UK import Rebecca Stern has always been creative but knew that her creativity was best when it was shared. A graduate of Brighton University’s Critical Fine Art Practice, she travelled to India before settling in Australia with her young son.
A tutorial on stamping herb names on spoons inspired “House of Bec” – a collection of vintage silver plated cutlery brought to life by stamping inspiring, funny and sentimental messages on them. Her range then extended to silver floristry, using casts of real succulents to capture nature’s fleeting designs into wearable pieces of jewellery.
Rebecca’s latest pursuit, “The Impossible Market”, has blossomed out of her experiences selling her wares at various markets in the region over the last two years. She identified an opportunity to host more intimately curated shopping events at a time that would be convenient for consumers with young families.
Coupled with the popular indoor location of The Edwards Bar in Newcastle West, the business has been able to provide a platform that is supportive of independent makers and creators and that contributes to their growth.
Her success has lead to international orders, events filled to capacity and a feature in Marie Claire Australia, but it is her vision of encouraging conscious shopping and proving that is possible to make a living doing what you love that is truly inspiring.
I recently sat down with Bec and asked her to share some of the practicalities behind how she made her impossible possible!
What does a ‘normal’ week look like for you as a small creative business in terms of orders, production, despatch, concepting new work, self-promotion and the list goes on…?
My weeks are super busy for the most part and I would say I thrive on the constant momentum. I fit my work hours around dropping off and picking my son Dylan up from school. This means I often try to get a few things done first thing in the morning, posting on social media for example, then get Dylan off to school. Monday is what I call “laptop day” and I usually work my way through emails, etsy conversations and Facebook messages. There never seem to be enough hours on a Monday! Tuesday to Friday I am in my studio where I make and package orders and stock for selling at markets and wholesale. Throughout the day I am corresponding with customers about the details of their orders. A lot of my orders are gifts and many of them are last minute which means I end up dispatching orders throughout the week as soon as they are ready. In the evenings (in the golden hours after Dylan is asleep and before I fall asleep) I often spend a few hours working. This is really the time I try to focus on working ‘on’ my business not ‘in’ it. Jobs like adding new products to my etsy shop, creating social media content, designing and researching. And in between all of this I fit in the many many hours of planning The Impossible!
Do you contract helpers? How do you keep up with demand in busy times?
Hannah is my extra pair of hands, she comes to the studio usually once or twice a week. She packages orders for me and does a whole lot of other tasks which frees up the extra hours of making for me. One of the most valuable things she does though is organisation! Throughout the day my mind is constantly switching roles and I have to jump from task to task which I love… but certainly can leave me feeling a bit scattered! Hannah will write me out notes, lists, tidy up my desk space, jot things on my diary or even pay the toll fee I forgot to pay for me! All these little details mean i get to do more of the fun stuff I enjoy and hopefully with a bit more order!
With the Impossible I have been excited by the process of working with a small but mightily efficient team – including yourself – and being able to delegate and coordinate different roles so that I can focus on the bigger picture and the creative vision. This has been a very different experience from House of Bec which is very much a first person “I” mindset whereas The Impossible is a collective “we”.
How vital social media and online communities have been for you; what role they have played in growing your business?
I have really developed a passion for the role social media plays in my business, I’d even say I’m a bit evangelical about it! I have learnt that the marketing and advertising element of a small business can be hugely creative and engaging not to mention profitable. Working on content is something I set aside time for each week and I like to think of each post I create as mini advert (because that is what it is!) and to consider whether it is telling a part of my businesses story in a genuine and interesting way. This could be a behind the scenes peak, a personal photo or a new product but each part adds up to a bigger picture. when starting a small business I think that advertising and social media can be pivotal and when you don’t have vast amounts of money to invest, you need to invest the hours instead.
What is the ratio of e-commerce vs market sales? Why is the mix of both important to you?
I regularly sell at three main markets and add in other markets and events in between while my online sales come throughout the month. This is a good balance that keeps the sales and momentum flowing for me but what I love most is the balance between the intense hours of face to face selling a markets and the more introverted hours during the week making in my studio. This definitely suits me well as both as aspects that motivate me and I feel I need both the social interaction and the quietness of making, packing, creating and thinking.
How did The Impossible come up to fit in this mix?
The Impossible has grown like a flower, it was underground for a long time, developing, incubating until one day it shot out of the ground and became a feasible idea when I got the green light from The Edwards (the venue) and from there it blossomed very quickly. It has been fast paced and has kept me constantly swimming in the deep end since the start but the evolution of the idea has really stemmed all the way back to my teenage years when I travelled India alone and gathered treasures to sell at markets, organised exhibitions in unusual locations throughout my degree or even further back to watching as my parents grew their own businesses from scratch. Having spent the last two years doing markets myself I have a pretty good grasp of how things work (or don’t work) as a vendor but also love to attend markets as a customer (when I am not working!) so all that experience has helped to shape the model for running The Impossible.
How you are juggling the two projects – how do they complement each other and does such a thing exist as free time? Or is this your hobby and your work rolled into one, a passion project as well as a rewarding and viable career?
Free time! haha! Well, there are certainly periods where I feel completely consumed by both projects and find it hard to switch my mind into stand by mode. The Impossible is so fast paced and new that it requires a lot of thought and attention while I am committed to keeping House of Bec growing and not letting it become stagnant.
At times like these I go to my partner or my parents for a good old pep talk and they help me prioritise what I need to do but mostly they remind me that what is most important is Dylan, being happy and enjoying the process.
While both projects are different, each one is so completely a reflection of my values and passions so it can be hard to loosen up the reigns and to not being constantly in work mode because my work is absolutely what I love. My job is what gets me excited to get up in the morning and leaves me feeling proud at the end of the day (mostly!) but I have been really learning the value of having down time since The Impossible launched. For me that means that the weekend days I’m not at markets are work free as much as possible, and although Dylan often comes for after school trips to the post office, Bunnings or The Edwards, I try to set aside time each evening where I can give him my full attention! Or at least make a trip to Office Works fun!