If there’s one thing The Countryphiles has taught me, it’s that country Australia is bursting with talent, passion and culture, which makes today’s feature story an absolute joy to share with you. I’ve been champing at the bit to introduce you to Angela Lavender owner of Country Culture – her award-winning online business that she developed specifically to support Australian country-based artists and artisans who might otherwise find it hard to get exposure and sales for their work. In other words, Ange’s success means success for many others.
And that’s something else I’ve learnt … country folk have big generous hearts and frequently seek to support one another, share a sense of community and create opportunity. After reading Ange’s wonderful story I cannot urge you enough to visit her online store – there are so many talented people making quality products. And, if you’re a country creative with wares to sell, get in touch with Ange and her lovely team. You never know where it might lead! Enjoy! (d) x
Tell us a little bit about your background – what were you doing prior to launching Country Culture in 2012?
I grew up in regional NSW’s Wagga Wagga and had retail in my blood from a very young age. My mother owned the local fashion boutique & home wares store for thirty years. I attended boarding in Sydney and went on to study teaching there as well. I continued to work in retail on the side while studying. After a stint working as a teacher, I met husband, farmer Charles Lavender. I ended up moving to his family property with him near Spring Ridge, 75km from the nearest town of Quirindi, in North Western NSW (population 150. Our family farms wheat, sorghum, sunflowers, mung beans, chickpeas, corn, cotton and cattle). I soon missed the city shops and galleries and began thinking of building my own online shopping store. In 2009, I launched a small online store (which I have since sold), where I sourced great products from Australia and OS to sell online. In 2011, I won Best New Business Award at the Quirindi Chamber of Commerce Awards. Running this store was a great learning curve for me.
Your FABULOUS online store Country Culture is a one-stop shop featuring the products of regional makers & artisans. How did you come to create this delightful on-line store?
As my little online business began to grow, I found the logistics of posting stock from such a remote destination difficult and started thinking about other business models, which would work better for my situation.
Around the same time, while attending a trade fair in Sydney, I had a light bulb moment and realised I should be supporting designers and makers from all regions of Australia (esp regional areas) and bringing their unique products to the market. I decided a better model for me would be to launch a marketplace where artisans sent the products from their own studios. These artisans would be endorsed by Country Culture and all products would be wrapped with Country Culture branding to keep the proposition cohesive.
I launched Country Culture on Dec 14th 2012 and started with about 20 traders. Now we have around 100. I am extremely proud.
You sell an AMAZING range of products that are designed, made and produced in country/regional Australia. What makes you so passionate about the artisans and products you source?
I look for quality Australian-made & designed products. We support traders from all over Australia from all regions. However, when I come across someone who is working from a truly remote location, I can totally relate to them as I live on an isolated property near Spring Ridge. I get such a kick out of helping new businesses get started and help them launch their own online store with Country Culture.
How do you source the makers and creators who feature in your store?
Word-of-mouth (or better known out here as “the bush telegraph”) is normally the best recommendation for me. Many customers and other traders are so generous with their suggestions.
I also regularly visit markets, trawl the internet and travel to different regions to check out local talent. We have a wonderful growing community who are just the most delightful people you could ever deal with. They are totally on my wave- length and believe in the collective we are building together.
Give us a little insight into what it takes to run Country Culture? What is the highlight of owning such a business?
There are many cogs in the engine running Country Culture, however, due to where I live, our team is dotted around NSW. Communication is an extremely big part of running Country Culture. We basically have two full-time staff members and outsource other work to businesses on retainers such as my web developer, graphic designers, social media, PR company, accountants. book-keepers, printers and business strategists.
What does a typical day in the life of Angela Lavender the ‘Country Culture Store Owner’ look like; from when you wake to when you go to sleep?
In the morning, I basically get my daughter ready for school. She catches the little bus to Spring Ridge School (35 students all up) at 8.05am from the ramp leading into our property. We also have three older boys at boarding school so I make sure anything they need is taken care of as well. After the bus, I try to go for a walk with the dogs and then come home to get organised for the day ahead. My husband has a fantastic coffee machine and always makes me a strong coffee and off I go to my office.
I touch base with Erin, my marketing manager, and we prioritise our most important jobs. In one day, I would basically cover a multitude of tasks such as checking orders, speaking with various traders, tracking project developments with my graphic designers & web developer, plan advertising campaigns, write a blog post & plotting our our social media posts.
