It was a simple idea to live a fuller, more meaningful life on their own terms, minus the stresses that city-living often brings that lead Lia-Belle King and Lotte Barnes to create Worn, a brand that is unapologetically committed to slow and ethical manufacturing...
Worn’s infamous and highly covetable cane chair achieved superstar status thanks to the viral nature of social media, and the range has now expanded into various styles of furniture and homewares that mirrors the founders’ slow, steady and sustainable work and home ethic to a tee. “Each season we add two or three more pieces to the Worn repertoire and we enjoy working with our makers to experiment with new materials and new design processes. When Worn began we had never worked in furniture design, we started working very closely with two family-owned and run businesses, hand making just 30 chairs every 4 months… As a result, our production capacity is limited but that is part of the beauty and desirability of Worn.” After welcoming baby Ophelia to the family last April, both Lia-Bella and Lotte have been committed to living a full life with a strong focus on family, self-love and a shared responsibility that sees motherhood, business and home follow an inclusive and equal path. “We want Opi to grow up seeing that parenting and working and running a home are the equal responsibilities of both parents… Recently we’ve set out a weekly schedule which has really been wonderful and helped to establish a balance for both of our parenting and personal needs plus the needs of Opi and the business.” We caught up with Lia-Belle to talk slow living in Byron Bay, how the process of donor conception worked for their family, and why self-care and self-love are essential for parents. Photography: Bridget Wood | Go to www.wornstore.com.au
Tell us about how you both met...
Lotte and I had known of each other through mutual friends for a few years before we met. We both worked in the creative industry in Sydney, myself in fashion PR and Lotte as a creative director. An opportunity presented itself whereby we worked together on a runway show for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, and as they say, the rest is history.
You both escaped the hustle and bustle of Sydney to live a slower and more simple life in Bali. How did that move eventually lead to Worn?
Lotte and I started Worn when we were living in Indonesia. We’d closed both of our businesses in Sydney and were travelling around Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka during a gap year. The decision to relocate wasn’t planned, nor was the idea to start Worn, but during our travels and time away we gained a new perspective on our lives and reassessed our options and ways of living. I remember one evening Lotte and I sat down for dinner, we were about to start trying for a baby and we asked ourselves, what kind of life do we want to be living, and how do we make that dream a reality. At the time we had zero ties financially and so our options really were open. We knew we wanted to live in a place that offered lots of space and a connection to nature, we knew we both wanted to co-parent, and we knew we wanted to work together in roles that allowed us the freedom to live and work all around the world. Worn is the result of a shared vision for our future. A business that we can develop and grow together, and has a business model that is based on flexibility and simplicity. It is a platform to communicate our shared beliefs on slow living and careful product consumption, as well as create a community that fosters like-minded careful and respectful living practices.
Your cane chairs have achieved cult status rather quickly, can you tell us how they came to life? Did you have any previous experience in furniture design or manufacturing?
Three years ago Worn started with one chair design, the SLING Chair – that we launched on Instagram. We now have over 15 styles and send over 1000 handmade pieces a year around Australia. 1000 pieces isn’t a lot, but when you consider each piece can take up to six days to be made entirely by hand, you can understand the amount of hours and work that equates to those 1000 chairs. The popularity of the Cane Lounger started from a shoot with Real Living magazine. One particular photo of two loungers side-by-side in our home quickly gained momentum as ‘interior inspiration’ on Instagram, then Pinterest and tumblr. It was a snow-ball effect and the more people that posted the image, the more people saw the chairs and the growth of Worn expanded with every repost. Recently we’ve been faced with numerous other brands copying and selling the Cane Lounger, it’s disappointing but we know where that chair started and for people with integrity they’ll honour the original source instead of assisting the growth of copycats who benefit from the notoriety built by our brand. The Cane Lounger itself we developed from an original design by Jan Bocan for Thonet. Cane and rattan are materials easily accessible in Indonesia and we worked with our makers to develop a style that referenced the original but also gave it a new feel. Each season we add two or three more pieces to the Worn repertoire and we enjoy working with our makers to experiment with new materials and new design processes. When Worn began we had never worked in furniture design, we started working very closely with two family-owned and run businesses, hand making just 30 chairs every four months. We have stayed loyal to the support and growth of our makers’ businesses, and we still work with the same two businesses. As a result, our production capacity is limited, but that is part of the beauty and desirability of Worn.
Worn is much more than just a brand, it seems to symbolise a way of life. Can you tell us how living in Byron Bay influences you?
