A self-funded investment of $5,000 kick-started what would become a fixture in the jewellery sector, Bowerhaus. The homegrown company’s future would see worldwide expansion, a loyal following, a focus on charity work, and a partnership to bring a fundraising event to Kirribilli House.
Upon graduating from design school, Elizabeth Lee joined her sister in a company that specialized in corporate identity and packaging. It wasn’t long before the sisters decided to focus on what they had always wanted: their own brand.
“It was a natural progression for us, from helping our clients create their own brands. We had the confidence and the knowledge,” Elizabeth tells Dynamic Business.
“The brand was inspired by our years of travel together, hunting and collecting trinkets from around the world. We both grew up with an obsession for our father’s vintage coins and mother’s pearls and the brand has elements of this throughout. Bowerhaus is about old-world charm, playful wit and understated confidence.”
The sisters invested $5,000 to get the business moving, spending half of it on raw materials and the other half on branding. Their first look book was a huge success, the 1,000 copies they printed gone within a month – as was their first order of stock.
Elizabeth says they ensured all profits in the first stages were put directly into building the business and kept their day jobs to help with cash flow. Their parents, Elizabeth says, played a huge part in creating the brand.
“If you count our parents taking us on their travels around the world to be inspired to create the brand and our family holidays turning into a gemstone-buying trip… then our mother and father would be our number one investors.”
It’s these world trips that cemented what would be Bowerhaus’ point of difference in the crowded jewellery sector. Fresh water pearls and gemstones are sourced from all over the world, with individuality as the focus.
“If you view one style of necklace to an identical design you will see how unique each pearl and stones are, even though it’s from the same cut of gemstone slab or harvested from the same pearl family. Individuality is embraced within every piece of jewellery,” Elizabeth says, clearly passionate about her product.
“Quality control and customisation is a very important factor for us and every piece of jewellery is hand-knotted to order. Because of this, our entire collection can be adjusted to get that perfect fit. Our customers love that we can customise their pieces. It can take up to two hours to make one necklace and if a mistake is made towards the end, the necklace must be taken apart and re-knotted.”
This is the sort of customer focus that has seen Bowerhaus catapult from a home-run business, using the occasional jewellery party to attract customers, to an international business with offices in Sydney, Borneo and Kuala Lumpur.
Elizabeth says everything changed when Bowerhaus launched its online store, which used free worldwide shipping to incentivise online shoppers. Stockists soon came knocking, along with tradefairs and an expansion into Australian boutique stores.
“Our expansion was so overwhelming we needed to start hiring more knotters and a logistics team to continue the growth,” Elizabeth says.
“We have around 100 stockists in Australia now and have opened up multiple pop-up stores in Kuala Lumpur to test the market in Asia. This resulted in us opening our first flagship store in Kuala Lumpur last year and we now have a second on its way.”
Clearly, business is booming.
While it’s easy to get caught up in all things business, with expenditure and revenue at the forefront of a business owner’s mind at all times, Elizabeth and her family have made sure Bowerhaus has its moral compass pointing in the right direction.
“There are many charities that are out there in need of funding and awareness. In this day and age a lot of people don’t take enough time out of their lives to see different charities that are not closely or directly related to them. When different charities approach us we always try our level best to help in some form or another,” Elizabeth says.
“Currently we work with just under 20 charities on various fund raising events. All of this is driven by our mother, Betty Lee, who is a firm believer of giving back – no matter how big or small it may be.”
Bowerhaus was given the opportunity to launch an exclusive jewellery range for the Deb Bailey Foundation, created after motor neurone disease claimed the life of Sydney journalist Deb Bailey – a good friend of the Abbott family – in 2001. Margie Abbott opened up Kirribilli House for a fundraising event, which saw proceeds from all Bowerhaus products sold go directly to the worthwhile charity.
“With our father being a doctor in the medical industry, my sister and I have grown up with the awareness that being completely healthy is a blessing and that not all are so lucky.
“Continuous funding is needed for development and progress in any charity. Every dollar and person willing to help in any matter is one step closer to finding a treatment or better way of life for those who suffer. In terms of a business decision, there is exposure in aligning your business with charities, but I think a greater moral conscience by helping others far outweighs the exposure.”