Bundjalung/Minjungbal woman Emma Rolls remembers the exact moment she decided to take the leap and start her business, Emro Designs. ‘I knew there was a gap in Early Education with Indigenous resources. I spoke to my sister initially about the idea of having paintings transferred onto rugs, and how amazing it would be as an educational resource in childcare, and also something visually beautiful and appealing’, she reflects.
Back then wasn’t exactly the ideal time to start a business – Emma and her husband Pete had two young kids and were talking about having a third through IVF, and the costs associated with that made it feel a little risky to invest in a new business. ‘But it was something I couldn’t get out of my head, and I knew it was the universe telling me to jump in and give it a go’ Emma recalls. She followed her intuition, and launched Emro Designs in September of 2019.
Emma’s stunning collection of rugs, cushions and picnic blankets feature the works of five Aboriginal artists – Steven Bekue, Zoey Hart, Christine Slabb, Holly Sanders and Shara Delaney, who each receive a percentage of every item sold. Emma is passionate about supporting her artists to continue creating and telling stories, an essential part of keeping culture alive.
Emma is a total legend – and she’s only just getting started!
Hey Emma – we love what you’ve created with Emro Designs! Can you tell us a little about your background, and what brought you to Emro Designs?
When I finished high school, I received a scholarship to do a Diploma of Community Services at TAFE, and had a real passion to do youth work in my Community. After dealing with the loss of my brother when I was 21 I didn’t feel like I was mentally strong enough to work with youth, but was still keen to work in a Community organisation.
I started work at Kalwun, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation on the Gold Coast in 2010, where I started as a Medical Receptionist and worked my way up to an Executive Management position, where I still work part time and have been for over 10 years now.
For years I had really craved to do something for myself and build something from scratch, but it just took a bit of time to really work out what that was. I did know though, I wanted to do something that involved my culture and something more creative.
What has your journey been like starting your own business from scratch?
It’s only been like a year and a half, which isn’t that long but at the same time feels like so long ago, with the amount I’ve learnt and evolved during that time.
To start I did not have a huge amount of money- I had to redraw $7k on our mortgage as trying to get a business loan was such hard work, and there were so many roadblocks. So I started with $7k and tested out a few different suppliers samples. That was a lengthy process, and a lot of back and forth of getting samples and that almost took all of the money I had to start my business. Once I found my supplier I placed a really small order and took some photos in my son’s Childcare Centre and did a brochure up and sent it out to all Childcare Centres on the Gold Coast to get some more interest.
From there, I started getting orders here and there from local Childcare Centres on the Gold Coast. It was in June 2020 when my business started to get more traction, thanks to social media! I didn’t have a website at that time, I was still building it, so I was taking orders over Instagram for the first few weeks.
Launching a new business, being a mother and wife, working part-time and being pregnant was really hard work, and each day looked and does look different depending on what’s going on with life at home and with my family. To be honest it is a constant juggle each day with the kids and fitting in what I need to but I absolutely love it and to be able to do something for myself and have my family part of this journey is so rewarding. For so long I have had a desire to have the flexibility of working for myself, still be a present mum and not miss out on those moments with my children I would if I was working full time elsewhere.
I think I am proof that you do not need a business or University degree to start and run a business- if you have a strong passion, focus, determination and Google (haha) you can do anything you put your mind to!
Who are the artists you are working with, and how did you come to collaborate with them?
We currently have 5 different artists we’re working with. Steven Bekue (Bundjalung and Bidjara), Zoey Hart (Bundjalung), Christine Slabb (Bundjalung), Holly Sanders (Bundjalung) and Shara Delaney (Quandamooka). Steven is my brother-in-law and was the first artist I worked with. Zoey is extended family and I have also known Christine for a while also. I came across Holly and Shara’s pages on Instagram and fell in love with their styles and reached out to them. It’s been amazing making these connections on social media!
We also have some new artists that we are working with, so I’m really excited to share more with everyone soon!
It’s amazing to hear that a percentage of each item sold goes directly back to the artists – why is this important?
This is such an important part of our business – to give back to the artists. I really want to ensure that they are able to continue sharing their artwork and our culture and pass along those stories to their children also, and really helping our culture live on.
What is your dream for the future of Emro Designs?
I have a big dream of seeing one of our rugs in every classroom and Childcare Centre in Australia! How amazing would that be, I actually get goosebumps thinking about it!