Byron Bay is less of an influence on our life than a space that nurtures our personal and professional aspirations. We choose to live here for the physical space it offers, for the like-minded consciously living people that live here, and for the work/life balance it encourages. Our brand ethos is a true reflection of our personal beliefs, and through Worn we aim to educate about the value of careful consumption and slow living, and offer our customers products to have in their home that abide by these practices.
What does a typical morning in your household look like?
Our mornings start at around 6am and begin with slow sleepy cuddles in bed followed by breakfast and coffee. Lotte usually takes the reigns in the mornings and prepares and serves breakfast for our family, whilst I’ll concentrate on the coffee that I make from my father’s old Atomic stove top coffee maker. She makes a delicious organic poached apple porridge and my favourite is her slow scrambled eggs with the eggs collected from our chicken Henrietta. After our plates are empty Lotte will take Ophelia for a walk outside, they’ll visit the chickens and pick some fresh produce from the garden, maybe tomatoes or mandarins and throw the ball to Gray for a while. During this time I’ll do the breakfast clean up and get the home organised for the day. Opi has a big sleep two hours after she wakes in the morning so during her sleep time Lotte and I meditate, shower, dress and debrief on the business for the day ahead, before Lotte leaves for the office at around 9 or 10am.
You welcomed baby Ophelia a little over a year ago now, can you tell us how you mix business with a young baby?
Lotte and I decided early on in the pregnancy that when our baby was born we didn’t want there to be any ‘assigned’ roles within the home. We co-parent and we both work and every responsibility is shared equally, as is our contribution to the home and time spent with Opi. We want Opi to grow up seeing that parenting and working and running a home are the equal responsibilities of both parents. In periods when the business is going through a stressful time, and there’s a lot that needs to be done for whatever particular reason, or there’s something exciting happening that we just want to keep talking/planning/brainstorming about, it’s really hard to switch off and not let it become part of breakfast or dinner or bath time. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. We’re realistic that we run our own business so standard business working hours don’t apply (this can be good and bad. We try really hard when we can to have no work-talk until after Opi is asleep for the evening.) Recently we’ve set out a weekly schedule which has really been wonderful and helped to establish a balance for both of our parenting and personal needs plus the needs of Opi and the business. Monday-Thursday Lotte works 10-4pm at the office. She’s home by 4.30pm and we all cook dinner together and do the bath/bed routine with Opi. Fridays Lotte spends with Opi and I have a ‘me’ day, I’ll get a sleep-in then do a barre class in the morning and take myself out for the day. Or sometimes I’ll have to spend the day working, it depends what’s happening in the business at the time. Saturdays, Lotte has a day to herself so she might go for a surf and take Gray somewhere. Then Sunday is always family day. Each night we alternate who cooks so that too is shared equally. It’s taken a while to work through the needs of our family, our individual needs, and the needs of the business, but right now we’re at a place that is productive and harmonious.
You both married in 2016 before the yes vote came into play, do you have any plans to renew your vows now that the law in Australia has thankfully changed?
Absolutely, however we’re not in a great rush. Legally the new laws qualify our union as legitimate but we have always regarded our 2016 wedding as the real thing and the laws don’t make us feel any differently.
What was the donor process like to have Opi, can you talk us through how it worked for you?
I want to respond to this question by firstly acknowledging how lucky we were in the process of starting a family, and by offering my sympathy and support for other women trying to fall pregnant. Before we first arrived in Indonesia I had undergone a huge operation for endometriosis. I had an orange-sized cyst removed from inside my right ovary, as well as others from my fallopian tubes. I was told my chances of falling pregnant should I wait longer than a year were below 5%. When we started the process we really didn’t know if I’d be able to fall pregnant at all, so to be carrying a baby within three months of our first attempt was honestly a miracle. We were tremendously lucky to be presented with the opportunity to start a family by a very close friend. He doesn’t want children of his own and through his love and admiration of our relationship, he wanted to help us conceive. I know finding a donor can be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome when in a same-sex relationship, aside from the difficulty of choosing the right person, the medical preparation and insemination process itself is a long and stressful one. We chose to pursue a more casual method and performed the process at our home. Preparation started about three months before the first insemination cycle as I began to track my ovulation cycle with morning temp checks and an app on my phone. I also changed my diet and stopped drinking alcohol and coffee. I also started acupuncture and taking herbal supplements. We inseminated eight times a cycle for three cycles and conceived Ophelia on the third cycle. We suffered an early miscarriage on our second cycle. We supported the insemination process with pre-seed and soft cups (I recommend you google both if trying to conceive). We have chosen to have an open dialogue with Ophelia about who her father is, we recognise his paternity although he isn’t named on the birth certificate. Ophelia will grow up knowing his role in her life and also knowing where a part of her own identity has come from. Having a donor that would be present in Ophelia’s life, without taking an active role within it, was important to us.
