Interview: Bonnie and Neil

Bonnie Ashley and Neil Downie – owners of Bonnie and Neil. Photo: Mike Baker for Dulux Australia

Bonnie Ashley and Neil Downie – owners of Bonnie and Neil. Photo: Mike Baker for Dulux Australia

Interview: Bonnie and Neil

I first stumbled across Bonnie and Neil a few years back when I went on a year-long hunt for the perfect cushion covers. Why it took me so long to find Bonnie and Neil, I'll never know, as they are so popular now, and I used to live very close to their studio in Brunswick? Anyway, I stopped my slightly frenzied cushion stalking as soon as I'd bought a few, and started stalking their website instead, which is honestly filled with the most beautiful textiles, homewares and timber furniture.

The thing that draws me to Bonnie and Neil is the stunning use of colour and geometrical shapes. Patterns made with triangles, circles and squares do it for me. But to know that each and every product that comes out of their studio is handmade takes my appreciation for their products to another level. Not a small commitment, considering the size of their range and the quality of each piece. So, I'm really excited to have them on the blog today to talk about how they run a successful and growing business, and still manage to retain their handmade ethos.

Meet Bonnie Ashley, co-owner of Bonnie and Neil...

What is Bonnie and Neil, and what do you do?

Bonnie and Neil is an independent textile studio based in Brunswick, Melbourne. We make screen-printed, hand-crafted products for the home, including cushions, tableware, ceramics, bean bags and timber artwork.

What path led you to what you do today?

We both studied design and have creative career backgrounds spanning floristry, textile design and art, furniture making, set design and screen-printing. In our home life, we’ve always been tinkering with some creative project or another, designing products for our own home and making things for friends, so it just felt like a natural progression for us to start our own collection in 2010.

You make each and every Bonnie and Neil product by hand. Why did you make that decision?

The techniques we use to make our products are all very hands on. From the process of creating a design for screen-printing, selecting materials to construct products with, to mixing our own paint colours – it’s important to our brand quality and integrity that we physically interact with each part of the process.

Products from Bonnie and Neil's Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

Products from Bonnie and Neil's Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

How does the commitment to handmade affect your business on a day-to-day-level?

As creative people we love doing the doing, so, one of the most important aspects of running our business is having the right team around us to help bring our vision to life. By employing team members who can look after other key areas like administration, studio management, sales and marketing, we have more time to be involved in the creative process, work on creative collaborations and design upcoming ranges.  

As your business has grown, has it become harder to sustain the handmade aspect?

Not harder to sustain, weve just looked at how we can do other aspects differently so we can retain our handmade processes. Our customers have an appreciation for handmade, locally made products and are very understanding of the time it takes to produce handmade pieces.

Has marketing your business come easy to you? 

Weve really focused our energy on creating, designing and delivering new products rather than marketing them. However, as the business grows, were getting the opportunity to try new ways of promoting our products to different audiences.

What skills have you had to master to get your business out there?

Accounting. As business owners this is mandatory, but not something wed done a lot of previously and Ive actually realised I quite enjoy it!

What’s the biggest marketing lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Learning that you win some, you lose some. Sometimes well put time and resource into creating concepts or products for a shoot, and then the shot doesnt make it into a publication but its all part of the process.

Products from   Bonnie and Neil's   Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

Products from Bonnie and Neil's Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

What’s the hardest part of owning your own business?

Being in 10 places at once, but we make it work. One of the best things about working together as a couple is that level of understanding and appreciation we have for each other’s working week!  Our team is purposefully multi-skilled so we can call on anyone in the business to work on different projects and that includes Neil and myself.

Tips on how to stay on top of everything?

We use a mixture of manual and electronic tools to manage our day to day.  In the past 12 months, Asana has been life changing for us in terms of managing workload, tasks and planning ahead for major events.

Career highlight so far?

Weve had so many amazing opportunities come our way the first time we attended the NY Now trade show in New York was a significant business opportunity for us. Being exposed to some of the biggest names in retail alongside amazing brands was very exciting for us! On a daily basis we LOVE seeing pictures of our products in peoples homes on social media, and getting notes from our customers telling us how much they like our brand. Its one thing making sales, but to see our products in context we get a real kick out of that!

Products from   Bonnie and Neil's   Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

Products from Bonnie and Neil's Winter Garden collection. Photography: Armelle Habib. Styling: Heather Nette King

What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting out again?

Go with your instinct. You’ll usually be right!

Name 3 businesses that inspire you?

Too many to choose from and many of those are locally based brand. So many amazing products come out of Australia.

One piece of advice for other business owners?

There are no mistakes, only learnings. Dont beat yourself up. Spend your energy on doing things differently next time.

www.bonnieandneil.com.au