Nearly five years ago in the small country town of Gunning, in the NSW Southern Tablelands, Ellen Bennett and her daughter, Jess Dyne, worked two sewing machines at their dining room table to create modern Australiana-themed children’s clothes.
Gunning is a sleepy country village of a few hundred people off the old Hume Highway, between Goulburn and Canberra. It is peppered with many artists and creatives, and is the birthplace of Bandicute clothing and homewares.
After Jess’s daughters, Lilly and Hannah, were born the mother and daughter duo noticed Australian animals were rarely printed on children’s clothing. With their background in creative arts, they saw an opportunity to fill the gap in the market and create a clothing brand for Australian kids.
Bandicute clothing specialises in modern colourful designs that are unique and quirky. Each item is carefully handprinted with images inspired by the natural environment – rural and native Australian animals and flora.
In 2017, after about a year of planning, Ellen and Jess launched their first product on Etsy.
“I remember when we got our first order we were just over the moon,” says Ellen.
Soon they were operating until midnight seven days a week to keep up with orders. By the end of 2020, Jess had left her job at Local Land Services to take up full-time work with Bandicute. These days, the pair work from two studios at their 200-acre farm, employ a team of seamstresses, and their storeroom is packed full of stock.
“It still amazes us that out of our heads, our imaginations, our hands and our hard work we’ve managed to create a business,” says Ellen.
Before COVID-19, Bandicute was mostly sold at regional markets, however the pandemic forced them to pivot, and it became a case of ‘make it or break it’. Among a huge number of talented creators selling their wares at online marketplaces, Ellen and Jess had to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
Jess says enrolling in a marketing course proved to be an “absolute game-changer”.
“We also joined some other platforms such as Buy From the Bush, and Handmade Canberra started online,” she says. “Plus, we were already part of Finders Keepers and Etsy.”
As Australia’s shopping habits shifted online, Bandicute was able to reach new emerging customers by focusing on its online presence via social media and a website. Ellen and Jess were determined to succeed and found more of their customers were Australians seeking products designed and made in Australia.
“We are really upfront about it and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to become accredited with the Australian Made campaign so it’s easy for customers to recognise that our products are Australian made,” says Jess.
The COVID-19 pandemic upped consumer demand for Australian-made products, but so had the Black Summer bushfires and the drought before it, which led to the Buy From the Bush campaign.
“I think for a lot of people who live on a rural property, particularly during the drought, but also at other times, it’s been a real lifesaver because it has given people the opportunity to have other streams of income rather than relying on agriculture,” says Ellen.
Jess adds: “That money has a flow-on effect in the township.”
As the brains behind a thriving business that is getting busier, the mother and daughter duo say even with the challenges of running a business in rural NSW they wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.
“We’re more determined than probably what a lot of people expected – probably ourselves to a degree – and I think we simply didn’t realise how hard it would be in a lot of ways,” says Ellen.
Jess adds: “We are both perfectionists, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s good because it means we have a really good quality product because we have an eye for detail, but I think sometimes perfectionism can get worse to the point where it gets a bit unreasonable. I sometimes think of the saying ‘done is better than none’.”
While 2020 was a particularly good year for Bandicute, the startup doesn’t expect to outgrow its country studios any time soon.
“We want to remain a small business,” says Jess. “We don’t want to lose that personal touch.”
For more information, visit Bandicute.