Cowrie & Conch
Designing furniture for kids became a passion project and creative outlet for Kylie, owner and founder of Cowrie & Conch. After a successful career in IT, she decided to follow her long-held interest and pursue a new direction. “When I was at Uni studying computer science I would sneak into the architecture lectures and I fell in love with design. The birth of my daughter was the tipping point – I realised that I wanted to do something that I loved rather than just pay the bills,” explains Kylie.
Once her daughter was born, she started decorating her bedroom only to find furniture options that were less-than-inspiring. So she set out to create and supply a range that was fun-loving, creative and thoughtfully made, especially for kids. Home-grown on the NSW Tweed Coast, Cowrie & Conch takes inspiration from the ocean, with the name coming from two precious shells found in the sea. Cowrie represents water, fertility and birth. The Conch shell symbolises bringing good luck and ensuring a positive experience. With a strong focus on producing furniture that is built to last, the range is as unique as it is beautiful, bringing a sense of playful energy to any room and inspiring little customers to dream big and believe that anything is possible!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
“After school, I studied computer science and network engineering and I worked my way up in IT for 16 years. Inspired by my grandfather who worked for IBM, I became an expert in my field and I worked my ass off in a very male-dominated industry where having to prove myself was par for the course. So when I started Cowrie & Conch (as a one-woman band) it was a steep learning curve as I knew nothing which was a shock to the system! It was a real leap of faith, starting a business doing something I knew very little about. There were a lot of hiccups along the way but I had to start somewhere and after all that is how we learn, adapt and grow.”
For those who don’t know Cowrie & Conch already, tell us about your business and brand?
“Cowrie & Conch was an idea that I fostered over many late nights whilst still maintaining a full-time job in IT and the balancing act that is motherhood. I live on the Tweed Coast, where I had the good fortune of growing up beside the ocean, surrounded by so many creative people. When my daughter Luna was born, I discovered a spirit and drive that I lacked in my corporate life and I had an urge to create and supply. Three years ago I sold my house and received lots of interest about my up-cycled secondhand furniture. I took this as a sign and the reassurance I needed to go and start my own business.
Something I noticed about kid’s furniture was all the primary coloured plastic, unappealing designs and that the products were not built to last. My goal with Cowrie & Conch is to create textural, design-forward, fun, colourful, and consciously produced furniture, especially for kids. Every chair, table, desk, décor item and storage piece is just for them. Kids are our focus and will remain our focus because at the end of the day, they are the customer. Just ask my daughter!”
What is your design process and philosophy?
“When I was designing my daughter’s nursery, I noticed how the rooms seemed to be designed for grown-ups, not for the kids themselves. I wanted to bring in the essence of who the ‘customer’ was, the little child that would soon occupy the space and share their little personality with the world.
Personally, I have always liked to push boundaries by wearing clashing prints, mismatched colours and I never really take what I wear too seriously. In fact, the less it matches the better! My design philosophy is “don’t take design too seriously, see the box and step outside of it”.
I love walking into a house with good design where colour is celebrated. Don’t get me wrong, monochromatic and the beige aesthetic still has a place and we cater to our customers who like this aesthetic. However, I believe that colour gives a room a heartbeat – it really is a mood changer.”
What is your design process and where do you draw your inspiration?
“Cowrie and Conch offers Décor, Accessories and Furniture for children aged 18+ months, with a focus on beautiful upholstery and furniture that withstands the test of time. My designs and colour inspiration comes mainly from clothing. I see so much beauty in soft textiles and embroidery finishes on clothing. All of our products are made internationally by local artisans and some larger suppliers. I have a very close working relationship with my suppliers and the connection that I have with these people has become paramount in the design process. We talk all things design, work on drawings, discuss finishes and pricing. Then the sampling happens in multiple phases until we are happy with the product and finally we start production.”
How important is it to you to produce ethically and sustainably, and how are you managing this within your business?
“The impact we have on our environment is always at the front of my mind and this business is no different. Cowrie & Conch designs furniture for the long-term and we make them to sustain wear and tear. We source FSC timbers and ethically sourced material for all our furniture. A lot of the plastic products are renewable or recycled from offcuts and waste materials which are then remoulded. Our products are manufactured in small batches to limit waste.
Excess packaging is limited and we refuse plastic wrappers, boxes and pretty packaging to reduce our footprint for the customer. Our cardboard packaging is recycled and products are sent in recycled, compostable satchels. All of our shipping both internationally and domestically is carbon offset.
As a small business, I felt the pressure to make an unboxing experience for the customer, to wrap things beautifully with pretty papers, foams and colours but I felt this was such an elaborate gesture that impacted the environment far longer than any ‘feel good’ moment. Everything needs to be a conscious decision. Nowadays, I focus on getting the product to the customer quickly and in one piece. I really hope that our customers understand and appreciate this.”
Tell us a bit about your range and the latest collection?
“We have just released our Big Top Ottomans. The Big Top range is a celebration of being young and the magic of children’s imagination. They add a whimsical element to any bedroom or playroom and are covered in extra soft terry towelling. A fun addition to any space, even the lounge room.
Alongside this range we are launching some furniture pieces paired with upholstery finishes that have a hidden meaning. This range is hugely close to my heart. Our Ribbon range evokes the symbolism of ribbons for cancer awareness. These upholstered items will be in colours that represent different cancers, each with a hidden meaning. Each purchase from the Ribbon range will give back to the Cancer Council. We can’t wait to share more about it soon.”
What is the most rewarding part of owning your business?
“I would like to say all the free time I have (LOL), but that would be a lie! Seriously though, I deeply appreciate all of our customers for their support but most of all, seeing those little faces light up in a room furnished just for them is just the best.”
Quick Fire Q’s
(Instagram) Fave scroll stopper: @designmilk
(Design Style) Less is more or more is more: More is More
(Netflix) Can’t switch off: Actually, can’t switch ON who has time? hahaha!
(Motherhood) Defining parenting moment: When my two-year old counted from 1-10. She blows me away every day!
(Mindfulness) Quote that best sums you up: “You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea otherwise you would be a mug”