You know those moments in life where something makes you pause…
It could be big or small, hugely profound or just an everyday experience...
But in that moment, in that pause of breath, it feels like you’re able to see everything that bit more clearly than you did before. Almost like you’re blinking awake from a half-dream.
And looking around yourself, a part of you wonders… How did I get here? How did this happen?
Well, that’s exactly what we experienced.
It happened the other day. We were sitting at the kitchen table, discussing the ranges we would be adding to our store in time for Christmas, when we experienced a moment of real clarity.
Specifically, in relation to Bonpinda itself.
Because here’s a confession for you… in all honesty, we never expected Bonpinda to be what it is today. In fact, Bonpinda as a retail store very nearly never existed.
In 2019, Bonpinda was born as a start-up extension of our Wholesale Store. We recognised that we didn’t want it to be defined as a clothing store, yet in those initial months we weren’t totally sure what it would be defined as.
We knew, at least, that we wanted to create a space founded on the idea of community.
And as part of that value, we wanted to work with independent artists and creators, supporting those both in Australia and abroad who perhaps didn’t have massive platforms but were out there designing and producing amazing ethical items.
But how that would look in reality? We weren’t 100% sure.
Nevertheless, like most start-ups, our imagination and passion was sparked by the essence of the idea. This sense of a community-driven brand which offered items that were ethically sourced and sustainably made. And so we decided to pursue that passion although we didn’t have a clear roadmap in mind, and launched our store in November 2019.
Part of our early process for sourcing Bonpinda products was what you could call ‘extremely hands on’.
And that’s no exaggeration. When we travelled over to India, we would visit various villages and meet with all kinds of families. Usually these families were family connections, or knew someone who knew my family, and we would sit down with them to talk about the rugs they no longer used.
There was never any pressure or hard sell during these conversations. It was simply a case of gauging whether they wished to keep hold of their rugs or not, and if they didn’t then we would offer to purchase them.
Obviously, before the sale was made our top rug inspector - aka. my mum - would be invited to look over the rugs.
She’d inspect these rugs for quality and craftsmanship, and if given the thumbs up, we’d then directly wire the money over to those families whilst my mum would organise the transportation of the rugs back to us in Australia.
So you can see, then, how intimate the whole process was. No middleman. No manipulative salesmanship. Just simple connection and conversation.
(Funnily enough, we still source many of our rugs using this same process. Although we’ve recently encountered a lot of blue and white rugs - which is due to past fashion trends in India. The challenge is to now find rugs with differing patterns and that are truly unique!)
As you can probably guess, with our process of hand-selecting the items we stocked, we launched the Bonpinda store with what you’d consider a rather limited range.
And we absolutely loved that.
We were proud of the fact that we were selling items with meaning, memories and - most importantly - a story.
We were also happy to bring this small collection to our community, which in the beginning mostly consisted of our friends and family (thanks guys!)
One of the biggest hurdles we faced in those first 60 days or so was coming to terms with social media, if anything. If we’re being honest, we’re probably still coming to terms with it all. (Seriously… if anyone can explain hashtags to us in a way that makes sense, we’ll be eternally grateful.)
Anyway. Those initial 60 days were a real whirlwind. We were over the moon when our first order came through and heard that word of mouth was spreading. And it was probably around this point where we began to recognise that Bonpinda wasn’t just a branch of our Wholesale enterprise, but a brand genuinely worth putting our energy and enthusiasm into.
So that was how Bonpinda started to grow. We began to partner with artists in both Australia and India, who naturally helped shape the kind of brand we were evolving into.
As a small business, the creators who gravitated to us and shared our value of quality connection were those who generally had a limited profile themselves. And we were thrilled to be able to partner with them, showcasing their talents to the world.
(Just check out the Emma Thomas Art and the Edie & Bill collections, and you’ll see what we mean by talent.)
That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing during this stage of our journey. Some creators didn’t want to partner with a small business like ourselves, either due to the size of our social media following, the amount of profit they’d be likely to make or because it was difficult to logistically set up in Australia.
But you know what? We didn’t mind that, because the creators we did set up successful partnerships with were the kind of innovators who soon went on to deeply educate us in what sustainable and ethical design actually entailed. They were individuals who offered us more than items to stock… but knowledge and enlightenment that we would have otherwise never discovered.
Likewise, in India we found our ethical workforce was shaped largely by the kind of entrepreneurs we naturally encountered and connected with. And it just so happened that these entrepreneurs were all female. What really blew us away was how these entrepreneurs were all such incredible powerhouses of knowledge and drive, and they had such a clear vision for what they wanted to achieve in life.
