Designing the Dream

Cover LisaBlue BuffaloBy Elle Hayter

There is a lure about Byron Bay, a sunshine that reflects on the lush green hills as you approach, a crystal that winks on the perfect sets curling in at The Pass.

The peaceful, natural beauty seduced many a hippie surfie in the early seventies into making the Bay their home and they developed a culture that epitomized freedom. The ‘spirit’ of Byron Bay became a magnet for like-minded carefree creatives and as they came, so to, the bohemian flavor evolved. The sense of beauty and place that is Byron Bay has become an intangible dream that is sought after the world over.

Among Byron’s vast creative contingent, a group of young woman live this dream Their daily lifestyle includes galloping horses over the hills , swimming with whales, surfing the break, treadling bicycles along the sand and beachcombing with their children for driftwood and feathers. Coupled with a lot of hard work and a collaborative culture, these ladies have managed to capture this natural way of life and transfer it into exquisite designs for handcrafted clothing and accessories, appealing to an aesthetic desire and capturing the attention of an international market.

The art of Buffalo Girl, Terry Cronin has adorned the likes of stars, Elle McPherson, PINK, Olivia Newton John, Linda Kozlowki and Erin Wasson. Yet, despite interest by large city retailers to manufacture her pieces, Cronin has a passion for bringing ‘her visions to life’, lovingly hand-crafting each limited edition leather bag and stamping it with its own story. ‘Follow your heART – it knows the way is something my assistant Desiree Rosborg said the other day’, tells Cronin. ‘That pretty much says all about how I live. The choices I’ve made along the way has made me who I am today’.

Currently Cronin is designing ‘extraordinary animalistic headpieces’ that will be seen in Angus Stone’s new music video and has also accessorized Wolfmother’s next video clip. For the project she collaborated with local Byron stylists Marisa Sidoti and Sybil Steele, while the video was shot by surf filmmaker Taylor Steele.

Collaboration such as this is an underpinning theme in the creative excellence and branding success of the Byron designer labels. Cronin regularly joins forces with Lisa Bourke to accessorise the Lisa Blue swimwear range for the Rosemont Australian Fashion Week and the Mercedes Benz Miami Fashion Week. This year Lisa Blue was given the honour of stylising the opening night and party for the 2012 Miami show, a follow up to the well-known ‘ Diesel’ fashion brand that opened in 2011.

A keen surfer, Bourke is another Byron designer harnessing nature with her love of the whales providing an inspiration for her designs and the drive to succeed. ‘Several years ago I went to Tonga to swim with humpback whales. The mother and baby whale approached me. The baby came so close to me as though to touch me that I backed up. The eyes, only a foot away, looked straight into my soul’, she says.

It was in that moment that Bourke decided she would do whatever she could to help protect the whales and their environment. Twenty five percent of the net profits from her swimwear sales go towards the protection of the whales and dolphins while her Australian indigenous whale paintings are reflected in a variety of striking swimwear prints.

An affinity for nature and adventure seems to have been established in many of the designer’s childhoods. Bourke grew up hanging out with children from villages on exotic islands. Later she lived for five years in a mud hut in India with her monkey and her horse. Cronin was a sponsored snowboarder in New Zealand. Arnhem Bickley, spent her childhood travelling the world and Australia with her parents, embracing the hippie lifestyle and camping in a tepee.

Bickley, founder of the label Arnhem, started her design career with a dress for her Barbie doll when she was five. She still captures a free-spirited, playfulness in her vintage inspired designs with hand screen-printed signature florals and delicate hand sewn beading. Bickley, along with designers, Myee Carlyle, Goddess of Babylon, Buffalo Girl and Spell Designs, grew their labels after starting at a grass roots level, erecting boutique style market stalls and enchanting customers that come visiting our region from all over Australia.

However, through the evolution of the internet and social media, the Byron designers now have access to a much larger audience than just the local markets and all have a comprehensive online presence. ‘People find out about us on the internet before they come to Byron and when they get here they go in search of all these iconic labels says Bickley’.

Elizabeth and Isabella Briedis (Lizzy and Spell), originators of Spell & The Gypsy Collective lead the way in the savvy use of blogging as a visual diary for both inspiration and to spread the word internationally about their Spell brand. With their positive attitude towards support and sharing, the women extend their bohemian spirit by featuring many creative counterparts on their blog. ‘In the blogosphere there are unlimited possibilities for collaborations from all over the world…it’s a wonderful way of sharing and generating inspiration’, says Briedis.

