Looking back over the year, it's as if nothing has happened and everything has happened. I ain't gonna lie - it's been a year of upheaval and growth. Yep, a helluva lot of growth. Learning to be comfortable in the unpredictability, learning to be open to new ways and learning that I can't fix everything (as much as I desperately wanted to).
I'm also reminded that our 'upheaval' was mild compared to so many others. We're here and still running, albeit a little bruised, and have recently grown our team (who would've thought?!) as we look to brighter days. So here's a look back on 2020 - a year like no other. Well, we certainly hope...!
We didn't exactly get off to the best start here in Australia. The new year was brought in with mixed emotions as much of the country burned uncontrollably, ravaged by bushfires that showed no mercy. We 'flossed for the firies' (very poorly I must admit, coordination has never been my strong suit!), donated funds to various charities and watched on rather shell-shocked by the upsetting imagery and stories that were emerging.
Eventually, the weather did give many parts of the country some relief. It resulted in wild weather (including a storm that led to the roof of our own home tearing off in parts, flooding and 2 x written off cars) but the fires were tempered. It was around this time, leaving the house in a rather damaged state (sorry Chris!), that we took off to Mt Martha to shoot our Tigre Collection at the iconic Fender House... What a welcome distraction! Take a look at the behind the scenes here. A most enjoyable week in a home that could be up there with one of my all time faves - the green carpet alone, I mean c'mon...
We also welcomed new team members, bringing our wholesale business in house for the first time ever. It felt like a coming of age moment - just another chapter for this little biz and her journey growing up.
Really? We're still only in February?! Still none the wiser on how different things would look in another month's time, I jet-setted off to Orange in a teeny tiny propeller plane (aaaaahhhhh!!) for The Huddle, hosted by our lovely friends Jumbled. This was such a pinch me moment - being invited to talk on a panel of outrageously fabulous women in biz and being spoiled all weekend with a boutique hotel stay, meals at the finest restaurants in Orange and a tour of Jumbled IRL - seriously this store is like imagining the finest lifestyle shop and then multiplying its amazingness by 10. It's that good.
Made a quick pitstop back in Melbourne before getting on another, thankfully larger, plane to Sydney for our much-loved trade fair. We lived like millionaires (well, for a couple of nights), booking a lovely terrace home in Paddington, and decked it out head-to-toe with our Tigre Collection. I luuuuurve trade fair season... all that hard work finally on show for our stockists to see. It's always such a treat to chat to the very shop owners and buyers who keep this little biz going and who really get what we do.
We topped off a marvellous month with the launch of our second collaboration hand wash with the dream team over at Thankyou. The label, that was inspired by our Tigre Collection, took to the shelves of the supermarkets and we did happy dances down the aisles. Certainly made grocery shopping that little bit more exciting. Of course, we weren't aware that hand wash would become a hot commodity within a couple of weeks - not even we could get our hands on the very hand wash that had our name all over it!
With rumblings of a pandemic that had found its way into a handful of countries around the world, we watched on with a sense of concern but without any regard for just how it might affect us personally or the disruption that was headed our way as a biz.
We excitedly launched our Tigre Collection to our retail customers at the beginning of March - and you guys loved it! We were inundated with pre-orders and I truly felt unstoppable. 2020 was shaping up to be our most amazing yet and our new apparel range was also received with the enthusiasm we'd hoped. It had been 8 years of work to get to this point - a point I'd only ever dreamed about. A fabulous team, an office and warehouse that looked and felt inspiring and professional and a range that I couldn't be prouder to release.
I took off to Singapore with the family in tow to celebrate - our last time as family of 3! I was 30 weeks pregnant and it was supposed to be a holiday that marked the occasion. After shortly arriving, we were inundated with concerned calls and text messages from friends and family. I was certainly in denial, believing still that everything was all gonna be ok (who are you calling an eternal optimist?!). It was then that all Australians OS were called home immediately - to quarantine. Within 12 hours we were on a plane home, new flights booked, staring at each other wondering how things had escalated so dramatically and so quickly. Talk about a whirlwind!
Well, April looked a lot like this... home. Having just emerged from 14 days of mandatory quarantine, we were then all plunged into a nationwide lockdown. Like many, the new reality felt like something out of a Netflix mini series. It was truly hard to fathom.
And along with trying to absorb and process it personally, I had Sage x Clare and my team to worry about. I spent a couple of hours in the veggie patch - tears rolling down my face (and some heavy sobbing in there too) imagining that everything I'd worked for and all of the very special team that made up Sage x Clare would disappear over a crisis that nobody saw coming.
