You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Australian luxury homewares design powerhouse, Bonnie & Neil. The duo has amassed quite a large fanbase since their brand debut in 2010 – and rightfully so! Their stunning range of screen-printed textiles includes everything from cushions to tea towels and artwork, and feature botanical motifs, vibrant patterns and the occasional nod to Australiana culture. Every product is created by hand in their Melbourne studio using high-quality materials.
We caught up with Bonnie Ashley, co-founder of Bonnie and Neil, to talk about what it takes to run a successful small business.
Bonnie and Neil has definitely achieved cult status, but where did it all start?
Neil and I both studied design and have creative career backgrounds spanning floristry, textile design and art, furniture making, set design and screen printing. In our home life, we’re always tinkering with some creative project or another, designing products for our own home and making things for family and friends, so it just felt like a natural progression to create our first collection in 2010.
Entrepreneurship isn’t an easy path. Can you tell us about some of the challenges?
I love having the freedom to be creative and experiment in bringing our ideas to life. However, when you have your own business, especially one with a small team like ours, you need to be part of all aspects of the company. There are plenty of tasks that are not creative or enjoyable, and some are also very stressful!
What are some of your proudest achievements?
There have been a few key achievements that really stand out. Firstly, making that leap from being a full-time employee in someone else’s business to starting our own. In the early days of Bonnie and Neil, attending our first trade show and getting such a positive response to our range.
We also get a real buzz out of stocking beautiful stores around the world, especially ones that we love shopping in ourselves. We’re stocked in some of our favourite stores around the world including Liberty, Heals, Le Bon Marche and Anthropologie. And more recently, we’ve been working on some dream collaborations including T2, Qantas and new boutique hotels.
What is the key to running a successful small business?
Making time to celebrate the wins (big and small) and learning from every experience. When you run your own small business, especially one that requires you to be hands-on, it’s very easy to get caught up in the day to day and lose focus on the big picture.
Also, having the right team working with you is key. This has become even more important as our business has grown so we’ve taken on employees with different skill sets who can not only support us in working on the business side of Bonnie and Neil but also give us the space to focus on designing.
Where do you draw inspiration?
The Australian creative community! There are so many other small businesses out there making amazing products. Many of which are also run by women. We started our business in Brunswick which is one of Melbourne’s creative hubs, and we’ve now moved further north to Reservoir which has recently become home to other creative brands.
How do you keep your creativity flowing?
One of our constant sources of inspiration is travel – experiencing different landscapes, food, culture and art is important to our creative process. And taking a break from the studio keeps us fresh and invigorated.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
Just go for it! Try not to overthink things.
As a creative person and business owner, it’s challenging not to take things personally regarding the products you are creating. One of the hardest things is taking a product to market and it not being commercially successful. When we’re designing our collections, we focus on pieces that are beautiful but functional, items we want in own home, but that’s not always what the market wants – or is ready for – so you have to pick yourself up and start again! I’ve had to learn to let things go and move onto the next thing.
Speaking of which, what’s next for Bonnie and Neil?
I’m so excited to be launching a new lifestyle clothing brand, Bonne, later this year. Fashion is another one of my passions, so I’ve been working on this idea for a while now. It’s great, and I can’t wait to launch it to market!