Encompassing a vintage yet contemporary flair, marquee Fromage La Rue lights remind us that with attention to detail, function and good design, one bright idea can transform into an array of products — and a business! Here, we have a few words with the creator and co-founder, Sarah.
As a husband and wife team, you have so much experience both separately and together in the Design Industry! Can you tell our readers a bit about how the concept for Fromage La Rue lights came about?
We do have a similar background in digital media and it’s still a common interest for us. The concept was totally accidental. We never sat down and discussed creating a business, to be honest. I was home with a toddler and a baby and was doing some part time web production from home, which I planned to go back into at a later date, and Kane started tinkering away at some concepts he’d had in the back of his mind after work. We’d always loved vintage Las Vegas lighting, but couldn’t buy it anywhere. It’s hard to imagine now with letter lights everywhere, but at the time (2009), you couldn’t find one on Etsy, eBay or anywhere. You could buy true vintage pieces from the States, but the wiring was incompatible, and shipping to Australia was outrageously expensive. We still weren’t thinking commercially when Kane made his first light, we just thought we’d use it at home. I was so impressed with it that I sent off a press release (I’d never written one before, red wine helped!) to a few major magazines and it got snapped up by one shortly afterwards and published nationally. Luckily, I’d whipped up a really basic website with one product on it, we really didn’t give it much thought and we certainly didn’t think people would be into the idea. Suddenly orders started coming through, and we kind of freaked out.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Think ex-theatre props with a touch of Scandinavian design thrown in.
You’ve mentioned you travel often for inspiration. Have you taken any trips recently that sparked your creative interests?
Yes! We just came back from a trip to the UAE and then onto Greece for a friend’s birthday. Greece was particularly inspiring. Walking through the more suspect parts of Athens was incredible… Here is this country that’s in the middle of financial meltdown yet it’s nonetheless alive and buzzing with creativity and energy. The sheer age of the city and its buildings takes your breath away. We are inspired by beauty in decay and this country has bucket loads of it.
What is it like being a handmade-focused brand in the Australia industry right now, and what are some of the hurdles or challenges you face?
It’s a wonderful time to be a small brand in Australia. We are lucky that people here like to support emerging designers and that we get the chance to compete with the big players. On the other hand it is difficult when those big players look to us for design inspiration. We have teething problems that crop up every few months as we grow, and we have to work out how to solve each issue before we can move on, things like the AUD falling against the USD for example, which affects us in terms of materials. Being self funded we can’t grow as quickly as other bigger brands, but we plan to be here for the long haul, so patience is a major hurdle for me. I’m incredibly impatient, but I’m learning to slow down, particularly with electrical products — testing and safety is paramount, and you can’t rush that.
What advice would you give to someone starting a design business?
It may sound trite, but you have to work out what your passion is, otherwise in the hard times you will find it hard to pull through. I have a background in design and digital, so where I am now is a happy marriage of them both. I also don’t want to talk all day, as I have a young family and as any parent will agree, it’s draining. So I wanted a job where I could communicate mainly through email and social media.
Don’t give up after a year or two, we’ve been at this for more than 6 years now and it’s only just starting to get somewhere, patience and persistence is everything!
What has been a highlight of the year thus far? Do you have any upcoming collaborations or projects you’re excited about?
Seeing our lights snapped up by some of the top stores in Australia and overseas has been amazing. Norsu Interiors, Kido Store, Top3by Design and some of the leading stores in Northern Europe. That’s blown us away. Now we’re working hard to meet worldwide demand for our lights. I’m so excited about working with illustrator Lauren Webster from @laurenlostboys on a gorgeous new lighting product. Our collaborations with stylists and photographers are so much fun, too. We do a lot of work with Claire Cosh from @clairecollected, Hayley from @hailsandshine and Chloe Thurston from @chloeuberkid in the UK. I love creating new products and we’ve been hard at it all year, discarding one concept entirely already! Apart from the product with Lauren, we have two new ranges in the pipeline, one will be the reworked letter lights we started years ago and the other is a neon product geared towards adults.
What is a typical day like for you?
I have a 5-year-old & an 8-year-old, so the focus is getting the kids off to school first. I work four days a week from 9:30 until 2:30pm, it’s not a lot of time so I don’t muck around! I dive into work from home, answering emails from customers and stylists, keeping in touch with our stockists and working on new ranges and ideas. We prototype all our products first and spend a long time testing and discussing them… My husband Kane Sullivan runs another business full time (Lucid Metal Architectural Imaging), so I need to schedule time in to get his feedback and thoughts on the more technical side of our products. I look after everything else, from design concepts to social media strategy, web design to packaging — it’s all done by me. I can’t afford help at this point in my business! I work from home so the rest of my day is put aside for the children once they come home, any after school activities and keeping the household running. Next year, once my 5-year-old starts school, I’ll be starting to travel around Australia and hopefully overseas to check in with stockists and research what’s happening in the design world.
Are there any current styling trends you’re in favor of at the moment?
Even though I post a lot about certain trends on social media, I don’t adhere to any one style myself, and I like to mix different looks together: eclectic would sum it up. I’m not a huge fan of too much black and white; I love colour and patterns. I particularly love vintage pieces scattered around the house, there is something so solid and earthy about them. A stylist once told me that you’re best off collecting furniture and art slowly, choosing things that have a story or mean something to you, not just trend-driven stuff, so I’m sticking to that formula in my home.