Bird Textiles: Rachel Bending


In seven years textile designer and creative entrepreneur Rachel Bending has gone from running a sustainable grassroots business selling bags made of vintage fabrics at local markets, to the launch of Bird Textiles, a design business committed to the uncompromising standards of social and ecological sustainability.                        

The ADU recently spoke with Rachel at her Byron Bay studio about passion, perseverance and the ‘hats’ you need to wear to run a successful design business.

Business: Bird Textiles (2006)
Type of business: Locally and sustainably designed and manufactured textiles, homewares, stationary and fashion garments
Location: Studio/showroom in Byron Bay, New South Wales. Retail space in Surry Hills, New South Wales
Principal: Rachel Bending, Director and Designer
Staff: Three full-time staff, and approximately six staff contracted or working part-time

ADU: Can you describe the business.
Rachel Bending: We started Slingfings in 2002 and it closed eighteen months ago. Subsequently, off the back of that we launched the second brand Bird Textiles.

At the time of launching Slingfings I had just spent two years living in a grass roots community. I was living with solar power, a compost toilet and grey water reuse system. The telephone was the only amenity we had coming in. Having lived like that – I had studied permaculture and really experienced a lower impact way of living – there was no turning back for me. From then on my choices, how I moved forward in whatever I was doing whether it was my personal life or in any creative business endeavors I had to be sustainable. There could not do it any other way.

The priority has always been to promote sustainable design. Slingfings was manufactured using 100% renewable energy, particularly solar power, and by using recycled and reclaimed fabrics to create a range of bags which grew into a fashion range as well.

Bird is a collection of our own fabrics designed and printed on SKAL certified organic fair trade cotton. They are printed here in Australia using water based dyes and then manufactured locally in our Byron Bay studios into a range of fashion items, gifts and homewares.

How much experience did you have in running a small design business when you started?

I originally trained in textile design. I studied at Glasgow School of Art in the early 1990s which was an amazing art school to study at. I then went on to work in international events management as an event director and that really honed my project management skills.

When I started Slingfings in Australia, one of the first things I did was go out and do a course in small business financial management. I wanted to know not only how to work within the system, but how to work that system to my benefit in terms of running the finances. I also have professional marketing qualifications so the combination of this and my own personal ethics and beliefs have come together to create both brands. And along the way I have never been shy about asking people who I respect for their advice.

Have you ever engaged a business mentor?

I did have a business mentor who I worked very closely with in years three, four and five. She came from a pure business background and very kindly offered her time as a mentor in a very old school way. Back then it was done for the love of passing on the knowledge but that doesn’t happen so often now. You have to pay consultants a lot of money to do that.

I was very lucky to have Virginia involved in what I was doing early on in order to support the growth of my business. In the last year I have been able to start working with other consultants because we have had grant money made available to us from AusIndustry. That has enabled me to pay consultants in areas where I have needed further advice.

On a practical level, how have you managed to fund the growth of your business?

Mostly by putting money back into the business. I have forfeited the majority of my wage and salary and we have run a very tight ship in order to plough money back into the business and help it grow.

The AusIndustry grant that I have just received is significant and I have also had a loan to the business to finance growth. I was very lucky, in the career I had before I did quite well so I had put some money aside.

In your experience what skills do you think are essential for running a small design business?

I think when you run a small business you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. You have to be able to multitask on a grand scale, to have ten different things on your desk and be able to go back and forth between them. You also have to be able to manage people and finance. But I would say at least half of my time is spent marketing in one way or another. Whether it is doing a photo shoot or a media mail out, working out the window dressing for the shop in Sydney, or marketing materials that we are going to send our customers.

Is your business model different to other textile design manufacturers in order to facilitate and adhere to your environmental and social goals?

In ten years time we are not going to have this conversation about sustainable business models because it will be assumed that you have to live and run your business that way. It will be mandatory and it will all be regulated. For us it’s about the triple bottom line. It is about looking at all aspects of the business and seeing the impact of everything. Not just how you can make money better.