The amount we learnt from these artists and creators was invaluable. And it seemed like Bonpinda had finally begun to gain the traction to grow in even bigger and better ways...
And then the bushfires happened.
We don’t need to tell you how devastating those bushfires were. The sheer amount of destruction the fires caused… the amount of damage and loss Australia mourned.
It was by sheer luck that we weren’t directly impacted by the fires. It was close though. Close enough that when we stepped outside, we could see the smoke billowing into the sky, painting everything that horrible choking black.
For two weeks, all we could see was that smoke.
And knowing that we had friends and family who were directly impacted by those fires…
It was impossible, inconceivable, to consider promoting Bonpinda… jumping onto Facebook and posting promotional photos with emojis and hashtags and the rest… blatantly ignoring this country-wide event which was affecting us all…
So we didn’t do that.
Instead, we focused on supporting our community in the ways we could as a business, donating what money and resources we were able.
And this was the first pivotal moment for Bonpinda.
Because the bushfires did make us pause.
In this moment, we really took the opportunity to assess the progress we’d made up to that point. We looked at our product ranges, what we had to offer our community, and formed a clearer plan of what direction we wanted to head next.
Maybe it was the bushfires, which emphasised just how important connection and coming together was for us. Or maybe it was a direction we’d been heading in all along. Whatever it was, it was during this time of self-reflection that we decided the next evolution for us would be to approach the local markets.
We wanted to get out there, get to know people and share our products with everyone in person. We wanted to share the stories behind each item and offer people the ability to feel and touch and see our products. Most of all, we wanted to learn from our community too.
As Australia began to slowly recover from the bushfires, a process we understood would take a long time, we formed a plan. We would head to our first big markets, set ourselves up officially and identify the best of our collections to showcase...
And it seemed like the smoke had finally begun to clear again from our horizon.
Until coronavirus hit. Then the panic set in.
Markets were being cancelled left, right and centre. We were all suddenly under lockdown and the world as we’d known it had, essentially, been flipped on its head.
The kicker was that just before coronavirus swept across the globe, as a brand we’d begun to regain our footing.
We had a limited social media following, but we were growing. We were expanding our range of products and were setting up partnerships with more independent artists. We were learning how to best present our ranges online and figuring out how to properly promote stuff.
And then it all seemed to fly out the window once more.
Things weren’t only getting intense in Australia. In India, they were also under strict lockdown, causing issues with our Wholesale production and making it impossible to bring our winter stuff over for Bonpinda too.
Which brings us to that second pivotal moment, the one we mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
Because this was the second moment, after the bushfires, which prompted us to pause and reflect on where we were going and what we were doing.
During lockdown, we began to really consider what items we were offering. What kind of impact we were having and getting clear whether that impact was actually the one we wanted to create.
We asked ourselves, ‘Is this where we want to go?’
And the answer? Yes. Yes it was.
Once again, for us it came back to this idea of community. We didn’t want to simply set up a retail store which was purely focused on sales sales sales.
We wanted to build a community around Bonpinda which was wholly inclusive, full of a range of personalities, experiences and worldviews. Yes, of course, we wanted to offer items that we loved, but more than that - we wanted to create a space which truly celebrated the vibrancy and diversity of life.
Both Bon and I have a deep connection to India and Australia, in addition to a love for different cultures and people from different backgrounds, and we wanted Bonpinda to reflect this.
And do you know what? In this moment where we paused to reflect and consider where we’d come from, what we’d achieved, and where we wanted to go, we understood that Bonpinda had already begun to follow our ideal path.
As we mentioned before, the artists and creatives we established partnerships with were based both in Australia and India, bringing their unique wealth of skill and life experience to the Bonpinda ranges.
For us, as long as we continue to move forwards - whether those steps are big or small - we are happy.
We’re glad Bonpinda didn’t become wholly clothing focused, which may have been the case without the bushfires and coronavirus urging us to step back and stop for a minute.
Everything that’s occurred in 2020 has made us more conscious and mindful of what we’re here to achieve. Having a retail store in 2020 is weird and amazing and chaotic and so much fun.
We are ecstatic to continue supporting independent creators like Edie & Bill and Megasa, as they help us to grow and we help them to grow too.
We are confident and hopeful about the future. We’ll continue giving our all to fulfilling our ultimate dream of opening up a physical space for our Bonpinda community, where everyone can gather for a coffee, catch up and browse our collections. And we’ll continue striving to improve our systems and processes to support mindful, sustainable living.
Our hearts tell us that Bonpinda is our purpose. And who are we to ignore our hearts?