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    Studio visit: Reny Kestel, Milliner


    By Kristen Marano

    Perth’s fashion scene continues to emerge, and Millinery Designer Reny Kestel is one of the city’s talented designers at the forefront of this movement.

    Reny is a young and inventive hatmaker in a competitive industry that got its start in the 1800s. She designs and produces hundreds of headpieces a year for weddings, horse races and fashion weeks that range from edgy wearable art to classic and elegant hats, leather headbands and hand-beaded combs.

    Reny, a Perth native, set up her studio and gallery two years ago in the city. Previously she was living in London, England, where she also discovered her interest in millinery.

    Some might expect that attracting customers outside of Australia’s most isolated state might be difficult, but Reny’s future-thinking designs and respect for tradition keep her top of mind among a diverse customer base. Women rely on Reny to make custom hats for big racing events of the year like the Melbourne Cup and ongoing regional events throughout the country. She currently designs headpieces for Alana McLean, the face of WA Country Cups.

    I visited Reny’s Perth studio to ask her about her designs and learn how she stays relevant.

    How did you get started in millinery?

    I was going to Royal Ascot, and I must have spent hours in this small pokey shop looking at all the trimmings and hat blocks available. This exploring led me to inquire about millinery classes, and from there I have never looked back. I’ve fulfilled my vision by returning to Perth and launching my own label.

    It’s kind of an ironic path as I’ve been fascinated with birds from a young age. In fact, I wanted to be an ornithologist when I was 12-years-old. So, it’s nice to be able to work with bird feathers.

    Reny Kestel works on a headpiece in her studio, one of hundreds she produces every year.

    I have also always had a keen interest in art and design from a young age, and I continued this interest by studying Fashion Design at Central Institute of Technology in Perth. I love the idea of wearable art, and fashion is a great form of self-expression. The 3D shape in art and sculpture, and designing with patterns from flat fabrics has always been exciting.

    How have you set up your space to help you be productive?

    Being organised is definitely key. I need to have materials that I use frequently, easily accessible and colour coordinated so I can grab them with minimal fuse.

    My other essential items are clearly positioned in the right workspace areas, such as millinery wire on hooks with tape measures and wire cutters hanging next to them. I have two large steel rulers fixed to the large central table, so when I need fabric straw materials or Petersham ribbon I can quickly measure the exact amount and be able to note the amount I use.

    I always go by the rule that everything has a home. My materials are arranged and labeled so I know with a quick glance what I am looking for. I try to clear the workshop table space every few days or weekly, and put things back in their place after an artistic explosion. I find I can’t get into a creative mode and think clearly without using a clean space.

    Reny and her father created this thread spool holder to make her material easily accessible and keep it organised.

    What’s your biggest creative fear and how are you overcoming it?

    Not really fearful, but I’d call it…creative pressure – that is balancing my creative time with the general operations of the business, which involves emails, calls, sales, bookwork, administration, public relations and social media.

    I also have to ensure that the time I spent creating each piece aligns with the price of the piece. This can create a bit of pressure to get things made within a certain time period.

    A leather headband in progress on Reny’s work table.

    How does living in an isolated state help and/or challenge your business?

    Since the whole Internet revolution, I don’t notice how isolated Perth is anymore. Connecting to people, finding inspiration, and material sourcing is not a problem now.

    Perth’s population is small, so it does help in terms of networking. We are lucky to have a strong supportive fashion industry in Western Australia, and I think this is because the state is so isolated.

    One last question…

    At the end of our visit I asked Kestel if she has attracted any North American clients yet, where I anticipate her designs could catch on. “Not yet,” she said, but one thing is certain, Australia is lucky to have a defining homegrown designer like Kestel.

    Reny Kestel millinery

    Follow Reny’s designs and shop online at www.renykestel.com.

