Five years ago. How I started my business. How Mabel came alive.

April 05, 2016 6 Comments

So.  You know how I love birthday months?  We all celebrated mine just recently.  Well, this month, April, is Mabel's FIFTH birthday!  Yes, Oh Mabel is turning FIVE!  I can't believe how fast the time has gone and that I've somehow muddled my way through keeping a business alive for five whole years.


For the entire month of April I will be going through the archives and looking at how Mabel started and what she has been up to over the years.  I'll be opening up the Mabel family album, if you will, and celebrating the wins and not so great moments that we've experienced.  I hope you enjoy what I come up with.  I'm going to go and get all emotional and nostalgic on you all :)


Oh Mabel Organic Bed Sheets Original Field


The background. 


So, it would be more than five years ago.  Nearly six actually.  I was working for the public service here in Canberra after having returned from living overseas in Scotland.  I had met the man I knew I would marry, in fact, I think we were engaged.  I was studying design part time in the spare hours I had in order to scratch the creative itch I had that never went away.  You may know the one I mean?  The one that makes you want to create a project rather than be told what project to work on?  I had also just turned 30.  That could explain a lot as well.


All of these things were bubbling away, I was happy and certainly not disappointed in life but there was something that was niggling at me.  Something that was telling me that I didn't want to live a life that I didn't create for myself.  I didn't want a traditional job.  I wanted something that would keep me excited and bring me joy in the work that I did.  One day at work (bored, procrastinating) I discovered the world of creative blogs.  Blogs that told me about creative projects that people were working on, about creative people and their lives, how they got started, creative businesses and the creative people who supported them.  It blew my mind!  It felt like there was finally a 'movement' in the world that I connected with.  There were people out there creating their own lives.  Well now, I thought.  I could do that too.  At that time I never considered for a moment that I couldn't do (again, I just turned 30. Over confident.)


And so, in my spare time, I started to research.  Oh did I research!  I'm sure I confused poor google as to where I fit into their algorithms as the search terms were varied and random and in-depth.  I researched other businesses that I considered to be 'like me' and tried to see why I loved them so much.  I researched production methods for a whole range of different products.  i visited every business page, traditional and entrepeunership types, I could find and drank everything in.



 Oh Mabel Organic Bed Linen

The idea.


It was always going to be bed linen however originally I wanted to have a little online store that sold all different lovely brands of bedding.  Even though it wasn't all that long ago, bed linen was one of those items that warranted a visit to Myers or David Jones.  Now however there are many beautiful boutique brands specialising in bedding and you could have a gorgeous little shop now specialising in bedding (hint hint anyone?).  But back then there were just a few.  So, like any business idea, I thought maybe I could start my own brand. 


A colourful, nostalgic brand.  Something fun.  Something memorable and unique.   Because isn't that what we all want to be?  Memorable and unique?


More research.  But now it was specific.  SO specific.  If I was going to produce a product it had to be made fairly and not adding even more struggles to the always struggling manufacturing communities and our earth.  That was a easy decision and it also made it easier to find a partner for production.  There were only so many producers in organic bedding 5 years ago.  And I was very lucky to discover my dream production partner quite easily in India.  There were certified organic and fair trade which made them easy to find as they were on a database.  For anyone looking to start manufacturing I do recommend looking at some sort of niche production.  For me, certified organic was a must and for businesses to be certified they would also have to be part of an organisation and therefore on a database somewhere.  It might just take some research.  Remember, as the great Marie Forleo says, everything is figureoutable. 


My new production partner was a woman and a mother.  Her mission was to provide an alternative to the standard cotton practices which are ridiculously harmful to people and the environment and she was committed to a team of women who she could support and help through fair pay and educational opportunities.  (My production business has since changed but I'm looking forward to introducing a new partner soon!).


Oh Mabel Organic Cotton Designs


The designs.  