Spell Designs explore artistic themes that tend to be very close to nature and the wild feminine. Favoured by celebs Sienna Miller, Taylor Swift, Ruby Rose and Isabelle Lucas, the team create an eclectic, personalized mix of jewellery silver-smithed by hand, Indian feather headbands, hand carved bone, leather tassel boots and silk patterned kimonos inspired by authentic indigenous adornments.

The sister’s studio is a gypsy wonderland at the Byron’s Arts & Industry Estate, the nucleus of Byron’s creative and design community, (Goddess of Babylon has a show room nearby). For years the cohort of designers have supported each other’s style, displaying and promoting each others designs. In the Estate, curious shoppers can discover many labels in one boutique and be sent off on a wonderful treasure hunt to find more fabulous little studios tucked away. ‘Finding them can be an adventure’ says Myee Carlyle, who also relies on online media to ‘get the word out quickly when promoting her business’.

Carlyle’s own hand dyed silk designs are inspired by nature and the connectedness we share with all things around us. Blurring the boundaries between lifestyle and work, her creative journey begins with collecting… ‘jumping on our bikes and taking of down the dirt track, laughing with joy and ready for adventure’. An exhibited painter, Carlyle works with dyes from the plants and flowers she collects, matching the radiant colours and delicate patterns with other all-natural fibres to create her signature, feminine designs. ‘Each of our silk garments has the unique fingerprint of mother nature…subtle changes in colour and pattern make no two pieces the same’. she says.

Talking to the designers it is obvious that there is much overlap in their work and lifestyle. ‘The lines are VERY blurred!’ says Briedis. ‘Johnny (partner, photographer Johnny Abegg) and I have a word for it – ‘passioning’. We’ll both be sitting at home late into the evening ‘passioning’ and we’ll laugh at how much we love it!’ However family is a priority and with the designers all being mothers, one wonders how they find time to pursue their success.

They all answer that the best advice they’ve been given, the people they admire and the one thing they can’t live without is their families. ‘My work is my passion’, says Bickley. I live and breathe what I do, but so is my family. I like to try and balance the two the best I can. At times it can be hard to juggle.’

It’s a juggle too for Chantel Barber, who along with her partner Blair Beattie run the label Goddess of Babylon. The business was born during Barber’s travels through Morocco and India where she first designed Moroccan belts with cut flower and leaf motifs. ‘It was amazing seeing something come to life from a sketch’, she says. Her entirely hand stitched clothing range comprises leather and suedes, organic cottons and jerseys all embellished with intricate detailing.

With Goddess of Babylon about to open a concept store in Seminyak, Bali and a new baby, 7 month old Arlo, Barber has to find new ways of doing business and collaboration makes it possible. ‘Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and working with a great team achieves this. We have a few girls who work for us and they all have different skills- visual merchandising, writing, photography, sales..there is always so much to do and we cant do it all. You have to trust that your business will evolve because the people who work for you love it as much as you do’.

Collaboration seems to be a perfect fit for designing and branding in Byron Bay. On one hand it is reminiscent of the Bay of old, the embodiment of community, where sharing and bartering were the currency. On the other it reflects the Bay’s avant garde attitude, where technology is revolutionising the way we do business and working collaboratively, rather than competitively can obtain us greater resources, recognition and reward.

According to internet developer, Tim Berners-Lee the web was designed precisely to do this job: ‘The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect—to help people to work together—and not as a technical toy.’

So as we continue into an era of rapid mobile and social technological change that is having far reaching economic and cultural effects, could we also be moving towards a society that is not solely focused on economic growth but also focused on social well-being?

Meanwhile, while the rest of the world daydreams about owning a little bit of Byron Bay, at the local markets the creative minds will continue to come together, to support, to collaborate and to grow, and the designers will attend with their families, as Carlyle says ‘to see all the smiling faces…and spend most of the day eating the yummy food and watching the music.


Buffalo Girl

Lisa Blue

Arnhem – Byron Bay

Spell Designs

Myee Carlyle

Goddess of Babylon

Taylor Steele

Sybil Steele



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