I stop for lunch with my husband again and try to finish my work when Mimi comes home in the afternoon. I generally have a horse riding, sport or music run in the afternoons. Then we take care of all of the chores you have on a farm that need to be done – mostly feeding animals.
I enjoy cooking and we whip something up for dinner. I often do a little more work after dinner before watching a couple of favourite shows, reading my paper or a book and heading off to bed.
Where or who or what do you draw your inspiration from?
Nature, traveling, blogs, magazines, the passionate artisans I work with, Australian products, entrepreneurs, my family.
Do you have ‘another life’ or is Country Culture your primary all-consuming project?
My family & friends are most important things to me. I feel really blessed having such beautiful children and a great partner and a wonderfully supportive network of family friends.
I also feel like Country Culture is almost one of my children because the business is still in its infancy – Country Culture is definitely all consuming. When I do something, I choose to do it really well and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I want to. I love what I do and am passionate about it. I feel so lucky to have such an exciting journey ahead with Country Culture.
Do you consider yourself to be a ‘Countryphile’? Do you love country life? Why?
I am definitely a Countryphile – I have always lived in regional Australia. I chose to live in the bush with my husband 20 years ago now and this is where we will stay. I really enjoy bringing up children in the country. I love the peace, the space, nature, the authenticity, the strength of character it instils in you the independence you derive and the self reliance.
Don’t get me wrong – I also love the city and traveling. I also enjoy the stimulation of all the city has to offer. I think a balance is great.
What aspect of country life are you loving MOST at the moment?
I have been loving the weather – it still feels like Autumn up in Spring Ridge. The warm sunny days are glorious and I don’t mind the cooler evenings.
We just had a long weekend and we did lots of great activities with local friends. The kids lit bonfires, we played tennis at our local country club, the kids made bush furniture and five families went to a friend’s house for dinner. We all have great fun out here and I love the sense of community that has formed.
What is the most CHALLENGING aspect of country life? What are the ups and downs of running an online business from the country?
From a work perspective, the most challenging aspect is the internet. Some days it’s great and others it’s so extremely frustrating. We will not have the NBN coming out to where we are for a long time & all or our networks are completely congested. I rely on the internet so much for work so that is the most challenging aspect.
From a personal perspective, having the kids away at boarding school and being so far from them is hard. We are always in the car driving back and forth from Sydney- the travel is hard as it’s a five hour drive but we do it nearly every second weekend and I wouldn’t have it any other way. While I am in Sydney, I plan a lot of meetings which fits in well.
Tea or coffee? Do you have a favourite country café? Where and why?
Coffee definitely! My favourite country café would be Addimi in Tamworth. Great coffee and food.
Where was the last great meal you enjoyed/shared in the country?
Last night at a friend’s house. The women where we live are generally amazing cooks. The closest restaurant would be a good hour away so we have all learned to cook well and spoil our guests. We also grow our own herbs and vegetables so our food is fresh and seasonable.
YOUR country town’s best kept secret?
Graze restaurant at The Willow Tree Inn, which a great pub and restaurant in our district.
Would you ENCOURAGE others to live a country life? Why/why not?
Absolutely- it is a slower paced and enjoyable way of life. I would also encourage a balance of travel and visiting the city as well.
What ADVICE would you give those dreaming of making a TREE CHANGE?
Go for it- my motto in life is give it a go. If you do, give it a couple of years though. It takes that time to make some solid friends & get into the gist of it. The worst that can happen is that it’s not your scene but you will learn about yourself and make new friends in the process!
What can we expect NEXT from you/Country Culture in the future?
Country Culture is fast becoming Australia’s best online store for quality and unique Australian products. It will only get bigger and better. I can’t wait to continue to showcase the best of Australia’s best kept secrets to the rest of the world.
What would be your DREAM project?
I love collaborations with the artisans I work with of any sort. I would love to create new products with them, do some amazing photo shoots with awesome styling to showcase their products in the very best light possible. I would also love to have a Country Culture markets one day in the city!
Can you list for us 5 specific things you turn to/do when you need of a ‘dose’ of city life?
I normally go to Sydney and always catch up with friends.
1. You will find me in a coffee shop regularly!
2. I always hit the shops to make up for lost time. I love local Australian brands such as Scanlan & Theodore and Zimmermann.
3. If I am lucky, I will get to eat at somewhere new.
4. I try to visit a festival or something that’s on – we went to the Vivid Festival last time I was in Sydney.
5. I enjoy walks such as the Bronte-to-Bondi track.