Oh this is the fun part!  My designs come from my life.  They are a trigger in my memory somewhere of a time in my past.  It may be in my Nanna's house in Tenterfield where we spend school holidays and Christmas.  It may be from something my Mum wore when I was a child.  It may be a blanket made for me when I was a baby.  A toy my Gran knitted.  Wallpapers, cushions, fabrics, cards, wrapping paper.  All of these things have become inspiration for a particular design.


My original inspiration was really to bring back printed bed sheets.  Because I love them, and because they are different, and because they are memorable, and because they are fun.  And because I love pattern, and texture and colour.


Most of the time I initiate the design through sketching and will somehow fumble my way into making her a repeat patten.  I will admit that I am mostly self taught in terms of technical graphic design but I will never let that slow me down.  If I am really struggling I will ask for help.  I will seek help from a fellow designer or through outsourced helps such as Freelancer.  Remember, there are always options to get help if you don't know how to do something but you passionately want something done. 


Oh Mabel Organic Bedlinen


The name.


The name was originally just 'Mabel' however the Oh came from me wanting to add in something that represented the organic nature of my business, hence 'Oh'.  Very quickly though it became the inspiration for Mabel as a character and is really more of an exclamation from me to represent the alter ego that is my Mabel.  'Oh Mabel! What have you done now?'.


The name Mabel however has two different stories.  The story I tell is that the name came from a donkey (my favourite animal) one day when my husband was looking up miniature donkeys for me.  There was a breeding stud nearby and he found a little female donkey named Mabel.  I loved the name so much that she became the character within my business.


While that story is 100% true, there is also another story that happened that exact same day.  It is just not as cheerful. Yet so full of meaning for me.  6 years ago, my husband and I were considering different wedding venue options.  We were driving around the country surrounding his hometown Crookwell, NSW and we came across a tiny deserted stone church.  We got out and walked around, and while not suitable for a wedding we were very much struck by the history of the little church that was falling down and the tiny graveyard of the early families in the area.


There was one tiny little gravestone in the graveyard.  Of a little girl, her name was Mabel.  I will never remember the exact dates but the year of her birth was early 1900s.  Her birth date and her date of passing were the same day.  I stood in front of her for ages, just letting the significance of those dates sink in.  I will never forget that moment.  My Mabel was named after little Mabel, buried in a forgotten church graveyard.


Little would I ever know or even consider that this would become my life.  That my little Elinor would share her birth date with her passing date on the same day.


So while not a cheerful or inspirational story for how Oh Mabel was named, it is a story that ended up becoming so very very significant to me and my family.  I hope little Mabel, wherever she may be, would be proud of her namesake.


Remember, your stories are important.  Never underestimate anything that has happened in your life.  Use your stores to inspire you and other people.


And I still love donkeys.  I will have my own one day :)


Oh Mabel Organic Bed Linen  Illustration


Who is Mabel.


Ah, my Mabel.  She is, in part, my Nanna in her youth.  An inspiring lady who has the most remarkable stories of experiences that you would never have expected.  She was once a milliner, she used to ride pillion on a motorcycle with her new husband  and sleep in fields on random road trips, she flew planes and she raised four children.  She inspires me.  


Her other part, my Mabel, is my alter ego.  A lady I inspire to be.  Someone who is courageous and strong.  Someone who isn't afraid of her own ideas or of other people's judgements.  She just goes out and does what she dreams.  She is fickle and argumentative but so passionate about good in the world that you put up with her faults.  I love her dearly.


Remember, to dream and use your imagination.  And to be inspired by everyone.  Everyone has their story and you never know how it could help you.


Oh Mabel Organic Printed Bed Sheets


The evolution.


Oh Mabel and I have had so many evolutions.  Some days it feels like we're starting over for what seems like the 4th time.  There have certainly been dramas, like our Heartbreak Sale, there have been quality issues, there have been supplier issues, finance issues, and so on and so on.  But I enjoy figuring out what the next steps need to be.  I enjoy that I am a very micro small business that I can run in accordance with what I believe in and value and that there are an amazing community of people who have similar values to me and support me and Oh Mabel.  


