You’ll probably know that I go on and on about using sheepskins in the home. I love their instant snuggly effect and the way they inject a dose of cosy, strokable texture. Suddenly your space comes alive, feels more sumptuous, textured and cool all by plonking down a sheepskin anywhere! So I was really excited when I discovered these beautiful products from Dorper Design in Australia.
Dorper Design was set up by Penny Gilder, from her family farm in New South Wales. It’s obvious how passionate Penny is about the quality of her products, and she puts a lot of time and love into creating gorgeous and unique speckly hide rugs, cushions and accessories.
Penny’s family farm raises sheep for meat and wool, and all the skins are natural by-products of the meat industry. I think it’s brilliant that Penny has been able to create beautiful homewares from something that might otherwise just have been discarded. She shared her her inspiring business story with us, as well as tips for anyone else thinking of setting up their own retail company…
What led you to start your own business?
Dorper Design came about as an extension of our life on the family farm. Dorper sheepskins are all beautifully unique, with incredible colours and textures. They’re traditionally viewed as just a by-product of sheep farming, but I wanted to be able to utilise them properly. Now they’re being innovatively handcrafted into beautiful home wares right here in NSW. I have always loved working alongside my husband on our farm, and we are both passionate about agriculture, sustainable farming, and supporting and promoting Australian products.
What has been most difficult?
Overcoming the inevitable feelings of uncertainty when embarking on new experiences is always difficult. However, we’re used to being exposed to a great range of challenges everyday – it’s all part and parcel of farming life! Setting up Dorper Design has been a tremendously exciting journey, with massive learning curves along the way. Learning to become comfortable and confident with change is a prerequisite for success.
How do you get your work seen by customers or retailers, is it through tradeshows, mail shots etc
In the early days, we began by just selling at local markets. Now we are selling to larger retailers through Sydney and Melbourne trade fairs, and directly to the public with our online shop. I send photos of all our current stock to clients, so they can choose their preferred colours and textures for themselves. Every single skin is unique, so good photos are the best way to introduce our range to interested clients.
Any tips/advice to people starting out
I like to write down lists of goals and aspirations and then ticking them off along the way. I’m a big believer in dreaming, and then setting in place the required steps to achieve those dreams. Before I began, I thought carefully about what I wanted the business to become, and how I wanted the business to work in with our family and our farm.
What has been most successful about the business?
It’s been tremendously exciting seeing my concept become a reality. I knew I wanted a business of my own, where I could work from home, prioritise our family life, and have the necessary flexibility to stay involved with the running of the farm. For me, it has been incredibly satisfying and fulfilling to make this happen.
I’m also very proud of our products, and consider them a success story of their own. We believe wholeheartedly in our products. They are carefully managed and produced all the way through the production line – from the sheep breeding and raring, to the meat processing, to the skin tanning, to the painstaking handcrafting of the end product. It’s a privilege to live and work in rural Australia, and having the opportunity to show case part of what we do to the world is wonderful.
Dorper Design hasn’t (yet) changed the world, but it’s certainly enriched our corner of it!
Thank you so much Penny for taking the time to share your story and continued success. If you would like you business profiled in my Biz Story column, email submissions@AbigailAhern.com