    {Studio images by Kristen Marano}

    Kristen Marano is a writer living in Perth, Australia. Kristen helps companies build relationships with their audiences through compelling content programs. She also shares her fashion and lifestyle perspectives with Huffington Post Canada, and produces a weekly newsletter, Creative Women Weekly, featuring stories of creative women from around the world. Follow Kristen on Twitter @kmarano and Instagram @krismarano.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, studio visit | Comments Off
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    Regional Creative: Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle1

    By Christina Atherton

    With so many of us are searching for that illusive work/life balance it’s refreshing to see someone who has been able to achieve that while creating a thriving small business from her passions. Based in Redhead, south of Newcastle, Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank has managed to create an inspiring business that combines her love of food styling, woodwork and Dutch heritage while allowing her to spend precious time with her family. Here she shares an insight into her fledgling creative business and how she got to where she is today.

    Tell us a bit about your background.

    I’m a small town, big family kind of girl. My dad, a scientist come oyster farmer, moved the family from Sydney back to my mum’s hometown on the Tillegery Pennisular when I was young. I spent a lot of time outside, building bush cubbies, riding repurposed bikes from the dump, eating wholesome food and hanging out at the oyster block.

    I’m a third generation ‘Dutchy’. My Oma and Opa came to Australia in 1952 and have been a big part of my life. It was my Opa who started the family oyster farming business and even in his nineties, he continues to demonstrate that working hard is in our genes. My family heritage is something I cherish and it was important for me to incorporate this into my business.

    Inspired by a 1980’s food styling video at school, I decided I wanted to be a food stylist. After chatting to my science-loving dad, I shifted my focus to becoming a dietitian and took myself very seriously at uni. Soon after graduating I was surprised to find that typical dietetics wasn’t for me. I spent the next decade working in corporate dietetics, I enjoyed a stint in private practice, I met my husband at ‘The Worlds Biggest Disco’ and eventually returned to a management position in the Health and Wellbeing division of Sanitarium. And then came our babies.

    What made you want to start your own business?

    I loved my corporate job but motherhood has a way of changing your perspective (often without your permission). I tried to balance everything when baby Eve arrived, but it was impossible. I found myself without work and I knew that I had an opportunity to rethink and reshape my career, a moment to pause and contemplate.

    Like many mums, I wanted to find the elusive balance between work, mothering and life in general. I wanted to do something was fulfilling and fun, that was aligned with my passions and that positioned me to continue to learn and grow.

    How did you come up with the idea of HoutenPlanks?

    I have always loved food. I think about it A LOT. I find food photography mesmerising and adore quiet time with food literature. I had watched that the ‘serving board’ trend become entrenched in food styling. I noted that recipe books, food magazines and cafes where using serving boards frequently. Food commentators were talking about the popularly of share-plates and the decline of entrée-main-dessert dining. Jamie Oliver centred his styling on painted serving boards and people couldn’t get enough of it. I knew that with time, the serving board trend would permeate households, generating demand for such products. I knew that ‘fashion for food’ was on the agenda and that HoutenPlank, which is Dutch for ‘wooden board’, could meet this growing market need.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle3

    How did you get started?

    My husband Brad often scoffs at the depth of my research and detailed documentation. He’s a ‘get-in-there-and-get-stuff-done’ kind of guy. I’m the opposite and don’t mind generating a spreadsheet or trying to articular market insights. My second baby Esther arrived and I’d spend nights dreaming and working on my business plan. On weekends, in between breast-feeding, I’d slip down to the workshop to start prototyping. Brad was incredibly patient and supportive. He had a few doubts about my woodworking capabilities but nonetheless allowed me to use his tools. He always believed in what I was trying to achieve. He collected discarded workshop furniture from construction sites until we had built a functional little workshop. One sleep-deprived year later, I finally had a plan and the confidence to launch my business.


    What are the pros and cons of running your own small business?

    HoutenPlank provides me with a platform to do what I love. It seems that I’ve finally found my ‘groove’. After previously struggling with work-life balance, I’m happy to be able to control my workflow and how work impacts my family life (well, most of the time). More recently, I’ve relished the freedom to support my friends and family when they’ve needed it. I’ve enjoyed connecting, supporting and being inspired by local creatives. I’m also thrilled that spending hours on Pinterest and Instagram is now considered productive market research!

    Business administration is my foe! Lauren Hung from The Black Line penned my new motto “face it or face-plant in it”. Bookwork, quoting and filing are not my favourite things but I’m learning how to effectively manage these tasks. I also find it difficult to manage growth with limited capabilities. There’s a constant re-evaluation of how to increase production without stepping outside my brand values. Growth is exciting, but also anxiety provoking. Most of the time I am ‘one-girl-in-my-garage’, both a pro and a con on many levels.

