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MUMPRENEURS / APR ‘2014

A dash of Danish

Your home is your castle, a sentiment never more true than in Danish culture where home furnishings of true craftsmanship is the norm and the nursery is no exception. Australian families have been granted special entry into this kingdom thanks to a unique Mumpreneur business, Danish by Design, bringing an exquisite range of baby furniture to our shores.

Words CLAIRE ARMSTRONG

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Danish by Design is the brainchild of Melbourne-based but Denmark born and raised Gillian Rose, a story none too dissimilar to many start-up mum’s businesses seeking to fill a gap in the Australian market and dreaming of a way to combine work and motherhood.

After returning to her homeland – think Southern Isles from the latest Disney classic Frozen – to show off her first born bundle of joy, Gillian fell in love with the nursery products on offer and longed to bring them home. But it wasn’t until a few years, a lot of encouragement from her husband Nigel and another baby later, that, in 2001, her first container of beloved Danish nursery crafts arrived Down Under, completely pre-sold.

"It is only worth pursuing a business dream if you are willing to put in the time and effort to build it up and stick with it."

With a Bachelor of Commerce and Marketing under her belt but no background in retail or importing, Gillian had to rely on the strength of the product to give rise to her ambitious dream of promoting these high-end products to Australian mums and dads as an alternative to mass produced furnishings.

“To get an idea of the style of products available in Demark, you need to realise due to the weather that Danish living is predominately inside living for eight months of the year, Gillian says. “The houses are not enormous like those often built here, but they are looked upon as your castle. The furniture is usually light not just because of the timbers available but to balance the dark outside.”

Another key to Danish design is a culture of people prepared to buy expensive pieces of furniture as an investment to last a lifetime.

“There is none of this throw-away mentality. So what you have in your home needs to be of exceptional quality and timeless in style. There is less a focus on what the product costs as opposed to what the product does.”

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"I quickly learned this romantic idea of running a business from home was a fallacy because every time you step into that office you see yourself as a bad mother and every time you step out of that office you see a bad business woman."

The key import of Danish by Design is the Leander range, which at some point most of us have probably oohed and ahhed over the coveted sleek oval cot with its ability to transform five different ways or the elegant high chair which grows with your child right up to an adult, capable of holding 130kg, just a few on the list of successes.

Gillian describes the brand as highly in-tune with the needs of children and the unity of family, with the idea of feeding children first or grabbing a meal on the run as almost unheard of for many Danes; instead the products focus on bringing children of differing ages to the table. The idea of moving a child from a cot to a single bed is also something very foreign, hence the Danes’ love of converting cots.

She admits it has been a tough slog growing the business. In the beginning it was a matter of juggling the kids and home life with making personal calls, to baby stores asking them to stock the products, and then using a makeshift warehouse with plastic sheeting on the floor to house the goods and manual labour for loading and shipping, plus the delight of adding a third baby to the brood.

“I quickly learned this romantic idea of running a business from home was a fallacy because every time you step into that office you see yourself as a bad mother and every time you step out of that office you see a bad business woman. There is a constant battle that needs realistic boundaries to be fair to both sides, and yourself,” she says.

Fast forward thirteen years and Danish by Design is now based in a 700 square metre distribution centre in Victoria’s Braeside with pallet racking, a forklift and six staff, including Gillian’s husband who left his role as a physiotherapist to get involved. The challenge now is to keep up with demand.

Thankfully, working in the baby industry it wasn’t frowned upon when her own children interrupted phone conversations or tagged along to meetings. Now past the baby years, with Anna-Sofie 15, Maia 13 and Mattias 11, Gillian says a true testament to the versatility of the Leander brand is the continued use of the convertible high chair in her home, as a piano stool, study desk and spare dining chair for dinner guests.

When asked what has been her biggest learning curve, she says it is to not be blind sighted by the daily grind and continue to think big and follow dreams.

"The starting phases of a business can be quite exciting, but then comes the reality of finding the determination to keep going when exhaustion sets in," she says.

“It is only worth pursuing a business dream if you are willing to put in the time and effort to build it up and stick with it. Even a small online business has to be considered as if you standing on the side of a busy highway with a sandwich board. But if you have a dream and the support behind you and are willing to do the hard yards, then go for it.”

So what is her favourite product? Gillian finds it difficult to choose just one but says the most exciting is the Bednest. Only arriving in June last year, the timber bassinette with over 70 settings including the ability to tilt to assist reflux babies, is perfect for co-sleeping while ensuring the baby remains safe in their own space.

And the Danish by Design range continues to expand as complimentary Scandinavian products matching the company ethos of design, function and quality come on board with a range of strollers and Moover Toys earning their place in March this year. And there is potential for even more with a planned trip to Germany to visit to the Kind + Jugend international trade fair for children and youth in September.

“The message we want to send parents is that we understand everyone has a budget to work within, but the Leander range will never disappoint, sometimes something slightly more expensive is worth considering when it will last not just for your first baby, but every baby thereafter and even beyond the baby years,” she says. “There are a few essential items your baby needs and a lot of things that are just nice to have, spend your budget wisely buying quality essential items. Quality enhances the beauty of living!”

CLAIRE ARMSTRONG

Claire is a journalist of eight years across a range of publications and mother of two beautiful girls. She has a passion for all things parenting and a love of sharing stories about the parenthood journey.

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