Talk One: Becca from Mustard
How do you make Mustard?
I don’t believe in fairytale business stories so I’m not going to tell you one.
One day the spark of Mustard, you could call it our mustard seed, was formed while walking along the beach with my sister Jess. That was the easy bit.
Following that moment came a year of work before we were ready to take our ideas out into the world. It went a little something like this…
The first thing I knew was that I needed a rough idea of what the products would look like so I asked an architect friend of mine and she recommended SketchUp as a good 3D drawing tool. As a complete newbie I downloaded a two week trial and very scrappily managed to piece together some to-scale drawings and rough out what our lockers could be like.
From there I did the most obvious thing to do when you don’t really know what you’re doing and googled “locker manufacturers” which led me down a rabbit hole of research tunnels that wound up on Alibaba talking to people in China.
It turns out there is a city that’s main commercial output is lockers. Jackpot. We found a number of factories but one stood out for us because the person we spoke to quickly felt like someone we wanted to work with. I spent the next few months drilling my new found friend with questions trying to suss out the parameters so I could conjure up products within them. Learning how the products are made, what machines and processes are available and what can and can’t (easily) be done became valuable boundaries that allowed us to move faster.
I knew I wanted our logo to be stamped onto our lockers which meant that before I could get any samples I’d need to know what that logo would be. I followed my gut instinct to connect with a designer I’d spotted on Instagram, Brandon. I had an inkling that his style would be perfect for how I imagined Mustard to feel. Because really, branding is about feelings. The first time he showed me the logo (with Jess on skype there too!) I was wowed. He then went away and made it even better! I really valued his process and concept driven work as he took my ideas to the next level.
After receiving my first batch of colour swatches I knew I needed to book a flight. The colours were all wrong. I’m a tactile, visual learner and communicator and it just wasn’t going to work developing our lockers through screens alone. I needed to see and touch and understand more so Jess and I hopped on flights to a city in the middle of China, I took my six month old baby Ellis and she took our Dad!
When we arrived at the factory we were led through the various spaces, our faces unashamedly glowing with excitement. As we made our way to the large open doorway the team proudly introduced us to or very first samples, backlit by the sun and beautiful.
Of course, they were also all wrong! Or at least needed a lot of work! We workshopped changes, measured things out, weighed parts, asked questions and worried whether we were getting any of it ‘right’.
Back home in Australia I began working on our launch. I knew that realistically we needed to order a container load of lockers and I wasn’t willing to just cross my fingers and hope the customers would come to us. Life Instyle is a boutique tradeshow and I quizzed everyone I knew who had done it and felt that it was the perfect place to launch Mustard. There was a fast approaching deadline for applying for the February show but we didn’t even have any products or photographs! I begged the factory to urgently send me shots of our samples which I photoshopped to look more like our final designs. I mixed those with colour swatches, line drawings, chunks of inspiring words, our newly designed logo and some pinterest worthy images I found to create a ‘look book’. We sent it off with our application and somehow managed to convince them to offer us a stand.
We still needed products for display so we worked hard on that and connected with Marni. Marni is a freight forwarder and the only person I know who can make freight seem cool. She handles all the things that have to happen to get our lockers from our factory in China to our warehouse in Sydney. Her first task was to get our samples in time for the launch which she absolutely did! Once they had arrived in the port I drove down to collect them myself and drove all the way back to Newcastle with a smile on my face.
We would also need a website and social media accounts so I reached out to Bronte the photographer from Lazy Bones who spent long days with me lugging lockers around Newcastle to friends’ houses to build up a collection of images. Investing in your photography is crucial and really lifts the brand so shoots with Bronte have become a regular and really fun bit of my job, (we even took her to London with us when we launched!) But at this stage we had not earned a penny so everything was done on a shoestring! I borrowed props, used real homes and natural lighting and even bought a few things from Freedom which I returned after the shoot!
I had in my mind that the trade show was our testing ground. If we took enough orders we could justify buying the first container, if not, it would hurt but it would be back to the drawing board. It’s a big risk to put your money down and purchase stock so I needed to take away some of the unknown with pre orders from stockists.
The trade show was a really new experience for me, there’s a big difference between selling to consumers and selling to buyers so I had to adjust fast. I am not really a big fan of setting goals but Jess and I decided to set just one for the show: get nine orders in four days. Ten just seemed a little too high. By the end of day one we had nine orders already. By the end we didn’t place an order for the first 20ft container we had hoped for but doubled it to a 40ft HQ (extra tall) and then doubled it again by booking our second container to follow soon after.
We hadn’t even registered our company or opened a bank account before the show because we wanted to prove to ourselves it could work before we spent the $1,000 to set up our company so the first job on Monday was to make it official. Mustard Made Pty Ltd. Yes!
As the come down from the high of the show kicked in the work began. It’s really hard sometimes to feel like you’ve achieved anything when there is always the next thing to keep you busy. While waiting for our first lockers to be made and shipped I spent a solid 3 months testing out shipping options to find the most economical and streamlined system for getting our big, heavy products around this big, mostly empty country! This was one of the hardest but most crucial things I’ve done and I really did not enjoy it, it wasn’t creative, I had no passion for it but I did know that without it my business was not going to thrive. There are so many roles needed to make a business work, you have to become so many different people and you can’t really enjoy the fun stuff unless you take good care of the boring stuff.
In June our first container arrived and our lockers were quickly shipped out to stockists and customers who had pre ordered. One of the most rewarding parts of Mustard is when we see photos of our products out in ‘the wild’, it’s like watching you child graduate! The momentum has led to some beautiful moments like a feature of The Design Files #lifegoals and our lockers appearing in Real Living, Adore magazine on Sky tv and being asked to share our story at the first ever Fe night!
In September I flew to London for our UK launch with Ellis and did two tradeshows with Jess and a bunch of shoots with Bronte. I slept on my sisters couch, stayed up til 1am most nights to get my Australian emails sent in their work hours and didn’t really see Ellis for the 4 weeks (he was with my parents most of the time, don’t worry!) It was an exhausting month but the work paid off and I flew back home knowing we had 50 new stockists in the UK, a bunch of orders and that Jess had it all under control!
I’d also achieved my personal London goal of talking to John Lewes, the most British of all department stores! The buyers came to our stand to introduce themselves and after some emails it has been stored safely on the ‘to do’ pile. We are learning we need to make our moves carefully and really establish ourselves as a business and financially before we stretch too thinly so it was a good lesson for us.
Working with Jess has been even better than I imagined it would be. As sisters we can cut the BS and get straight to the point and she has a really different set of skills to me which works so well for us. We each handle our day to day workloads but then split the bigger picture stuff. Jess handles the forecasting, buying, communication with our factory and Marni and I get to focus on the marketing and PR so we each get to do what we are good at a bit more often. There is still never enough hours in the day and I dream of moving from my little corner in the living room into an office with our logo on the wall but there is no one else I would rather make Mustard with.