The Koh Living warehouse had just taken delivery of a brand new range of products in March which included a range of high quality cotton tea towels featuring bright, colourful designs by popular Aboriginal artist Kathleen Buzzacott. Co-founder of Koh Living, Tui Cordemans, recalls “It was the first time we had transformed Kathleen Buzzacott’s Aboriginal designs into a larger format with her permission and careful guidance, the result was amazing. We couldn’t wait to show these tea towels to our customers.” But just as they were getting ready to launch their new range across Australia along came COVID-19. Overnight, the business was in turmoil with sales dropping 100% in April.
The impact of COVID-19 on Australian businesses and the economy has been immense, especially for those in arts and culture. As a society, Australians are avid consumers of art, whether live performances, or artwork displayed in galleries and exhibitions. Even though restrictions are easing, opportunities to physically view and purchase art have been severely limited and this is causing huge difficulties for independent artists and especially for artists within the Aboriginal community.
Tui says, “Talented independent artists like Kathleen are solely reliant on the sale of their art pieces for income. That’s why it is so very important to us that we promote and support Aboriginal artists right now. Koh Living is honoured to be able to offer our beautiful art-inspired giftware for sale and do our part to support artists through this difficult time.”
Throughout this challenging time, Koh Living has never stopped working to innovate and continue to trade, to support their dedicated team and artists, and their loyal retailers as best they could. And in order to find a solution to the devastating loss of sales, their first action was to completely review their target market with a new focus on busines- to-consumer, instead of business-to-business.
Kathleen Buzzacott’s beautiful tea towels were sitting in our warehouse and had not even seen the light of day. Then, in conversation with Australian artist Anna Blatman, Tui heard that fashion designer Fella Hamilton had their own business pivot; making face masks.
“When we revealed that we had thousands of high-quality cotton tea towels sitting in our warehouse, together we reached the conclusion that these would make perfect mask material,” says Tui.
Fella Hamilton were especially excited about using Aboriginal artwork and contributing to the ongoing success of the Indigenous community and it was a fabulous collaboration from the start. With Kathleen’s express permission to once again use her very special designs in an innovative way, within days. 800 tea towels were being created into cloth face masks for use in Victoria, and sales of the masks have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, sales at Koh Living are still down 70% from this time last year.
“Kathleen has been delighted with the result, and so are we. It is so important to that we support Indigenous artists such as Kathleen, who have also been hit hard by the fall-out of this pandemic,” Tui said. Kathleen has not only received commission from the sale of the tea towels, but from the sale of the masks as well.
Tui continues, “Having product just sitting on warehouse shelves is not sustainable for any business. We are so excited that we were able to find an excellent solution that has benefited all involved and offers products to consumers that are not only beautiful and practical, but also assist underprivileged Australia communities.”
Their Aboriginal tea towels are continuing to be sold to Fella Hamilton and transformed into comfortable, art-inspired masks.