It’s not every day that you come across gorgeous, quirky toys and decorative pieces that are simply unique and lovable – and that both children and adults alike will enjoy. That’s why we knew we had to make the Byron Bay nic-nac brand available to our toy lovers! The Elves caught up with director and designer Kylie Mowbray-Allen, to find out more about her whimsical and super fun range.
How did the nic-nac range come about? It all started with the nic-nac nappy wrap, a nappy-bag-change-mat-all-in-one, great for dad’s to take out and about. Then the ideas grew… and grew. The most fun part for me is designing products, working with our pattern makers, designing fabrics, heading into production, and seeing what works and what doesn’t! Not all my ideas (in fact not even 25% of them!) make it out into the world, but it’s loads of fun in the process.
What are some of your personal favourites? The felt fairy caves and dragon dens. They have evolved from starting off as a cat house! My daughter is always trying to get me to design animal costumes (she’s 11 and loves to paint our dog’s nails and put tutu’s on them) and she helped me design a cat cave… the cat never wanted to go in it though!!! So then we started playing with the design and it became a fairy cave and dragon den. We love them very much!
What do you think children and adults love the most about nic-nac? That the brand is all about natural, tactile, imaginative, and practical. A lot of our products are old-school and we’ve played with the pattern, re-launched it, and given it a modern twist. The water marbles are not invented by us, but we worked with a product that we loved and added new dimensions to them. We design a lot from scratch, from dreams and from our kids’ ideas. Our products make us happy and we hope they do that for children and grown-ups too!
nic-nac prides itself on being fair-trade and ethical; do you think people are becoming more conscious about the choices they make when purchasing certain products? Definitely. TV shows and documentaries over the past few years have helped highlight the plight of children and minorities in certain countries, who are working in appalling conditions for almost no (sometimes none) remuneration. As a country, as citizens of the world, we need to think about where are our products being made, in what conditions, using what dyes and chemicals, and by whom. Fair and ethical trade ensures children are not being exploited, that conditions are decent, and a fair wage being paid for a fair day’s work. We also manufacture in Australia. We have a cutter about 20 mins from us, in the Byron hinterland, whose cutting room is in a rainforest. Our sewers used to all be based in the Byron Bay area, but now only one is here in Bangalow, and the rest are in Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast, Lismore and Melbourne.
Teepees are a major component of the nic-nac range, what do you think makes them so special? They are so versatile! They’re a hut, they’re a cafe, they’re a kitchen, they’re a hideout, they’re a cubby, they’re a magical space, and they’re an imaginative play place. All the children in our street have one, and watching them over the years has been wonderful. They set up reservations in the park, one teepee is the bathroom, one is the play room, they move between them and make covered walk ways with blankets and sheets. Sometimes they put them out on the road, and with giant chalk, they draw streets and swimming pools and hop scotch to connect all the teepees. It’s that they’re timeless and ageless, built to last, and highly versatile that makes them so special. Oh, and because we’ve kept them natural, yet have developed endless decorating options (garlands and buntings and mats and rugs) for them, so you can change the look of your teepee, according to your mood, stage and style. That makes them extra special too.
How did the felt-products idea occur? When our daughter was pre-school age we went to Steiner playgroup, and each week the kids would play, and the parents would handicraft. My favourite time was felting. We made some incredible products, and I loved working with the natural fibres (also, I’m originally from NZ, so love wool – baaaah!) so it was only natural that at some stage I would find a felt manufacturer who I connected with, and together we could work on magical products, with amazing colours.
What has been the most rewarding part of working with Nepalese artisans to bring these hand-made goodies to life? Our felt artisans were found when a friend was trekking through Nepal. Over time we’ve built such a creative relationship, that I can draw the pictures of what I want to create, and they interpret my drawings into felt. It’s a quirky way of doing it, sometimes it works and sometimes it’s hilarious. We have a mutual love for each other, they love that the work we’re giving them enables them to stay in their villages doing what they love, I love that they’re making my imagined ideas and drawings into reality!
We absolutely love the felt garlands (especially the flowers one) and we think they would look beautiful at Entropy HQ! Where do you have yours? Any other quirky uses we can give them? The pink flowers are in our guest room, four garlands – all draped around the window frame and giant antique mirror. They look divine and are often admired. They also look beautiful hanging from the super-size teepee. We like to pop the flowers out, they look like dancing ladies.
What are some new and exciting products you’re working on at the moment? We have so many new products in various stages of production and design, which may or may not ever make it out into the world, but one of them which we’re super close to launching is a dragon door decal with felt mat and stones, and a fairy version too. Toy tidy sacks, play mat, cot quilt, Christmas decorations and stockings, toadstool fairy homes and more… watch this space!
What’s something people would be surprised to know about nic-nac? That we employ people with physical disabilities and amazing brains… one-parent families and other challenging scenarios. We find ways of making our work environment work for them. Whether that means adapting their work space, or having them work remotely from home. Seven years ago my husband broke his neck playing rugby, and is now a quadriplegic. Amongst all the many things I have learnt since his accident, and what has really astonished me, is how many people with severely challenged bodies who would LOVE to work and have so much to offer the world, but work places are not often willing to adapt to suit “different” needs, or willing to see how easy it can be to adapt for them. We’re not just about fair trade; we’re also about being fair employers. Creating an environment that is fun and inspiring to work in. Adapting to people’s needs, whether it’s needing to work only during school hours, being aware of their different challenges, whatever it is, we aim to keep our busy, pumping, thriving work environment, fair, ethical, challenging, inspiring and fun.
Anything else you’d like to add? I really love what I do. I have an amazing family that I support, and in return they support and inspire me. I get very excited when we receive a note from someone saying they love one of our products, or a friend rings to say they saw one of our products in a shop in a remote town. Our products are all very personal to us, each one is our baby! It’s a great feeling to love what you do.
Check out the entire nic-nac range.