How long did it take you to break even?

It took us two years because we were plowing money into the business in order to grow, and obviously that growth costs money.

We now have businesses coming to us, big multinational businesses looking to buy into our eco credentials because they can see that what we are doing is the only way. They need to be seen to be doing something so they are happy to have our brand on board. In order for them to buy into our brand credentials they have to buy into the path that gets them that so it means they have to buy into doing business in a slightly different way.

When you first started did you have a template for your business in terms of a plan, or has it developed through trial and error?

It has been a very organic growth. But I knew what I wanted. The brand ethos that you will find on our website has existed since day dot and that will stay with us forward into the future. It is very much about continuing to educate ourselves so we can continue to improve the systems. We are constantly monitoring environmental changes.

You have said that you were prompted partially to begin Bird Textiles as a result of consumer feedback. Did informal market research inform that decision?

Face to face contact with consumers is absolutely essential. It is one of the reasons why I still work in the Sydney shop for a few days every couple of weeks. That’s your front line. If you don’t listen to your consumers, you fail. You know that has been an integral part of our decision making process.

Slingfings began as bags made of vintage fabrics but so many people were asking us to make clothes. So we started with a clothing range and from there the decision to start Bird was based on viability. We knew we could only grow so big with Slingfings because vintage fabrics are a finite resource and in the five years we had been doing it, fabric had become very popular and the price had doubled. If we actually wanted the business to be financially viable we needed to be able to produce to scale and to do that we needed to have a fabric that we could produce twenty cushions in, or twenty dresses, rather than one. So I decided it was time to take my design skills and produce a range of fabrics ourselves.

What have been the major highs and lows in the development of the business?

The major high without a doubt is when someone takes the time to send an email saying what an amazing thing we are doing. It would be very easy to say the highs are winning awards and going to London Fashion Week, those sort of things, and of course it is exciting when they happen but it is the constant feedback from customers that makes it all worthwhile. The lows are the fairly long hours and the tight resources we have to work on in order to stay true to our ethos.

What challenges do you face being an Australian-based design business?

Well, it is quite a small market which means in Australia you can only grow so big. That is partly why we are looking into export now. But you have to remember I am from the United Kingdom so I am not only Australian but British too. And so I am used to looking beyond the country that I live in because I have done that for a long time.

Are there any other blockages that you would identify in the sector?

Price point is often a challenge and that is mainly to do with the fact that part of western consumerism is based around buying what are basically subsidised goods from China. I am not going to name stores but we know which ones I am talking about because we all shop in them. The real cost of a $3.99 t-shirt made in China is actually more like $15.00 because there is a heavy cost to the environment and the people involved in making them. So selling goods that are made sustainably, in Australia, and with a price tag to reflect that can be challenging for consumers to understand.

What about opportunities in the sector?

Bird’s in growth, the eco sector is in growth, so despite the recession we have opportunities coming out left, right and centre. Which ones we take and how we manage them is something that we are assessing at the moment.

In terms of developing the business, what are the next steps for you?

We are off to London Fashion Week this September and we will see what happens there. But one day as a time as always. There is obviously some planning involved in what we do but I don’t like to plan too far away. I like to see how things go and continue that grass roots, organic process.

Which companies and individuals internationally and locally inspire you?

The founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, was an amazing woman and she was way ahead of her time. She was quite confronting but despite that she created an incredible international brand that got her message out there in a very big way. She always stayed really true to what she was about.

Other local brands that I think are doing amazing things include Zaishu who we have worked in collaboration with. What Matt Butler and Helen Punton have designed has a tremendous alignment with what we are about. The product looks at both social and environmental issues in terms of how the whole brand fits together.

What is your big idea for change in the sector – if could talk directly to decision makers in government, what would be your big idea for changing the Australian design industry? Didn’t you say that the way you would be operating would be legislated?

