With a “background that is ridiculously unrelated to what I do now”, Esther Fallon Lau produces gorgeously diverse patterns, full of whimsical creatures and fairytale people in soft textures and colours. Under the name Nouveau Bohemian, she spreads her designs throughout Spoonflower and Society6 in a profusion of animals, birds, Fridas and tattooed men. She’s a busy person – not content with simply designing, she also uses her Spoonflower products to recycle old furniture with reupholstery and decoupage to sell on Etsy.
Esther first gained a degree in Psychology, and went on to spend a life in Government writing policy and managing huge, national projects. “At the height of my ‘serious’ life I was a media advisor to a federal politician. While not entirely ‘designy’ it did require creativity and has given me a good grounding in how to pitch yourself and your products and the importance of powerful, consistent branding, which, when I have more time to launch myself will hold me in good stead.”
After having children, she felt the need to do something that was more grown-up and a channel for her creative energy, and what started out as a hobby has grown into something that is on the tipping point of turning into a real business. “Up until now, I feel like I have been doing an apprenticeship, driven purely by enjoyment. My husband works away for 3 weeks out of 4; and we have two small kids.”
“Needless to say I have very little time – but I needed a creative outlet, something that was just mine. So I wrote a novel (haven’t had time to try to get it published yet, ha). Then about 18 months ago I stumbled onto Spoonflower and started dabbling in surface design for fun.”
“I entered their contests and won a couple. I realised people liked what I do, and my success on that site is growing all the time. Spoonflower is a wonderful tool in so many ways, but mostly because it allows you to test your product out in the market for very little outlay. Over time, my customers have shaped my style so that it is both still my own, but also more attractive to a wider market.
“Right now, my focus is on harnessing the creative explosion that is going off my brain, doing as much designing as possible and diversifying distribution using methods that are not time intensive. The next step will be to use my designs to produce and distribute my own products (eg decor items and baby products) and take on more of the distribution myself (which will be more time consuming but potentially more lucrative). I also need to set up a blog to tie all my selling platforms together. And I need to get some sleep!”
Running a business as a solo operator can be tiring, and there are plans to collaborate with friends in a collective. “So far I have taught myself everything – from Photoshop to reupholstery. I Youtube, Google, and Pinterest constantly as research. I also hassle my dad from time to time to fix up old crappy bits of furniture I find. I am just at the point where I need to 1) upskill on the tech stuff and start working in vectors, and 2) outsource. Here [Byron Bay] I am surrounded by brilliant, talented mothers of young kids who want to do SOMETHING but don’t have the time do everything required to run a small business. So we are currently looking at setting up a women’s collective where some of us produce inventory and others provide essential roles such as marketing and distribution.”
Creativity has been part of her life forever. “My childhood didn’t involve craft, it WAS craft. My parents were hippies; educated bohemians who believed in self sufficiency, DIY and ‘culture’ long before these ideas became trendy. We lived in the foothills behind Byron Bay and most of our neighbours were artists, musicians, dreamers, intellects and/or completely trippers. My father was a furniture maker. My days were filled with painting, building, creating, cubbies at the creek, gardening, cooking etc. We were pretty poor but my childhood was rich beyond all measure. That’s why when I had kids, I gave up my career and moved us back to our family farm which we share with my incredible mother.”
For any small creative business, Esther agrees that presentation is everything. “Even if your product is brilliant, customers won’t value it if it doesn’t tell a story. Styling and branding are vital; for instance when I photograph my furniture, I try to use props that allude to the kind of (cool, fabulous) person who might own it. Often my fabric collections are inspired by events, movements, groups of people, geography – for example I have a collection called the Silk Route which explores the intersection between Eastern and Western traditional design.”
“How you present yourself as the artist is also important as this gives your product providence – customers will place more value on niche products made by artists with a background story, than the same product mass produced in China. That’s why big global brands spend so much money creating the illusion of providence (e.g. by associating a brand with a movement such as bohemian, hip hop, Scandi etc). And when people buy your product as a gift, this story needs to come though in all your packaging, wrapping, business cards. When there is a ‘story’ customers feel like they are getting more bang for their buck.”
The best thing that has happened to Esther as a designer? “Funnily enough, having kids. I have always had a very intellectual, logical way of looking at things. My design work before kids was too literal, rigid. The sleep deprivation and other business that comes from having kids has damped down my cognitive skills, making me vague and dreamy. This is bad for getting the house work done but excellent for unlocking my creative brain, allowing ideas to flow laterally, float around without analysis then morph unfettered into something more organic and original. So paradoxically because of kids I am a much better designer, but because of kids I no longer have the time to be one. Ha. Ha. And my work space is a total mess with kids toys and grubby handprints everywhere. It is not the tranquil, sacred studio space of my dreams.”
Is there something quirky or curious about yourself that you’d like to share?
“No, but my three year old wants to marry a penguin.”
And the best piece of advice you’ve ever had? “Follow your bliss.”