If you love vibrant colours and graphic prints, chances are youve probably heard of outdoor accessories brand Basil Bangs. If youre by the sea, their bold beach umbrellas are hard to miss. But you might not have met the dynamic woman behind the brand, Krista Huebner, who not only runs the business with her husband Mike Durante, but is also an inspiring mother and role model to two young girls, Leila, two, and Astrid, seven months. I want to instil in our children a love and passion for learning. Its a recipe for an interesting life and being an interesting person. You have to work hard and be patient; people respond to hard work, initiative and creativity. You create your own luck and opportunities, says Huebner, who lives on Sydneys Northern Beaches with her family. As a mother of girls, Sheryl Sandbergs book Lean In has given me a lot of food for thought. Particularly her concept of being at the table and part of the conversation, not sitting back.
Basil Bangs started back in 2010. The brand launched at a time when so many people were focusing on stylish interiors. They went in a different direction, focusing on super chic, modern exteriors. Their first step was creating a range of statement beach umbrellas and theyve since expanded into cushions and rugs in their signature eye-catching colours and prints.
On running a business while raising young children, Huebner says shes let go of the elusive concept of balance. Rather than strive for something unachievable, I try to just go with the flow and enjoy the dance. Usually the people who seem to have it all together either have heaps of help, or are just really good at faking it!, she says. Shes honest about the juggle: its really, really hard. Working on your own business and raising kids is HARD. Theyre both incredibly challenging in their own right. So, Ive learned that everything has a cost. The days that are great work wise are usually not so great on the home front (the house is a mess, dinner is late, havent done any washing). While others are great on the home front and terrible on the work front, and I feel guilty I didnt get through my emails. Ive learned that sometimes the washing wont get done and the kids might have Weetbix for dinner, but thats ok. Its swings and roundabouts. So rather than trying to balance a set of scales, I visualise a pendulum swinging and just hanging on!.
It also helps that she can call on her own mother for support and advice. Mums a wonderful friend to me. When I was doing my most recent burning-the-candle-at-both-ends thing and called her crying overwhelmed by life and lack of sleep, her (hilarious) gem was: Look after number 1 Krista, otherwise youll be in number 2. Classic. That was followed up by Go to bed. NOW. So, I try to follow that advice and it has proven pretty good most of the time. We caught up with the talented mother to find out more…
What has motherhood taught you?
I have learnt: that food, sleep and fresh air fix most things, for everything else theres coffee and wine; That Murphys Law is a reality; How to define what makes a successful day, sometimes its simply keeping everyone alive!; That its joyful and FUN; That toddlers are crazy, hilarious and totally heart warming; That humans are wired to learn; its a privilege to see two little people growing up and watch evolution at work (three million years of evolution compressed into three years is pretty cool); That as much as I like mothering, I also really like working.
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to launch Basil Bangs?
Ive had a pretty varied career so far, working in fashion, the arts, government, and now on our own business, but all roles have been united by a common theme of communications and marketing. Mike is an industrial designer, so designing great products is his forte. Basil Bangs was started by Mike and one of his oldest friends after chatting about vintage beach umbrellas and how the good ones are hard to come by. They decided to design something together just for a bit of fun, and five years on Basil Bangs has grown to include a range of high quality outdoor umbrellas, outdoor cushions and picnic rugs and we also service the commercial sector.
What inspires your designs?
We love the idea that our products are amazing canvases for great art and that were livening up outdoor spaces with these beautiful prints. Our product inspiration also stems from real life. We developed the Love Rug in response to having the girls and spending much more time on the ground. Hand on heart, we use our own products every day and they just make it better. Some current references include: Surf photos of Australian beaches in the 70s and 80s; Slim Aarons parties; the Italian Riviera; Josef Frank; Marimekko; Turkey; Morocco and the Bahamas; Hollywood Deco; contemporary Australian artists sich as Ken Done, Sydney Ball, Stephen Ormandy, Jeffrey Smart, Gemma Smith, Lucas Grogan, Miranda Skoczek and Jon Cambell; New York expressionists such as Rothko Klee; Diana Vreeland; interior designers like Arent & Pyke; Tait the list goes on.
Can you tell us about the process behind each piece?
To kick things off, we chat about whats inspiring us and what has caught our eye and made us think that would be amazing on an umbrella. That conversation is happening all the time, so by the time new designs are being worked on were usually pretty clear about our direction. We try to not be too driven by trends and trust our instinct on whats going to work. We also really love collaborating; it brings another element to the mix and certainly allows us to do really different things. Why emulate another persons work when you can work together on making something really special? Every design is original and usually starts out with a sketch and gets progressively more refined and detailed, finishing with the digital file. Prototyping is a big part of the process, because while the canopy makes a great canvas for art, not all art looks great on it. In amongst all of this theres also continual research into new manufacturing techniques and processes, materials and finishes. Its always evolving and we are constantly tweaking things along with the technology. Once the prints finalised, the hardware bedded down and prototype signed off were all systems go!
Why is Basil Bangs unique in the market?
Quite simply, no one is doing what we do! We take a huge amount of pride in the fact that Basil Bangs has become a brand synonymous with beautifully designed, quality products that people love using whenever theyre outside.
What are some of your favourite Basil Bangs items?
At the moment, my Love Rugs are getting an absolute work out. They are the BEST for hanging out with little kids I throw one in the stroller whenever we go out. The waterproof underside means wet grass or sand isnt an issue, and the waterproof canvas makes cleaning off mushed banana and spilled drinks a cinch. Theyre also padded, so little babies can lie and play comfortably. At this time of year I also always have a beach umbrella in the car. I burn easily so an umbrella for me is a necessity rather than a luxury, and its always in use.
