Gold Coast textiles designer goes global

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The picturesque Tallebudgera Valley on the southern Gold Coast is known for its eco-retreats and health resorts so it may come as a surprise that for the past 14 years, the Valley has also been home to a highly successful homeware design company.

When Tai Schaffler began Bandhini Homeware Design, she marketed her unique soft furnishings – high-quality handmade cushions, quilts, and throws – to the furniture stores and interior design businesses she wanted to sell her products.

“They loved my range and I’ve had the same clients for many years,” she says. Over time, the business has grown to include national and now international clients.

Schaffler works in a small studio attached to her home where she also photographs her range. Her designs are sent to Bandhini’s manufacturing hub in India, then sold all over the world. At the centre of this operation, just outside Delhi, is an Indian family who coordinates the production and shipping of these soft furnishings made by people from the surrounding villages.

“Each village specialises in a particular craft, going back generations. They are artisans. I use their wonderful techniques in a Western design,” says Schaffler.

“There’s no displacement of workers; no factory environment. That’s a very important part of my business philosophy. I help keep the small-scale village economy in place and I pay well.

“Another important part is that it’s sustainable. We use natural fibres as much as possible and instead of moving to a mechanised process, we use vat dyes, hand looms, and hand-stitching for everything we make.

“People love our products but they don’t know why. The reason is that it’s good quality, handmade, and textual. Some of the handcraft on the display cushions are pieces of art.”

Schaffler’s business has grown to include a design service for display homes, apartment buildings, and resorts as well as private homes. Schaffler also custom designs and manufactures textiles for businesses. Partner Andrew Zdanowicz, who is an industrial designer by trade, makes ottomans and custom made pieces of furniture.

Bandhini’s more recent growth has come from overseas.

“Through international trade fairs we’ve picked up clients from Scandinavia, the United Emirates, and Israel,” says Schaffler.

“My son, Sharm, is now based in Los Angeles developing our US market. Funnily enough, we sold into US department stores before Australia. I’ve only recently done a deal with David Jones.”

Schaffler says it’s a tough market and many of her competitors have gone.

“We don’t follow trends,” she says.

“Instead, we extend a design concept to see how far it can go, create designs for new markets and develop new product lines.

“Bandhini is a design-based business. If you have a good design, you can literally put it on anything.

“We have started working with a company in Southeast Asia to manufacture lampshades, trays, boxes, and wallpaper using natural products.”

While Bandhini sells worldwide, Schaffler is well and truly part of the Gold Coast. She employs a small team of design and sales staff as well as a young business studies student. Mentoring is part of Schaffler’s philosophy.

“I’ve had a mentor for years,” she says. “It’s so important to help the next generation get the skills they need to start out and go on to bigger things.”

Schaffler also volunteers her time and donates products to charities that help improve women and children’s lives.

She says the Gold Coast is a great place to set up this sort of business.

“The Gold Coast is a central location for business and a great place to live,” she says.

“It’s easy to travel interstate and overseas.  When my clients are on holidays, they come to see me, so I get to show them another side of the Gold Coast. It’s so beautiful here.”

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