What would be some words of advice you’d pass on to couples on a similar donor journey to you?
I’d start by saying ‘research, research, research’. Educate yourself to empower yourself to do everything you can to fall pregnant. Diet, natural therapies, mindfulness, medical props (in our case soft cups), community support – they all combine to aid you on your journey. An open and honest dialogue with your partner helps to unburden you of all the hope and disappointment you’re naturally going to experience. Don’t judge yourself for thinking ‘this time I really thought I was pregnant’, and don’t feel bad for taking 20 pregnancy tests a day. At the core of all of that hope is love, so keep the candle burning and love your body for supporting you along the way. A healthy heart and mind are the foundations of a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Prepare yourself with meditation, yoga, the best balance and quality of food you’ve ever eaten. Manifest your baby coming to you and believe that it will happen in the way it is supposed to.
Has motherhood changed the way you approach work and career?
It’s a constant struggle and there are always so many emotions, it’s hard to know what are the most worthy to pinpoint. Honestly, to a degree, I’ve had to put my personal and work-related goals aside as it’s impossible for me to complete my work-related tasks and achieve all of my business goals whilst I’m full-time parenting. Surrendering to parenthood, and surrendering a part of myself to being present with my daughter every day has meant professional sacrifices have been made. Mostly I’m conflicted with wanting to build and run an empire vs living in the bush and being an off-grid earth mother. Emotionally and mentally I need and want both. I suppose that’s the Gemini in me. Also, I really struggled to let go of my formal ‘maiden’ self and fully embrace my new identity as a mother. I felt lost for a really long time. My mother never worked and mothering was something that completely and utterly fulfilled her. I assumed it would be the same for me but it wasn’t. Initially, this realisation made me feel guilty, like it meant I didn’t love Opi enough to feel complete in every way. But then I came to accept that I am not my mother, and that working is important to me and makes me feel really good. Mothering makes me feel really good too and I am lucky enough to be able to choose to do both in a way that suits my personal and emotional needs, and that of Ophelia’s. Not enough women have that luxury.
What has been the most surprising thing about motherhood so far?
How empowered I feel after having a child. How resilient my body is. How it’s possible to love somebody so much.
There seems to be a village-style community in Byron where a lot of young families are raising kids in a ‘back to basics’ way, can you elaborate on this?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a ‘back to basics’ style that many families are choosing to adopt, rather, that due to the nature and history of Byron Bay, and focus on the environment, that play and diet are more closely connected to the land. But that is the lifestyle here in general and that is why the Northern Rivers is becoming a more desirable area to live and raise children. I think there comes a point in some people’s lives where they crave connection, to people and to the environment. The city isn’t satisfying their needs past their initial career goals and the focus becomes more about the quality of life instead of job and money driven. The close-knit community here comes from a united desire to live a good life and find and connect to others doing the same. The husband going to work from 9-5pm whilst the wife stays at home raising the children doesn’t exist here as much as in the city because well, here the wife also has her own business and expects her husband to be just as involved in their children’s lives as she is. I also have a theory that because we all live in open spaces here, there’s no segregation like there is living in a city even if you live in the beachy suburbs of a city which traditionally have a more community-focused mentality. Buildings confine people and alienate people, especially buildings like apartments, energetically and architecturally there’s no community and there’s very little connection to nature. Here it’s all about your daily interaction with nature and each other and the spaces and homes here all encourage that.
Has your approach to interiors and home design changed now you have a baby?
Our interior style has remained the same only we’re now better rehearsed in stylish, child-friendly spaces and creating them within our home. We’ve replaced delicate ceramic coffee-table adornments with hefty photography books and unbreakable brass sculptures. Our living spaces have opened and our floor spaces have been cleared to allow for floor play. Toys remain minimal and dedicated to certain areas within the home but that’s more a reflection of our minimalist living philosophy rather than aesthetics.
What about personal style, has motherhood changed the way you dress or the brands you buy?