What inspires you?
So much. Aside from the long list of creative references above, there are so many creative people doing great things. Personally: my friend Briar who has the blog Sunday Collector is amazing at creating spaces and uncovering treasures in unlikely places (I love her Instagram feed); Adam Robinsons landscape designs; I love visiting Garden Life in Redfern and Terrace in Woollahra for garden inspiration. My friend is about to launch an amazing business called Mini Tribes, selling hand-made, artisanal products for children (the most amazing Peruvian shoes!!). Professionally: The team at Tait are amazing, and Gordon and Suzie are such great people to work with and have built a fabulous business while raising their family, truly inspiring!; Terri from Top3 is such an inspiration, the woman is unstoppable and mentors so many Australian designers; the team at Fenton & Fenton in Melbourne have got such a strong creative vision and just nail it every time. Spending time with friends and family theyre never short an idea for what Basil should do next!
Did your career change at all after the birth of your children?
Definitely. I wasnt working on my own business before this, having previously worked in the arts (I was the marketing manager at the MCA) and corporate roles. I was your typical Make-a-list-and-tick-it-all-off type A. So transitioning into working on our own business was great, but very much a different kind of challenge. Leila came along at the same time, so its been a lovely, crazy ride for me. A lot of people have quite romantic notions of what it means to have your own business, but there are also significant challenges when you move from an office environment into working solo, plus building a business from scratch. Basil Bangs is essentially our first child, and requires a similar amount of love and care. Ive taken more of a back-seat since having Astrid, doing more of the admin and un-sexy stuff that can happen out of hours and isnt beholden to the whims of little children. Once Astrids old enough to start at care with Leila, Im looking forward to getting more involved in things again.
How do you juggle your work commitments with being a mother?
My work days are when Leilas at care (shes with the most amazing family day care lady. We love her). And since Astrids arrival, during her sleeps. I definitely follow a loose routine with them. While the girls are still so young, my days are still a bit in flux, but Im hoping that it will be more structured as they get older. Blame my German heritage, but Im all about efficiency. I read about President Obama wearing and eating the same thing every day to minimise his decision-making. Apparently the more decisions you have to make in a day, the lesser you ability to make a good decision. So its about focussing on the decisions that really count. While Im not going into war or negotiating with congress, I still suffer from baby brain massively so its all about using what brain power I do have in the best possible way! So, I need lists and to schedule heaps of reminders, and I try as best I can to structure my day and week ahead of time to balance out of home time with at home time. Ive also recently implemented a weekly meal plan to help with the shopping and avoid the 4.30 afternoon dinner panic. I try to shop online as much as possible and loosely follow a routine. I notice a difference if I dont do these things the wheels definitely start to get wobbly.
What do you love/dislike about working from home?
I love that theres no commute! And I as much as I like working at the kitchen table, I think that having your own work space helps to put you in business mode and give you that separation. But at the moment its just not viable. And while the girls are small, I do like that I can be working while colouring in or play dough creations happen alongside me. So for the time being, the pros really outweigh the cons.
What kind of work do you need to do in a day?
At the moment its emails and responding to phone calls, book keeping and media relations, updating our website and social media, chatting with our AMAZING sales manager about all the things that need to happen and forward planning. For Mike it might be about chasing samples, finalising designs, reminding me to do things!
How do you procrastinate?
Instagram and Pinterest are so bad but soooo good; I read a cookbook; I clean sometimes I make jam.
And how do you focus?
It sounds weird but one of my old colleagues said she never felt dressed and work-ready until she put on lipstick. So even when she was working in her PJs she would put on lipstick. I love that idea, but lipstick isnt practical for kissing babies! For me, its about being dressed and ready by 8.30, having a coffee, writing a list of top three things I need to do NOW and getting started. The rest (if I achieve it) is cream.
How do you stay social given youre working from home?
I try to have Operation Exhaust Toddler in the mornings, so well often go out for an adventure. We might do a music class, go to the zoo, museum, head to the beach, park or catch a bus just for fun. It invariably means meeting a mate or getting a coffee somewhere. Part of what I do also means talking a lot to retailers, many of whom are women (and mothers) so theres usually a nice chatty element to my business calls.
Whats the most challenging part of running your own business?
The 24/7 nature of it and that its ours so while the wins feel amazing, any mistakes are brutal.
What do you love about raising children in Sydney?
I love that we have great food and coffee all around; water and nature is so close to us; so many great art galleries, museums and adventures to be had! We can duck over to the MCA on the ferry and might see a whale along the way; we can have a resident blue tongue lizard living in the compost and cheeky chickens in our backyard; its sunny and warm (nearly) all the time; and that Mikes family arent too far away.
Do you spend a lot of time in your home?
YES! Since having kids and buying a house we spend a lot of time at home and in our backyard. Having tea parties in the cubbyhouse and chasing the chickens off the deck, gardening and hanging out on the swings. We also love having people over for long lunches and dinners.
So far whats the hardest and best part of being a mum?
The hardest thing is the relentlessness. But thats also what makes it the loveliest. Theyre my peeps and Im theirs. I love that Im home to them.
Whats your favourite part of the day?
Recapping with Mike all the hilarious things Leila has said and what Astrids learning to do; Seeing how happy the girls get when they see Mikey walk through the door (talk about Hero complex!); Singing songs and reading books on the couch; Watching Mike and the girls play the guitar; Smelling clean babies after baths; Tickles and getting the giggles together; Snuggles in our bed as a family; Watching Leila bossing her teddies around during afternoon tea time (apparently theyre very naughty and eat too many biscuits); Going to bed!.”
Photography: Trish Lee Words: Georgie Abay
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