After quitting her corporate job and moving overseas with her family, Elise Heslop, Founder and Director at Plyroom, learned to live with less – and turned her new-found passion for sustainable living into a successful business.
When Elise Heslop and her young family swapped the Melbourne bustle for the slower pace of a Northern Italian town in 2012, it changed their lives in many ways. “I used to be attracted to shiny new things, but after living with the bare essentials for a year, I realised that by stripping things away, I was actually happier with less,” says Heslop. “This experience of paring back and really thinking about what made us happy was the foundation of Plyroom, and still inspires us today.”
After realising that slowing down had helped her family appreciate the simple things in life, the former marketing manager spotted a gap in the market: sustainable, lasting design for family homes that’s simple but beautiful. “I wanted to bring intelligent and thoughtful design to growing families,” she says. The idea for Plyroom grew during the family’s year overseas, and when they returned to Melbourne in 2013, Heslop’s brainchild was born. “We launched with a small, considered product range that worked across the entire home, always with simplicity at its heart,” she says.
Heslop works with both local and international makers to design and craft Plyroom’s furniture. All its products come as flat pack items, and she’s worked hard to combat the perception that flat pack furniture isn’t built to last. “There’s an instant shudder – and thought of hours spent assembling furniture – when flat pack is mentioned,” she says. “But our furniture is designed to challenge the idea of throwaway traditional flat pack pieces. Our range is intuitive and simple to put together and the flat pack element is intended to improve efficiencies with freight and packaging. We think this is important as we’re very focused on sustainability and simplicity.”
The first product Heslop sold was the Ava Lifestages Cot which has become increasingly popular over the past two years, something Heslop attributes to increasing numbers of families opting for sustainability and quality rather than cheap single use products. “Many of our customers are choosing to live with multifunctional pieces and are thinking ahead,” she says. “This cot converts to a day bed and a desk so is the perfect example of that.”
To get the best results from her makers, sourced “by chance” during meetings on her travels, Heslop likes to be hands-on when products are designed and made. “I am a face-to-face type of person,” she says. “I much prefer to have a phone conversation or sit down and work through ideas in person than via email. It might be my Italian background, but I believe that so much is communicated through tone and gestures. I’m very involved in the process. You’ll often find me collecting product from our makers and talking through the process.”
It's perhaps because of this hands-on approach that Heslop is particularly proud of Plyroom’s locally made range. “The process of bringing these products to life has been extremely rewarding,” she says. “We’ve also just opened our showroom to the public in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote and this has been hugely rewarding.” To this end, Heslop’s favourite piece is the Shibui Drinks Shelf. “It’s made in Melbourne and designed by [Melbourne designer] Joel Wells. It’s so versatile and has so many uses. This really speaks to what we are about as a company.”
Running a small business means Heslop and her team all muck in wherever it’s needed. “We’re a small team, so each morning we go through priorities for the day,” she says. “Some days we focus on business strategy and planning, others involve all of us pulling together to package orders.” She admits there have been challenges along the way. “My ‘mistakes’ have been my biggest learnings – there haven’t been any regrets,” she says. “The most important thing I have learnt is to always trust my intuition.”
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