Bricks & Mortar: Onabee

By Diane Leyman

Onabee is a cute little craft and supplies shop located on leafy Bellair Street in Kensington. Owner Fiona Burnes comes from a nursing background, but decided to pursue a different career after becoming a single mum. She applied for the NEIS program, and after having her feasibility plan accepted, started the program by completing a Certificate IV in small business at RMIT. Fiona was then supported for a year with a mentor and decided to start up her creative business, Onabee, in June 2010, drawing on inspiration from her upbringing with a crafty mother, grandmother and great grandmother, who were always busy sewing, doing embroidery, making silk flowers and painting.

Fiona decided on Kensington for the location of her shop, which allowed her to be close to home and her children’s school. The shopfront Fiona is now set up in had been empty for a while before she moved in, and despite its limitations Fiona bravely worked around them. She completed the renovations herself, and initially spent a few months fixing up the space, painting, polishing the floor and adding her own fittings with a mix of eBay, hard rubbish and IKEA items. The most remarkable of Fiona’s finds is her fantastic wool cabinet, which she accidentally found at Lost Ark Antiques in Williamstown. What a gem!

Fiona did extensive market research before opening up Onabee, looking for gaps in the market, and as a result has received a fantastic response. Fiona says she has met some amazing people in the past couple of years who have been incredibly supportive and who keep coming back. The range of items she stocks has evolved over time – to begin with she went to lots of local markets to source items that appealed to her. Today Fiona still has a commitment to stocking locally made and fair trade handmade products alongside her extensive range of haberdashery, and also tries to stock according to the seasons (so the focus for winter is beautiful Australian-made yarns). And what’s lovely about visiting Onabee is the personal touch – the afternoon I was there Fiona was extremely helpful dishing out knitting advice to her customers!

Aside from stocking a great range of items, Fiona also runs a range of knitting and crochet classes. The classes are held three times a week in the shop after hours, and are limited to about five people. There are also some children’s craft classes one afternoon per week during the school term.

Onabee is located at 200 Bellair Street in Kensington, and Fiona also has an online shop. Check the Onabee website for craft class details. In August Onabee will also be part of Craft Victoria’s Craft Cubed 2012 Festival, with a ‘knitting doctor’ sessions for people who need a little help.

Diane Leyman is an editor and writer with seven years of experience working in non-fiction, illustrated trade book publishing. She has a passion for all things design, and writes a design blog called Notes to a Further Excuse. She also likes taking photographs, crafting, drinking coffee and obsessing over mid-century homewares.