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Our Story – The Laboratory

Our Story – The Laboratory

Paul Chrimes & Ben Bowen

We believe that a good story is all about the journey! Whether it’s waking up and starting the day out surfing, or finishing it off sipping on a bold glass of Shiraz, this is ours!

Here we are, nestled away down on the Southwest Coast of Victoria. 30 years ago we began our own journey working for Austin Brothers – an import wholesale business in kidswear, menswear and ladieswear. Paul worked within the kids wear sector and became CEO for the company. Ben worked in ladies wear. and became the General Manager. It was shortly after starting with the company that our career allowed us to started traveling over to Asia and India. Something we still value to this day is that we were able to meet with new people and begin developing relationships with our future partners, the ones who make our garments come alive.

Following a brief time away from the rag trade in 2005, we decided it was our time to return to the industry and establish our own company. We started off manufacturing branded kids clothing, and wholesale selling them to independent businesses across Australia and also David Jones. 18 months later, we moved into producing ladies wear. This is where we generated and produced our first label Ellis & Dewey, which is still a major label in our business today!

Just over 12 years ago we opened the doors to our first retail boutique, housing our first label Ellis & Dewey. This was later complimented with our subsequently developed labels A Little Birdy Told Me, and Alessi. Our flagship store lies on the vibrant shopping precinct of Pakington Street, here in our home town of Geelong. There was acceptance and the opportunity to expand, so we did! We have grown our store footprint from 1 – 14 as we carefully picked out unique towns and positions in regional Victoria and New South Wales. This enabled us to be distinctively unique and identified as a brand. Our stores encourage a relaxed, yet quirky environment and spread from the coast line in Barwon Heads and Torquay, through to Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and all the way to the top of the Victorian Border along the Murray River and into New South Wales.

Our company values of loyalty and honesty govern our on going relationships with our suppliers internationally. Over the years we have gained strong and long lasting relationships with everyone who plays a role in bringing our ideas and garments to life. Some we have been collaborating with for over 20 years and each and every one of our relationships is based on mutual respect and trust. Our international factories always comply with ethical labour practices and policies and we are always ensuring their code of conduct is being upheld.

As we evolve, so do they! We uphold our relationship with our suppliers and visit each factory a minimum of 5 times per year, giving us the opportunity to live, learn and breathe their culture, which is something we have valued doing since the mid 80’s.

As we head into our 13th year, the team at The Lab is constantly growing and expanding. One thing we value most, is our people who work with us, not for us. We might still be writing the story, but thank you for reading this small chapter.

Meet Jacquie McLean from ‘Project Ten’

Meet Jacquie McLean from ‘Project Ten’

Is it true the name Project Ten, was giving a nod to the fact that Project Ten was your tenth business idea and the one you finally decided to launch with?

Yes, I had lots of ideas that didn’t see the light of day, but the original oversize tote was the one that I finally took the leap of faith with – it was the tenth idea on my list, so Project Ten was born.

How did the idea of Project Ten come about?

I was at the beach and I was carrying lots of bags and kids and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have ONE giant, stylish bag that was light but practical (with soft handles and a pocket for keys/phone) – I couldn’t find anything like it, so I created it!

Since launching, your product range has expanded and seems to continue to do so – what does the future look like for Project Ten?

In the same way that the business was born, I am still constantly trying to solve my own problems so in doing so, I hopefully solve the same problems for others. I am always looking to innovate and create products that are functional and stylish at the same time.

How important is it to you to be true to your Geelong roots and remain connected to the local community?

Very important. When we moved here 10 years ago it was a city with so much potential. In those ten years, I have seen so many creative people either move here or open businesses to tap into the great lifestyle we have down here. I am passionate about supporting local businesses, from my graphic designers, to the photographers I use, to the makeup artists for our campaign shoots.

What’s been the highlight of owning your own business?

Having the flexibility to work when I want around my young family. As much as it’s hard to switch off when it’s your own business, I love that I can afford to take an hour off to see my boys play in a sports game and I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. I feel very fortunate to be able to do that.

