a barista in Fitzroy, before returning home to launch and co-run the family business.

‘We had amazing feedback through blogs and media (such as yourselves) and so knew there was demand for our product in Australia,’ tells Bec of their motivation to branch into the Melbourne market. While Douglas & Bec were already stocked at a couple of Aussie retailers, being a sell-direct company was always a priority, so they wanted a presence on the ground. ‘It was really a no-brainer to set up: an opportunity arose with Julia from Dagmar Rousset to open a space next to hers in Collingwood. I was so familiar with the area, so I jumped on a plane the very next day!’ recalls Bec.

Bec does admit that logistics, shipping and maintaining a great team across two countries are the major challenges they have to work to stay on top of, and advises having a great accountant is a must! Overall, though, opening in Melbourne has been an overwhelming success for Douglas and Bec, and has allowed them to reach a much greater pool of potential customers and projects. ‘It’s such an inclusive industry; in both cities, there are creative and clever people supporting one another.’ 

Douglas & Bec is re-opening its Melbourne showroom on Bedford Street in late May. Coincidently, they’re actually working with our next NZ creative (below) on their new fit-out…!

Knight Associate’s project: Kowtow Wellington, was completed this year. Photo – Simon Wilson.

Rufus Knight urges aspiring creatives to be aware of Australia’s breadth of history and culture and its value in contemporary society, as well as respectful of a long-standing commitment to design and the arts. Photo – Simon Wilson.

The multi-residential building The International in Auckland. Photo – Simon Wilson.

‘Across the ditch, there’s nothing to be leveraged from your exoticism – you are the underdog and you need to work hard’ – Rufus Knight.

Knight Associates

Growing up in the small North-Island towns of Opotiki and Ohakune, Rufus Knight studied Architecture and Design at Victoria University in Wellington, where he also later taught. He relocated to Auckland to take up a job at Fearon Hay Architects, and  had the opportunity to gain experience in Europe, working with Vincent Van Duysen Architects in Antwerp (that is a BIG deal!) as well as a Paris-based art publication.

The high-achiever decided it was time to launch his own Auckland practice in 2016. His team of three focuses on interior architecture and design, and has amassed some award-winning and much-hyped projects, including The International multi-residential building, and Lonely‘s flagship in Ponsonby, Auckland, as well as the NZ pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, and collaborations with Australian skincare empire Aēsop.

For Rufus, 31, it’s important to contribute to ‘a design language that is reflective of our cultural diversity’, with an understanding of how this design vocabulary can be valued in the global market. ‘It is clear to me that our greatest asset in communicating this diverse creative identity is through our native materials, and the inherent narratives they contain – materials have meaning, just like words, and we can speak through them’ he says.

Knight Associates are currently finishing up the commercial refurbishment of a Federation warehouse in Sydney’s CBD, in collaboration with Intermain and Paul Davies. Then there’s the new 120-square-metre Douglas & Bec Collingwood showroom, in collaboration with MUIR Architecture.

For Rufus, business growth in Australia has been welcomed but was not intentional, instead stemming from relationships with NZ companies opening in the Australian market. ‘Australia has such a strong and vibrant design culture, I can’t yet see how our office could add value to that,’ tells the humble director. ‘However, last year I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Dulux DIAlogue Tour  (with the Design Institute of Australia and Designers Institute of New Zealand) where I got to discuss the differences and similarities between our design cultures with respected practitioners such as Miriam Fanning, Mim Design Studio, and Adele Winteridge, Foolscap Studio, from which I felt a sense of accord – we are similar design cultures tackling many of the same social, cultural, and economic challenges.’

Look out for Knight Associates Wellington project with Aēsop, which is set to be completed next month. Follow their international work at Knightassociates.co.nz.

A wellness space offering restorative facials, Little Company is located in Cremorne. Photo – Bobby Clark.

Owner and founder Stacey Burt. Photo – Bobby Clark.

Stacey left NZ in 2005, chasing the sun to Burleigh Heads. Eighteen months later the food, culture and city life drew her to Melbourne. Photo – Bobby Clark.

‘Our locations and spaces are an extension of our philosophy, with design supporting restoration in a stripped back, minimal, and energetically nurturing environment,’ she tells. Photo – Bobby Clark.

She used eBay and Gumtree for second-hand plants and planters, clearance plywood, and excess stock left from a prior business.’ Photo – Bobby Clark.

Stacey has never been short on finding fellow creatives keen to swap contra services. Photo – Bobby Clark.

‘I would recommend a lean approach to business, ‘bootstrapping’ as much as possible.’ – Stacey Burt.

Little Company

Hailing from Whakatane, A small town in the middle of the North Island, Stacey Burt today calls Byron Bay home – though you may have seen her Warrandyte home (now on Airbnb!) which was one of our top 10 last year!

After training and working at a facialist at a Polynesian spa, Stacey left NZ in 2005, chasing the sun to Burleigh Heads, Queensland. Eighteen months later, the food, culture and city life drew her to Melbourne, where she decided to launch her own business in 2016.

A wellness space offering restorative facials, Little Company is located in Cremorne, with a second premises set to open in Byron Bay. ‘We are a little company dedicated to treating the skin as a living organ: taking a supportive approach (no quick fixes) and using only the best natural and organic ingredients plus sustainable practices,’ details Stacey. ‘Our locations and spaces are an extension of our philosophy, with design supporting restoration in an energetically nurturing environment – far from the clinical feeling you usually find in beauty businesses.’

Though moving to Australia was more of a lifestyle choice than a business decision for Stacey, she has found that within the beauty industry, the size of the Australian market has enabled her to break new ground, and create a tailored business with its own niche.

Addressing Kiwis looking to branch into business in Australia, or visa versa, she recommends a lean approach to business, ‘bootstrapping’ as much as possible. For Little Company, in the beginning, this meant working with the resources at hand. ‘Venue/space budgets can often blow out, so our family helped with our initial build, painting and the fit-out, then even other things like accounting and washing machine repairs!’ she tells. ‘We used eBay and Gumtree for second-hand plants and planters, clearance plywood, and excess stock left from a prior business.’

Having a lot of creative Kiwi friends living in Australia also gave Stacey a hand up, as she has never been short on finding someone keen to swap services. She has Charl Laubscher to thank for web design and creative direction, Shayna Quinn for artworks and textiles, and Ben Wilkie for interior architecture tips, to name but a few!

Stacey and her family are off chasing the sun again, relocating to Byron Bay to open their second Little Company space this June. Find out more at Littlecompany.com.au and stay tuned for the release of their range of living skin products.

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