Of course, I picked myself up and decided that if I was gonna go down, I may as well go down fighting. I met with my team, told them I'd do everything I possibly could to keep them on at full pay and we got to work on dealing with the myriad of metaphorical bombs going off - aka our production units shut down, sea and air ports closing, a range that had largely sold but we couldn't access, our stockists who were forced to close, our next season becoming an impossibility, how we were all going to work remotely, our customers who'd pre-ordered... and so it went on.
I did my best. We did our best. Rather than looking inward, we looked out to our community. We ran free 1-1 coaching sessions with our stockists, essentially opening up all the knowledge and expertise we had as a biz and offering it to anyone that needed help or wanted to upskill. We ran a 'good egg' competition, that not only kept our spirits buoyed but also awarded a group of particularly good eggs a care package full of Sage x Clare. It was these moments of connection that really kept us going.
Well, May was much of the same - still grappling with our new normal, while juggling a family, a biz and worsening news on the daily.
Without any possibility of a photo shoot or new imagery or any newness, I decided to open up my home on IGTV and journal... You gotta work with what you've got right?! It's far from perfect and I felt vulnerable doing it but I do kinda relish stepping outta the comfort zone every now and again.
Y'know because 2020 had been been *so* comfortable and all :-)
My due date was fast approaching and I had to come to terms with the fact that the year and my biz and really life itself, was very far from what I'd planned or hoped for. Winding down and having visions of maternity leave lasting beyond 6-8 weeks was evaporating before my eyes!
But, our baby was coming, whether we had everything in place or not... so it was time to put these expectations to one side and learn the art of acceptance. I (rather breathlessly!) had my last pre-baby:
- interview with Frankie Magazine
- training session with the team on the handcrafted techniques we love and use in our collections
- chat with Ubabub on all things motherhood, biz and preparing for baby number 2
Somewhere in amongst that, I got the excellent help of little Jude and packed my hospital bag (thanks to the Suite Set for making it so easy peasy) and waited for those signs of early labour.
On June 26th, Heidi was born. And there I was, not a care for anything but the little miracle in my arms.
Having a baby during a pandemic.... is...well, different. With no visitors allowed (not even Jude) we returned home to introduce our new little bundle to the family. And, not wanting to make all the same mistakes as round 1, I decided to go more gently this time. My wonderful team kept things chugging along and gave me the space I needed to really get to know little Heidi. It was precious and a time, even as the world felt in turmoil, I protected at all costs. Head here to read a roundup of what helped me get through this relatively unscathed :-)
And, just as I couldn't feel less like reading even if I tried (hello newborn fatigue), we launched our book edit. Typically, I'm quite the book worm and homewares and books really do go together, amiright? We rounded up our faves and, excitingly, it turns out you guys are quite the book worms too!
As the rest of Australia was opening up and getting on with things, a worrying amount of Covid cases were beginning to appear all around us. Having only just re-surfaced from our first lockdown, myself and the team nervously watched on as the numbers grew and grew and grew. There was anxiety and a feeling of both wanting to be placed into lockdown (health comes first!) but also wondering how we were all going to actually survive it, again.
By some stroke of luck, we got a 2-day linen photo shoot in that finished on the eve of one of the harshest lockdowns in the world. We all (safely) enjoyed one another's company, being outside of the home(!!), and ticking a goal off the list... It felt like the last supper.
Back home we went, preparing for what ended up being a 3 month lockdown of the harshest kind. To keep us connected, we chatted to our community of creative women (who also happen to be fellow book club friends) on just where they were at with their small biz and how they were coping with the return to #isolife.
I tell you, women are inspiring stuff aren't they?
And so it was September... I was well and truly back into work by then, drawing me back in part because I felt I needed to show up (from home, that is!) and because things felt more outta control than ever. We were all struggling with the impacts of a reallllllly long lockdown and almost nothing going to plan... We ultimately decided the word 'plan' should be abolished from the English language.
With baby brain, extreme fatigue and all the other weird and wonderful things that happen to you as a woman who only recently gave birth, I tried my hardest to be there in a meaningful way. At times if felt futile though... I just couldn't make it all ok, I couldn't fix all the problems, I couldn't offer anything other than to put my head down, work and keep repeating both inside and out, "this too shall pass".
With one foot in front of the other, we:
- launched our linen collection - and hey this was a big pat on the back moment to be fair. With incredible new colours and a new-and-improved core linen range, it was truly a breath of fresh air.
- we ran a linen ambassador search and chose 3 amazing peeps who not only thoroughly enjoy sleeping in our linen but also take Sheet Hot pics of it too! We're talking about you, Kate Eliza, The Slow Drift and Lamb Loves Fox.