The biggest evolution for myself and Oh Mabel was the period after my daughter died in 2012 and I really struggled with finding not only the meaning with life but the meaning of having a business.  At first, I couldn't find the essence of what Oh Mabel was about anymore and couldn't rationalise a life of 'selling'.  I never thought of my business as a business that had to 'sell' things but during this time, when everything was stripped away, that was all that I could see.  As I found my feet though, and started to rebuild my life with what was true and important to me, I started to see what was important about Oh Mabel and why I started her in the first place.  


As mentioned in a previous post, I wanted Oh Mabel to be a way that people connect with their lives.  For Oh Mabel products to trigger memories and moments and love.  A sense of nostalgia and practicality.  It was an amazing realisation for me, this sense of connection, for products to provide a connection.  It gave me a whole new passion for doing what I do and to keep doing it.  Remember, anyone can do a job, but only you can do what you are most passionate about.


Oh Mabel Organic Cotton Bed Sheets


My thoughts on starting Oh Mabel, looking back to five years ago.


In the five years of Mabel existing in my life I have gotten married, traveled more overseas, welcomed two beautiful girls into the world, one of which I watch grow and one that I hold in my heart, experienced heartbreaking grief but have learnt an extraordinary amount about myself and the world and life. Met so many amazing people who I have met as a customer or a supplier or someone I have collaborated with.  Moved twice but have ended up in the most unbelievable opportunities of living within a National Park.  


Starting Oh Mabel has been one of the most amazing and challenging things I have ever done.  It has pushed me in ways that I would have thought would have me give up, but I never have.  It has made me realise that challenges are there to be met and walked over.  That life can be so rewarding when you put yourself out there and really live it.


What about you?  Writing this has made me think that the Five Year Ago me is not alone.  


Have you ever started a business?  Thought of it?  Know of someone who SHOULD be starting a business?  Know YOU should be starting a business?  If you have an idea, a dream of something that you love to do that could also bring happiness into this world, then I strongly encourage you to investigate that idea, that dream.  You just never know what might become if you start thinking that your idea is achievable.


Please feel free to book mark this post if it has inspired you in any way.  Or share it with that someone you know who you just KNOW has so much more in them.


Thank you for joining me for Oh Mabel's Birthday Month.  I will have a new post next week to share how Mabel made her media debut.  The paparazzi loves her you know :)


P.S - Be sure to join the Oh Mabel newsletter for 20% off during April aka Mabel birthday month and for a monthly surprise giveaway.  Sign up here 


{image credits :: the lovely Erin of Dando Photo

6 Responses


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April 08, 2016

So lovely to read your story. I’ve been following you for a little while (and have some Oh Mabel sheets on my Wishlist) but I hadn’t realised the story behind the brand.

Five years ago me had just arrived in Vietnam on my second posting with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I wasn’t the single girl of my first posting but had a husband, a 2 year old and a 3 .5 month old in tow. For all the highs that followed, there were so many lows and while I had never considered starting my own business, about 2 years ago, I knew there was “something” else out there and finishing in Hanoi we moved to the Barossa (I loved Canberra but leaving the public service was time for a change).

I’m still establishing a small trade consultancy with the goal of supporting business in the Barossa and regional South Australia to make the most of export opportunities to grow . It’s not what I expected to do, and while I also have a part time job with a winemaker doing office admin, I can’t imagine ever working for a big company or 9-5. I love living in a regional community and I’m constantly inspired by how many women, particularly in Australia are creating fabulous businesses like yours, especially when times get tough.

Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on five years! I’m now settling in to read through your blog post archives


April 05, 2016

Oh Sarah, how I love your stories, from the sweet musings to the heartbreakingly sad, the nostalgic inspiration to the simple day to day – thank you for sharing all of that with us, and for holding firmly to your vision of designing and producing beautiful quality bedding – without compromise. Little Mabel would be most proud of her namesake xx


April 05, 2016

If I can remember my Japanese classes correctly, there’s something in the use of ‘Oh’ that heightens the importance of the word. At least, that’s what I think when I see ‘Oh Mabel’.

Can’t wait to see what’s coming.

Yes. Can I have a boutique linen store? Please?!

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