    What has been your proudest achievement to date?

    I wish I could tell you about my proudest achievement, but it’s still under wraps. What I can say is that I have won an unearthed competition and have developed a collaborative product, which will be available Australia-wide later in the year. This is groundbreaking for my business and I am preparing for a crazy, busy, exciting few months. I can’t wait until I can share more about it.

    Has social media played an important part in growing your business? If so, how?

    Social media has been an essential tool to create buzz about HoutenPlank. It’s been a cost effective way for me to increase brand awareness, encourage word of mouth, expand my reach, share my story, show my products, develop my style, engage in conversations and build relationships. I’m constantly amazed at the connections, opportunities and friendships that social media can forge. It’s a daily thing for me and I’m now at the stage of developing a social media strategy and calendar to help ensure it’s easy for me to reap the benefits of this medium.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle4

    What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own creative business?

    I’ve mentioned that I’m partial to research and planning. I believe that a well thought out business plan is an excellent launch pad for a creative business. I’ve recently looked back at my initial plan and while much of it now seems irrelevant, it was critical in the beginning. Don’t make the mistake of planning yourself in circles. There’s a time to plan and a time for action. A good business plan forces you to think differently, to stretch your ideas, to anticipate the challenges, to understand the market place, to be realistic in your financial forecast, but most of all it gives you confidence to take a chance to be successful at doing something that you love.

    Now that I’ve rabbited on about planning, I’ll sum up a few other thoughts…be open-minded, invest in building relationships with stakeholders and customers, embrace collaborations, have a ‘roll-with-it’ attitude, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and never forget your raison d’être (reason for being).

    On a quest to live a more creative life, Christina loves any type of crafty project and has tried everything from watercolours and flower arranging to paper craft and calligraphy. She has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram and when not working in freelance travel and lifestyle PR, spends her time as a mama, wannabe photographer and magazine junkie. She currently coordinates CWC events in Newcastle.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, regional | Comments Off
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    Interview: Louise Mulhall of Floralovely


    By Keely Malady

    Louise Mulhall is a Brisbane based Calligrapher and holder of possibly the most delightful business name I’ve yet encountered – Floralovely. With a background in floristry, it’s not surprising the find that Louise’s whimsical and fresh designs have attracted a strong Instagram and Facebook following, with demand growing for her pointed pen style.

    Returning to an art practice that you had once been disappointed by is a courageous move – especially with a young family in tow. But Louise’s late night explorations in modern calligraphy have paid off handsomely, as her delightful creations are in demand for weddings, events and corporate clients. Louise also runs workshops across the east coast, to share her skills and passion with aspiring calligraphers.

    Calligraphy is an ancient and evocative art practice, what initially attracted you to it?
    I initially became interested in calligraphy when I was in high school – I was always the girl at school with the highly decorated “title page” for assignments! For a short while I learnt broad nib calligraphy, but became disheartened when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. So I put my tools away and didn’t give them another glance until many years later, where I discovered pointed pen calligraphy. This discovery of the tools which complimented my style unleashed my creativity and I fell completely in love.

    Having worked in the wedding industry for many years, I could see there was a market for my own style of handwritten place cards and wedding invitations. I researched modern calligraphy online; bought all the recommended books I could find, did online courses and completed a modern calligraphy workshop in Sydney. I spent many, many hours at night once my daughter and subsequent son, were asleep refining my style and working my way through reams of practice paper and ink.

    The name ‘Floralovely’ was intended to capture my love of both flowers and calligraphy, allowing flexibility between these two aspects of my business. Ultimately though, I decided to focus exclusively on my calligraphy business and put my Floristry career into hiatus.

    Louise Mulhall_calligraphy_2

    What are the biggest misconceptions about your work?

    If you were to look at my Instagram you might be lead to believe that my days are filled with playing with pretty papers and shiny inks when in actual fact my days are usually filled with taking my kids to swimming lessons or playing with play dough! Social media can be quite deceptive in that way.