Absolutely. I mean the change is happening so fast now. The difference we have seen in the last three years has been incredible. Seven or eight years ago when I was banging on the doors of media and saying ‘Solar power and this and that…’ I was just some hippy chick from Byron Bay who wasn’t really taken seriously! Then five or six years later when the whole issue of eco started to go mainstream people went ‘Who was that chick…’ and started coming back and asking what we had been doing. We were able to say ‘We have been doing this and this and this since then.’

Look to the pioneers, look to the early adaptors, look at the good examples that you see around them, and look at best practice and take responsibility for your supply chain, whether you are a manufacturer or a retailer, or an individual. Take a responsibility for your part in this planet.

Do you see yourself as a businesswoman, an environmental, or a social activist – or are they equally balanced in your head?

I see myself as a creative human being first. I put my businesswoman hat on if I need to, but there are other hats that I wear too. I don’t consider myself an ardent environmentalist campaigner but I guess I am. I don’t see either of those things as the hat I wear the most, though I do spend a lot of time working on education around sustainable issue, so I guess that really answers the question!

Interview by Madeleine Hinchy. Images courtesy Bird Textiles.

Some Rights Reserved. View ADU Creative Commons license here.

Maharishi Ayurveda and Hay Fever
youjizz Browns don’t work nearly as well for winter types

Watch banned Rihanna S video
hd porn and never be opposed to learning a new design skill

The Orange Tree Golf Resort Hotels
black porn You apply by sending a portfolio of drawings of your designs

Why We Bought Joe’s Jeans
girl meets world we believe Coach is clearly an industry leading business

6 WWI Fighter Pilots Whose Balls Deserve Their Own Monument
gay porn nike two overall tone artificial leather strip

Best Quality Diamonds Jewelry In Franklin TN
snooki weight loss 3 cups all purpose flour

Take off extra pounds and slim down with waist
christina aguilera weight loss When putting your outfit together

futuristic style of Spike Jonze’s new film
weight loss tips blending well together

Published 07 September 2009.

Comments Off on Bird Textiles: Rachel Bending


About ADU
Part magazine, part bulletin, part business resource, ADU is a publication and archive about design and creativity published monthly to encourage and support designers. ADU is an independent and strongly collaborative voice within the design sector with a broad network that connects designers from across the country to the resources they need. ADU is also a vehicle for workshops, forums and exhibitions produced to encourage discourse and develop skills around design, creativity, entrepreneurship and ideas. ADU collaborates with design institutions and existing initiatives to enable designers to develop new markets at home and abroad. ADU is a joint venture between Parcel and Studio Propeller.
Be part of ADU
ADU is an independent online publication that relies on its industry network to keep things fresh. If you have news that you think our readers need to know about please get in touch. We encourage all submissions but cannot guarantee that everything will be published. If you would like to submit something for our editorial team, please email directly to the editorial department.
Editorial submissions 

Advertise with us
Copyright: Creative commons
Terms of Use
Privacy Policy

Publishers/editorial direction
Heidi Dokulil & Ewan McEoin
Online editor
Heidi Dokulil
Peter Salhani
Creative direction
Graeme Smith
Lee Wong
Sam James, Elliat Rich, Alexi Freeman
Chris Byrne, Tim Fleming, Paul Justin
Alison Schutt, Rohan Nicol
Do You Put on Sunblock Before the Makeup Primer
porno Real people with hopes and dreams and spines

Think About Starting A Fashion Design Business
hd porn and maybe a bit abrupt

Finding the best vintage fashion apparels
black porn the good Doctor unveiled a new look in More Fun Comics 72

5 Ways The English Language Has Gone To Hell
girl meets world Now moving onto our financial position

How to Put Together a Fashion Show
quick weight loss there are some chapters that were entirely new to me

What Kind of Salary Does a Fashion Buyer Earn
miranda lambert weight loss men’s winter fashion accessory

Be Wise When Shopping For Designer Costumes Online
christina aguilera weight loss 250 kilometers long about the size of Pennsylvania

The Miniskirt A British Style Icon
weight loss tips 5 frizzy hair stunning you can cook up