From fashion to farming: On-farm businesses embrace the world of online opportunities

LANDLINE BY SEAN MURPHY 21 OCTOBER 2017

Former fashion model Vanessa Bell is riding a new wave of potential for on-farm businesses in Australia taking value-added products direct to the world online.

She has started a company from a farm at Goulburn in New South Wales, producing hand-knitted baby blankets from super fine merino wool.

"Being online is really good, it gives us an opportunity obviously to be on a world-wide platform, so we have blankets now in London and Switzerland," she said.

"It gives us opportunity to be able to sell beyond Australia."

Ms Bell started marketing her range this year under the brand Sara Jane Bond, named after her late great grandmother who produced a hand knitted blanket in 1940, which had become a family heirloom.

She said the birth of her son Charlie in early 2014 to her farmer husband Philip Bell was the genesis of the business idea.

"Being a newborn baby in this climate I kept struggling to find something warm for him," Ms Bell said.

"My mother suggested I try my great grandmother's blanket and then also standing on the deck and looking out, Philip was driving 1,000 head of sheep up the paddock and I thought I really need to do something with sheep, it makes sense to do something in the wool business."

A near decade-long career as a fashion model on the catwalks of London, Tokyo and Sydney helped her focus on the luxury market, she said.

"I was incredibly fortunate to work with clients such as Giorgio Armani and Comme des Garcon and Christian Dior," she said.

"For me, it helped me actually define the gap in the market to look for something that was about quality, so being surrounded by wonderful fabrics and construction and how those fabrics came together on the runway, that absolutely gave me an insight into what I wanted to be able to create."

Crucial to the business model has been a team of dedicated local knitters who have helped design and produce the blankets.

"It's beyond creating a beautiful product, it's about really talented women coming together who have a vested interest in the wool business," Ms Bell said.

"All of us are either married to farmers or have been farmers, it's looking at creating something and bringing women together in the bush, which is a really important thing."

October 24, 2017 by Vanessa Bell
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