The Workbelt Story
Each week of Winter will bring a new chapter of the Workbelt Story...learn how it all began, where Workbelt is headed, and how important you are to the Workbelt journey ❤️
It all began in 2014 when I got slammed by Chronic Fatigue. Months of solitude, thinking time and not being able to escape my body and mind. I left my job as a Maths Teacher and was determined to find a new lifestyle...call it my ‘Saturn Return’. I was staying with a creative and inspiring friend...the brainstorming began, and a whole new world of possibility opened up. As I healed, I began to sew, a past time that I had not had time to indulge in the previous decade of ticking boxes, chasing opportunity, and doing it all. It was a lonely time, a frustrating time, but a life changing time that I am extremely grateful for.
It was 2015. I was learning to live with Chronic Fatigue and my daily sense of achievement was in the form of making it across the road for a takeaway coffee...such a simple activity for a healthy person. Not only did it give me a sense of achievement every day, but the crew in that cafe became very special people in my life and my journey to recovery (wanky but true). I felt like I was starting to ‘live’ again and so El Noskcaj Living was born...the logo symbolised the safety of home, geometry, strategy, and me in the middle. Alongside revamping my new home, I made and sold cushions, doona covers, and dresses; my entrance stairwell became a pop up shop; I even scored a couple of interior consulting jobs. I was starting to find my groove.
One day I popped into a boutique wearing a dress I had made. The lovely lady working there asked me where I got it....Her next question was whether I’d be interested in sewing leather purses (they had recently lost a supplier) to which I exclaimed ‘of course!’. In that one day I had had my first outing to the big smoke since becoming unwell, potentially got a job that suited my new low-key lifestyle, jumped on Gumtree to search ‘Industrial Sewing Machines’, and bought said sewing machine..what a day!!! The guy who owned the shop turned out to be a dick (no wonder the previous supplier had bailed). But...it was the beginning of my love affair with leather. And a friendship with a very dear friend who I accidentally met amongst it all.
I’ve always loved reading the Real Estate Guide on a Thursday morning over coffee. It was August 2015 and I noticed a small office space for lease on Sandy Bay Road...ooooo, how exciting...imagine turning it into a collaborative space for my Maker-friends and I to produce and sell our wares...like an artisan workshop. I had no real idea what I was doing but what the hell, I did it anyway! Once the lease was signed, it was time to name the new space. Check out the pics of my name brainstorming...I remember sitting in a cafe with my bro (with waaaaay too much caffeine pumping through our veins) and finally deciding on WORKBELT. You can kind of see the thinking process...workshop, production line, a belt that supports you, leather belt, toolbelt, a collective, blah blah blah. And WORKBELT was born.
The Sandy Bay Road lease was 12 months...talk about fake it till you make it! When I see some of my work from that time, it makes me criiiiinge...but...what a way to be thrown in the deep end. I have so many wonderful customers who have stuck with me through it all; I met the public and heard what they wanted; I collaborated with some pretty cool Makers; and I had a real sense of purpose for the first time since dropping out of the traditional workforce. I didn’t make any money but hey, it was cheaper than studying business and leatherwork, and it set me up for the next stage in my journey.
It was 2017 and the perfect little retail space came up in Bellerive...I was in! It was a beautiful sunny space to work, and a great base. Having limited energy and running it solo meant I needed to think ‘smart’. I ended up opening in the arvos and evenings to attract the people who were enroute to dinner and feeling relaxed. It worked really well. But as any small business owner would know, paying rent when you already have high costs results in A LOT of time thinking (AKA worrying) about money. The balance came when MONA were having their MOMA Market...I’d make in the shop during the week and then every Sunday I would load up the car, sell hard, eat, drink and be merry at MONA...my god, I miss that market!
None of you will be thinking about opening a retail workshop in these crazy times but if you ever do, remember these words of wisdom...you can’t make mess, customers will inevitably come in as soon as you’re in a making rhythm, you’ll become a ‘drop in’ for people who want a chat, and chances are people will hit you up for repairs and odd jobs that take you forever and make you totally anxious because they are such precious pieces...ahhhh...there goes your romantic notion.
The second pic reveals the reason for cutting my Bellerive workshop lease short...he may be lovely now but he was royally troublesome while in the oven. Once again health became the focus...but this time I listened to my body and didn’t have to say goodbye to Workbelt, I just needed to be patient and change tack. And may I say, he was well worth it!
Being a new mum is tricky...running a business is tricky...navigating them simultaneously requires some serious logistics. Over the last 2 years, the focus of Workbelt has moved from just making things and hoping people will find them to actively looking for ways to sell what I make...which can feel very tricky and personal...talking my friends up is eeeeeasy but putting myself out there...insert awkward blush. I built a website, familiarised myself with social media, acquired some very cool stockists, and sussed out a few markets...ok, the truth is markets are just the best way to legitimise having the grandparents babysit while you and your partner get to hang out for a few hours and be grownups. The lifestyle balance was working well...and then COVID hit...