- we started 'Sage Shine' - a little bit of sunshine to hit your homes in the form of a new product each and every week. Thanks to serious disruption to our supply chain, this was our creative way to overcome it!
- and for those of us with kids, we kept doing our darndest to work and to be Mums and to keep some modicum of togetherness - aka not going completely batsh*t crazy (if we're being really honest!)
By October we'd perfected sourdough and homemade butter and then decided it was only fair to also introduce you to our favourite skincare line - out of Canada - Living Libations. Besides being organic, wild crafted and really bluddy good, it really was and still is the stuff of skincare dreams.
Among many other very. important. things. I also decided to take up knitting and change the house around for the gazillionth time. Yes the biz was crazy, we were all working flat out, but I decided that if I didn't find a lovely past-time outside of work, being on my phone or laptop, breastfeeding or playing lego with Jude, then I may indeed self-implode. This cardigan shall forever remind me of this very surreal moment in time.
And just as things started to feel ok (well as ok as they feasibly could), we got troubling news from our friends in India. Our suppliers were being hit as hard as ever and our production and accounts teams were also in a bad way. I didn't sleep, I couldn't. The weight of feeling safe and well here compared to the experience of my friends. An experience that wasn't just hard, it was the difference between life and death. I felt guilty for my privilege. We made cards, sent words of love and support and hoped and waited.
The days passed, the tight cocoon we'd been wrapped in suddenly felt unbearable.
At last, we got the news we'd been wishing for. Our friends in India were recovering and we were also finally allowed to emerge from our homes. Like spring lambs, we prepared to enter the world, even see one another again, and get to work on our hopelessly late Alegria photo shoot - a week on the calendar that had been crossed out more times than we cared to mention.
Ahead of our mid-November shoot, we went ahead and launched our Alegria Collection. It felt like we were going to a party with only our undies on - read: very exposed. With nothing other than our product imagery to speak for the collection and its creative vision, we entrusted you, our community, more than ever. I was nervous as hell to launch but decided to stand proud for what we had achieved rather than be apologetic for what we hadn't. And, I genuinely was proud... proud of my team, proud of our artisans and even proud of myself.
Our Alegria photo shoot felt like a re-birthing - for want of a better word. To be together again with a crew that were so ready to unfurl their pent-up creative energy into our range felt very special. And very surreal.
AND FINALLY, by late November, we were able to get our party dresses on and release our Alegria Collection in all her glory. It was everything we'd hoped for and we thank you for your virtual high fives... it's never been sooooo hard to launch anything, ever.
Not all things quite went to plan though. Our iconic Christmas Edition Nudie Rudie Bath Mats got caught up in more Covid-related disruptions and missed their sailing, now due to arrive into our warehouse on 24th December. Anyone for a Christmas bath mat post Christmas?! ;-) Forced to air freight them all at an extraordinarily unbelievable cost (we're talking 10 x multiple thanks to Covid, again) we eye-wateringly agreed they had to be here and we were not gonna go into Christmas without them!!
So here we are... we've sadly said goodbye to some of our team and warmly welcomed some new kids on the block. I wanted to come out the other side of this crisis with my entire team and if I have one regret?! It's that I haven't able to do that. Not because I had to let anyone go, not because I had to implement pay cuts or that redundancies occurred... but simply because I couldn't keep the spark alive. I couldn't keep everyone happy and fulfilled, I couldn't honour the needs of everyone along with the needs of my biz, I couldn't help in all the ways I wanted and I couldn't, ultimately, make it all feel better. In part because I too was surviving, in part because I had a newborn baby, in part because it's so hard to meaningfully connect over Zoom, and in part because this whole year left me and all of us with a deep feeling of 'what the?'. And there’s really no training for this kinda level of sh!t show.
But, as we prepare for the biggest social occasion in the calendar this year (and I mean that very literally!) - our team Christmas party - I'm humbled by the camaraderie and team spirit that's still very much alive and kicking. It may have been tested but there's still a whole lotta love going around. They are an unbelievable bunch of humans, who’ve really truly dug deep this year in a way that’s never been done before. We're all next-level exhausted but feeling renewed by the prospect of holidays, time with loved ones and the brighter days we know are coming.
If I can think of one way to visualise the year... it's that we're in a boat, with lots of tiny holes, plugging the ones that need the attention most and leaving the others. But y'know what, we're afloat! And come next year, those damn holes are not just gonna be repaired, we might even upgrade to a shiny new one. Bring it on!
Wishing you all happy holidays... and seriously, congratulations, for hanging in there and holding on. I salute you. And to our friends around the world, we send you the sincerest solidarity and strength.
With a whole lotta love,