    As my children are still so young, I limit the amount of orders I take for calligraphy as my main job at the moment is Mum. I spend most days with my son and daughter and then work at night while they are asleep.

    There’s a lot more involved with my business that just sitting down and writing for a couple of hours. I liaise with clients, order supplies, organise workshop venues and ticketing, create calligraphy drafts in pencil and I spend a lot of time practicing my lettering.

    I definitely couldn’t keep working this hard if I didn’t love my job. I feel a great, personal fulfilment being able to write calligraphy for work and still be there for my kids when they need me.

    My favourite quote at the moment is from Will Rogers (1879-1935) – “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”

    Louise Mulhall_calligraphy_1

    What have been your greatest challenges in starting your own business?
    I’ve found my greatest challenge is managing my time between work and family, which I’m sure is an experience shared with any working mother! Making the most of my child-free days is imperative, as well as a having a tolerance to late nights in the office. I try to stay out of my office on the days that my kids are home with me as I want to make sure my attention is on them and not on my work.

    I have also found it challenging to keep on top of the administration work while still allowing myself plenty of writing and creative time. It’s easy to get caught up in emails and admin when you’re doing everything yourself but I need to make sure I have dedicated writing times where I don’t look at the computer.

    Louise Mulhall_workshop_4_

    Louise Mulhall_workshop_2_

    What part of your day gives you the best ‘flow’ in your work?
    I really enjoy when I have a long list of names for a place card order or envelope addressing and I sit down with a cup of tea and just work my way through the list. It is so satisfying to see all the cards or envelopes lined up with the ink drying after I have finished them.

    Talk us through a day in the life of Floralovely.

    On the two days my children are in daycare/kindy, after the morning chaos and drop offs, I come home and settle into the stream of emails and admin work with a cup of tea.

    Once I’m up to date, I’ll review the client brief and start warming up for writing. I’ve found I just can’t sit down and expect to start calligraphy work straight away. I I need to do a few pages of swirls, drills and practice alphabets to get going.

    I’ll spend the rest of the day working through the order, whether it’s envelope addressing, place cards or a seating chart and before I know it, it’s time to pick up my littlies!

    I mostly practice my calligraphy at night-time in the home office I share with my husband. In these quieter hours I have found the perfect environment that allows me to get my ink ‘flow’ happening. Everything is fairly still, my children are sleeping and I can really concentrate on what I’m doing.


    Keely Malady is a twenty-something year old graduate architect living in Melbourne. Keely’s blog, Small Talk & Co. aims to hold a space open for a new conversation on the wonders of the small things that make up a life well lived.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
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    Regional creative spotlight: Kamisha Refalo – Little Wren Flowers


    By Christina Atherton

    Having recently made a sea change from the big smoke, I’ve noticed an abundance of local creatives doing incredible things across regional Australia, highlighting that you don’t need to live in a major city to fulfil your creative passion.

    One such creative is Kamisha Refalo from Little Wren Flowers in Newcastle who is pushing the boundaries when it comes to creative floristry. Her bespoke work can be seen across retail outlets, cafes and magazines as well as weddings and special events. Here she shares some insights into running a small business and her creative inspirations.

    Tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into floristry?
    I’ve been working in the floristry industry since I was 17 years old. My first job was at Roses Only in Chifley Plaza, Sydney. I felt like this would be the perfect ‘earthy’ job for a young country girl in the big city. I stayed there for a few years before moving back home to Bellingen on the north coast of NSW.

    After that, I dabbled in the industry for a few years but never felt confident or ready to branch out on my own. It wasn’t until my partner and I travelled around Australia with our sons then 1 and 3, that I really gave some thought to starting my own business.

    When we returned to Newcastle, I started Little Wren Flowers from home with just one client – Saluna Café – who I still work with today. From there, it grew really quickly and, with plenty of wedding requests and clients coming in, I moved into our studio on Darby Street.

    What was the motivation behind starting Little Wren Flowers?
    Essentially it was to create something that could be flexible around my young children – at the moment I work part-time which I’m really grateful for. Rather than have a typical shopfront, my flower studio is by appointment only which means I can be more flexible with my hours. I never thought Little Wren Flowers would turn out to be as creatively rewarding as it is, which is great. I really love working for myself and am thankful that, at this stage, the business isn’t driven by money.