I’d say climate has influenced my personal style more than motherhood has. My wardrobe consists mainly of cotton voile, silk and linen fabrics and I inject some mohair and cashmere come winter. My favourite thing to wear is silk slip dresses and in winter I’ll wear one with a huge mohair jumper over the top. A brand I have fallen in love with since having Opi is Doen. A US-brand run by women for women, I really love their philosophy and wearable designs. We recently hosted their first in-store Australian residency and we will be doing so again at the end of the year. You can wear their dresses several times before having to wash them, they hide a multitude of sins and are honestly the most comfortable pieces I own. I own a lot of Lee Matthews and Doen, particularly blouses and dresses as they’re light and easy to wear whilst looking really beautiful at the same time. I love COS and Bassike for T-shirts and denim, Isabel Marant and MARNI for leather sandals and Springcourt for canvas sneakers. The only thing I’ve had to consider and alter within my wardrobe has been breastfeeding friendly garments. Opi is 16 months old and still breastfeeding so I think I’ve resigned my entire wardrobe to be breastfeeding friendly now. Although there may still be a few pieces in the very back of my wardrobe standing in retaliation of my former life where getting my boobs out easily wasn’t the most fundamental requirement when deciding what I will wear today.
What is your definition of self-care and how do you make time for it?
Having a child, particularly having a daughter has caused me to reflect on my own body image, and to set about setting an example that will guide her into becoming a strong, intuitive, grounded, intelligent, articulate, explorative and sensitive human being. How I treat and talk about my body is how she will treat and talk about her body. How I talk to her is how she will talk to other people. Our dynamic in the home, our interests and hobbies, our social and political involvement, our relationship to nature and our respect for each other will all come together to influence the person she will be. And so we’re very careful with those things, sometimes we falter – we’re not perfect, but we’re doing the very best we can. That goes for my relationship with myself as well. Self-care and self-love is crucial to being a strong woman with a strong sense of self and well-nourished body (inside and out). When supporting the growth of a small person that support takes its toll on your emotions and your body. You need recovery time, and you need time to just be with yourself so you don’t lose yourself in the role of being a parent. Every Friday I have a ‘me’ day. Lotte has Opi for the whole day so I have a sleep-in and then devote the rest of the day to things that nurture my creative, independent self. Sometimes I get a massage, sometimes I do a barre class, sometimes I spend the day catching up on Worn work, or stay in my pyjamas all day, watch Netflix in bed, paint my nails, drink coffee in the sun on the verandah whilst reading, take a bath with lavender oil and Epsom salts and spend the whole day in silence. But whatever it is I do have the whole day free from parenting responsibilities. This time allows me to reset and clear my head, to be involved with my personal interests outside of being a mother, by mostly it’s just time for me. Discussing the importance of having time for me, and having a partner that supports and nurtures the importance of recoup time sets an example to our daughter of the value of self-care, the value of self and what it means to be truly supported in a relationship.
How do you keep your marriage in check amidst work and caring for a baby?
Lotte and I have always had a really strong connection, and maintaining that close connection is always something we’re always working on. Even when we’re busy, tired, stressed or absent for long periods due to travel for work there’s always communication about how we’re feeling in the relationship and what we’re needing. If we’re unable to give each other what we need at that time, there’s an acknowledgement that eventually we will, and ask for understanding until that time. Lotte and I have both discovered that in order for our relationship to be a healthy one, we need to be happy in our own independent selves too, and so giving each other that one day off per week feeds into the overall health of our relationship as a couple. We feel better supported, energised and inspired and bring that to the figurative table. A glass of natural wine at home at the end of the day, with Paul Kelly or Crowded house playing in the background also helps to bring us together and promotes joy in our home.
What’s coming up next for Worn?
This month sees the arrival of our next shipment along with the launch of eight new furniture designs we’re currently working on. Worn has recently launched in the United States and the coming months see brand partnerships and shipping destinations announced. We’re also hosting the second installment of ‘Doen in residence’, our partnership with US brand Doen within our Bangalow boutique. I will also be launching an interior styling and design service through Worn.
Filling your cup up until it runneth over, then pouring it all out…
Lia-Belle’s Little List of Loves:
Sans [ceuticals] hair and body products Infrared saunas This story Sipping on organic green tea throughout the day from my Fressko glass flask Pyjamas by General Sleep Black seed oil Insight Timer phone app Books and documentaries on Brett Whiteley A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig Ice cream Dinners with Lotte at Fleet in Brunswick Heads