Lisa O’ Keefe and Stacey Clayton (pictured) started Koolaman Designs (www.koolamandesigns.com.au), a personalised jewellery line, four years ago to help pay for the grocery bills. But winning the Rising Star Award at the 2011 AusMumpreneur Awards on August 27 was confirmation for the sisters that their little side project had become a real small business success story.
Lisa O’Keefe still gets very excited when she’s walking down a bustling Melbourne street and spies one of her jewellery pieces on someone.
Lisa and her sister Stacey Clayton, have put the cool back into heirloom jewellery with their smartly-curated range which includes bangles, necklaces, earrings, pendants and cuff links. Each piece is hand-stamped with a name, date or meaningful words making them unique one-of-a-kind keepsakes for their owners.
“Heirloom is not a word you hear much anymore,” Lisa told Australian Women Online. “A Koolaman Designs piece offers an emotional attachment to your children or someone special you want to remember. It’s something you wear close, even when you are not able to be close to those special people.”
Koolaman Designs was born out of tough times in the Australian bush. With growing children on their hands and farms to help run, Lisa and Stacey wanted to create a business utilising the best of their skills and having a work day which suited them and meant they could still spend time with their kids. When they couldn’t find the keepsake jewellery they had spied in Europe while on holidays, the best friends knew they had found their niche and market.
That was four years ago. In August, Koolaman Designs won the Rising Star Award at the 2011 AusMumpreneur Awards for their hand-stamped silver and gold jewellery.
The elder of the two sisters, Lisa lives on a property south of Broken Hill and Stacey is in north-eastern Victoria, near Rutherglen, about 400 kms away. Between them, they have six children, two husbands, plenty of animals and even more drive.
“We’re 50 kms from town,” says Lisa, who deals with design and new Koolaman products. “I used to work in town but things like childcare are not abundant so I wanted to find some work which was child friendly.”
Lisa’s husband, Christian Gorman, works fulltime on their 73,000 acre sheep and wheat farm and Stacey’s husband Luke, has a trucking business. Koolaman is named after Christian’s family property and their son Gus, is the fourth generation to live there.
Once the sisters decided that jewellery, which they would sell online, was to be their business it took the best part of nine months to source the products and figure out how to present them.
“We loved being able to shop online and four years ago it was still a bit of a novelty to some people. Now 85 per cent of our customers go online.”
As well as enjoying the satisfaction of being recognised by their peers, Lisa says part of the thrill of winning the AusMumpreneur Award was that they learnt everything themselves from the ground up.
Keen to give other rural women a chance to work on their own terms too, through word-of-mouth they’ve employed women across both states to work on various aspects of the business.
“We wanted to find women who didn’t have the same opportunities as women in big cities; women who have great skills but might have married a farmer or moved somewhere rural to support their parents. We wanted to create jobs for them and many of them work at nights when their kids have gone to bed so they don’t have to pay for daycare.”
The success of Koolaman Designs has garnered attention from celebrity mums like singer Danni Minogue and television presenter Joanna Griggs. The Better Homes & Gardens star received a piece of Koolaman Designs from her husband and has been wearing it proudly ever since and happily trumpeting the brand. Their designs are also now being shipped across the country and to New Zealand, Singapore, the US, UK, Ireland, Sweden, Malaysia and the Middle East.
If there’s a downside to the business, it has been the travelling. Last year Lisa and Stacey spent 22 weekends away from home showcasing their product at various fairs. This year and much to the delight of their children and big exhales from their husbands, they’ve employed someone else to be on the road while they stay close to home.
For more information visit the website: www.koolamandesigns.com.au