What has been one of the most creative ways you’ve seen the Project Ten bags being used by yourcustomers?

My brother was the first one to show me that you can use the oversize tote as a laundry hamper (it became one of my first posts on Instagram). I’ve seen them used as pet carriers, plant carriers….there are too many to mention!

Where do you get your inspiration from for your beautiful prints and designs?

My inspiration comes from interiors, fashion and travel.

Neighbourhood Watch:
 Meet Amelia Francis from ‘Frankie Upstairs’

Neighbourhood Watch:
 Meet Amelia Francis from ‘Frankie Upstairs’

Where did the idea come from to create a one-stop gifting destination for all things mother and baby?

The idea actually stemmed from my own naivety when it came to buying gifts for my friends who were starting to have babies. I used to pride myself on my gift-giving abilities, but when it came to newborn or baby shower presents I had no idea where to even begin!

I wanted to ensure that whatever it was that I gave the mum-to-be that it would be useful and somewhat practical, but also stylish and considered a trend in the baby world. After chatting to some girlfriends, it became clear that I wasn’t alone. It was evident that a one-stop shop where they could choose from a selection of carefully curated individual gifts and beautifully packaged Gift Bundles delivered straight to the recipients’ front door was needed…. And so, Frankie Upstairs was born!

What do you look for when you’re sourcing new products for your gift packs?

I put A LOT of time into researching the products that I purchase for our gift bundles; each bundle has a story and a colour scheme. When I’m sourcing new products, I have to be conscious of the fact that it needs to coordinate with the other items I’ve already purchased to ensure my product offering stays consistent. 

I am also lucky enough to have a group of friends who are either pregnant or new mums whom I unashamedly survey to pick their brains about particular baby products and trends in order to gauge more of an understanding around what new mums actually want and need. 

Wherever possible, I also try to also purchase Australian-made, sustainable, eco-friendly, organic or 100% cotton products, as I know how important it is that everything we put on baby is free from nasties and won’t irritate their precious skin.

What has been one of the biggest challenges to starting your own small business? And the most rewarding?

I think the one thing people don’t realise about small business owners is that we’re never not working. As soon as our eyes pop open in the morning we’re reaching for the phone to read our emails, reply to the comments we received on social media overnight or checking how many online orders need to be shipped out that day!

When we get into work there are 110 things on our to-do lists. This can range from viewing product ranges and placing orders for next season’s stock to setting up social media campaigns or optimising our ranking on Google to crushing the cardboard boxes that the stock arrived in.

Our list of things to do varies so much because we don’t have a team of people that the bigger companies have, like marketing or buying, or even an office assistant or an e-commerce manager. This means everything falls onto us to manage and we wear all of those hats ourselves – I would say that has to be one of the biggest challenges of starting my own small business. For every second of the day that I’m awake, I’m working and doing the job of 10 different people! I’ve never worked longer hours in my life, but I have also never had the level of job satisfaction that I get from running my own business – I love it! 

It may seem like such a small thing, but the most rewarding part is receiving compliments about Frankie Upstairs, as at the end of the day Frankie Upstairs is like my baby and when someone tells me our website is beautiful, or that they love the products we offer or the service they received was amazing – that truly makes my heart sing and propels me to keep working harder. When I receive a compliment about Frankie Upstairs I liken it to what my friends have told me about seeing their baby smile for the first time, you forget all about the pain of labour, the sleepless nights, the poo explosions etc. and in that one fleeting moment it all becomes so worthwhile and that little smile fills you with enough love to keep going!

How important is your connection to the local Geelong community?

Incredibly important. I regularly have this conversation with friends who have either recently moved to Geelong or visit Geelong, because they are blown away by the giant sense of community they feel here. It’s been said many times that Geelong is just like a big country town with regard to the community feel and I couldn’t agree more. The support I have had from customers, media and other local businesses in Geelong has truly been overwhelming. This support is part of the

reason why I have recently introduced Free Next Day Delivery for my Geelong customers as a way to say thank you and reward the locals for supporting my small business.