    You have a really unique approach to floristry and a great eye for detail. Where do you get your inspiration from?
    I get my inspiration from the flowers. If you have fresh, beautiful blooms to work with, nothing can go wrong. I love natural, true-to-form arrangements – this style of floristry comes easily to me and I love that it resonates with so many people, too. In addition, living so close to the country, I am lucky enough to be able forage and handpick ingredients on a weekly basis.


    How do you keep yourself creatively challenged working in a small regional business?
    I’m lucky that I have great clients who make me think outside the box each week. Creative collaborations are great, too, as they challenge what is possible. Social media keeps me on my toes and the changing seasons help as well, as I get to work with flowers and foliage that may often only be available for those few months each year.

    What do you love most about running your own creative business?
    I love having flexible hours to suit my home life. I love the control and being able to drive Little Wren Flowers in the direction that is right for me. I also love the freedom to work at my own pace and indulge, at times, in creative ideas. Floristry is a very satisfying job – it’s about making clients smile using the beauty of a natural medium.

    What are the challenges of running your own creative business?
    Like most creative people, I find bookwork and quoting on jobs can be challenging – I try very hard to please everyone! The other big challenge is to not take on too many overheads. I don’t want money to be the sole motivation of the business. At present, we only buy for clients so there is very minimal waste or loss.

    I also currently have three amazing casual staff at Little Wren Flowers and we all work really well together. As the boss, I am always learning how to make my team more comfortable and happy after each big project. My aim is for my staff to genuinely love what we do and never feel like it is just a job for them.


    Do you find there are any differences between working in a regional area compared to a big city?
    For sure! Everyone is so supportive in Newcastle and I get such great positive feedback from the locals. I couldn’t imagine living in a big city, let alone operating a small business there! We have it made in Newcastle – everything is close enough that it’s rarely stressful. The furthest we ever travel is an hour-and-a-half to the Hunter Valley to set up weddings. Unfortunately the drive to the Sydney Flower Markets is a mission from Newcastle. I would love for the Sydney Flower market to be more accessible.

    Is there are a strong creative community in Newcastle? Does this help with your creativity?
    Yes, the creative community here is very strong and inspiring. I collaborate regularly with a number of different people and am grateful for each and every opportunity. I just wish I had more time! There are so many awesome creative projects, openings and markets happening in Newcastle every day.

    What does a typical day at work look like for you?
    I have three types of days. A typical market day sees me wake at 2:30am and drive to the Sydney Flower Markets. It’s a 2.5 hour drive each way, so I usually get back to the studio around 9:30am and unload all the flowers and group them according to events, weddings and our weekly clients. If there’s time, I head home for a nanna nap, then pick up the kids from school at 2:45pm.

    A typical creative day in the studio making up wedding flowers often means I work back until 9/10pm, just to make sure everything is perfect. A wedding delivery and set up day starts at 5-6am to dress all bridal flowers, make any delicate crowns or hair flowers then pack the flowers into cars and head out to the wedding venue, usually by 2pm.

    A typical studio day starts by getting everyone to school then heading into the studio by 9am to check emails. I then create any orders and weekly clients orders, deliver those then pick up the kids and head home, or stay back late and get on top of quoting and paperwork.

    I love the variety of my days, so I guess there is no typical day other wise this job/career would not suit me. I love the ups and downs and the many different briefs and ideas that get thrown my way.

    What are your big plans for 2015?
    To move to a larger studio and buy a cool room – which would be heaven. I also have some creative weddings booked which I am really looking forward to getting my hands dirty for this year. And I would love to grow more flowers!


    {Photos by Hannah Robinson}

    Having swapped the big smoke for coastal life, Christina Atherton is on a quest to live a more creative life and shine the spotlight on regional creatives. She has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram and loves any type of creative project having tried everything from watercolours and flower arranging to paper craft and calligraphy. When not working in PR, she spends her time as a mama, wannabe photographer and coffee addict. Christina is also the CWC Event Host in Newcastle, NSW.

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    Posted by: Tess McCabe
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