One of the challenges of running a company like The Grace Tales is discovering exceptionally cute baby things and pushing down that urge to go again. Stina’s Style made me want another baby. But then I decided wanting one of their really gorgeous Rattan Play Gyms wasn’t a good enough reason to have a third baby (but seriously, could a play gym get any sweeter?). And then I saw their Activity Play Mats and felt the same urge pop up.
On the flipside, one of the best parts of running a company like The Grace Tales is discovering women like Linda George who have created businesses inspired by their motherhood experience. “To be completely honest, I’m one of those entrepreneurs, who fell into an idea and didn’t realise how life-changing it was going to become. Have I always had leadership in me? I would say yes, but it wasn’t until my move to Australia. Growing up I would have called myself very shy and slightly struggling with self-esteem, yet creative and hard working,” she says. Linda was just 19 when she moved to Australia and now lives on the Mornington Peninsula with her husband and two children.
And then there’s her other baby, which began in 2011: Stina’s Style. The idea for the business came just after her husband and her had finished building their new house. She wanted a play mat that would work with their décor, yet was still educational and engaging. She knew that a playmat is one of those must-have items a new parent needs for their little one in those critical early developmental stages. Yet there was a problem in the market, and it was sitting in her living room – a bright, garish zoo themed, ‘plastic fantastic’ play mat that clashed with their newly designed home. There wasn’t anything out there that would fit effortlessly in her home. So, she solved her own problem and came up with the first activity play mat prototype. The friend and family orders began and Stina’s Style was born.
So for a new mother, what are her favourite pieces from Stina’s Style? Linda says it’s like having to choose her favourite child, but, their brand new Deluxe Gift Box is up there. “We recently put together a gift pack that any new parent would love and it comes beautifully wrapped in a gift box. A babyshower in a box!” Next is their Rattan Play Gym Bundles. “These come with so many inclusions, and the best thing, we are about to bring out a brand new add on for our Play Gyms that will prolong the use of this product, well past the baby stage,” she says.
We couldn’t wait to find out more. Here, we chat to Linda about those early days, the process behind each of her pieces, and why she’s dedicated to inspiring memorable moments of play between parents and their babies.
Go to stinasstyle.com.au
You were born in Sweden and moved to Australia when you were 19. Tell us about your childhood – what was it like?
Yes, I was born in Sweden and was six when we moved to Austria, as my mum is Swedish and my Dad is Austrian. So I was very lucky to be able to go to school in the Alps and spend my summer holidays in Sweden, visiting family and friends. I really had the best of both worlds. Skiing in Winter (we literally had to cross the road and were at the ski lift) and enjoying the beautiful Archipelago in Summer. Little did I know though, I would move to Australia at the age of 19 to build my life here on the Mornington Peninsula.
You trained as a kindergarten educator – tell me what made you want to work with children?
This actually stems from my teenage years, where I spent most school holidays working as a children’s ski instructor. It made me realise I wanted to work and educate the youngest generation, see them develop and reach milestones before heading into school.
What were the early days of motherhood like for you?
I was so lucky to be able to have my parents there for the birth of my firstborn Brodie in the year 2008. They had come out from Austria to spend some time with us before the birth and got to be there for the first five days of his life. To be completely honest, I thought I was well prepared for motherhood, but no one, absolutely no one can prepare you for the sleep deprivation. Everyone used to tell me, ‘Make sure you get your sleep in now, it won’t happen once your baby arrives.’ Oh, they were right, and I had a rude awakening.
Other than that, we tried to keep a somewhat normal routine, where we still went out for dinners and socialised regularly. Brodie moulded right into our new life and we loved it. So much so that my husband and I wanted to have another baby within 12 months. Unfortunately, this didn’t go to plan and we suffered two miscarriages within that following year. It was devastating at the time, but looking back now, it has shaped us for who we are. We don’t take life for granted and are grateful for all the positivity and challenges it throws at us. Then, without even planning, our daughter Stina was born in 2011.
You began Stina’s Style with a play mat – take us back to the original idea and how it developed?
As mentioned earlier, I fell into this idea. Yes, I hear some entrepreneurs roll their eyes at me right now, but it really was an idea and wanting to be creative. Don’t get me wrong, from there followed years of hard, hard work, but I was loving it. I’ll take you back to when it all began. We had just finished building our new house and I wanted to have something that would work with our décor, and yet educational and engaging. We previously had a zoo themed, ‘plastic fantastic’ play mat, but I really didn’t want that out on display, when we had worked so hard to decorate our house nicely. That’s when I had the idea and came up with the first prototype of our ActivityPlayMats. From there I was getting a lot of friend orders wanting something similar and so Stina’s Style was born.
A playmat is one of those must-have items a new parent needs for their little one in those critical early developmental stages – why is a playmat so important?
A play mat is really that first form of independent play. It offers so many opportunities for learning and reaching those important milestones. There are four key areas when choosing a Play Mat. Adaptability, Stimulation, Safety and Aesthetic.
Adaptability: Is the Activity Play Mat adaptable – large enough for your child to have scope to explore but easy to pack down and travel with you as you visit family and friends (or let grandparents give a parent a few hours to themselves or dare we say a date night)?
Stimulation: Does the Activity Play Mat have a well-curated selection of toys that stimulates and encourages your child’s visual development? Options to curl those delicious, chubby fingers around and grab to develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination? Your infant’s sight is not completely developed until around six months of age, so high contrast patterns and tactile elements are great ways to nurture their curiosity. If Activity Play Mat toys are changeable to grow with your child – all the better.
Safety: Where has the product been made and does it have all the safety checks and measures to ensure that it is comfortable and soft for your precious bub but can withstand the rigours of baby exploration safely? Our mats are all made locally on the Mornington Peninsula, it was extremely important to me when developing our range to ensure I was close to the sourcing, quality control and design process while supporting my local community.
Aesthetic: Is the design a style that the parents can enjoy too–functional and fashionable? Often a playmat becomes an investment piece handed onto later siblings, a centre of our living spaces for the first key chapter of your child. If the design can reflect your home and your aesthetic – what’s not to love.
Tell us about how the business has expanded and the new products you’ve developed and why?
My business started out with me working in our spare room with my old sewing machine, but it didn’t take long until I had a long, long waitlist with customers wanting to get their hands on a Stina’s Style Activity Play Mat. It was just insane. At one point the waitlist was over 9 months long and people had to order before they were even pregnant. I realised I needed to expand and look at employing a seamstress, which I did. Moving out of home and into an office at a co-working place was my next step into growing my business. Being around like-minded businesses is just so motivating.
It was that motivation, that led to us designing our new Rattan Play Gyms. And wow! The positive feedback has been overwhelming. It’s so much fun designing and developing new infant products, especially when you receive instant feedback from new parents.
Can you tell us about the process behind each design?
Sure, with each item we design it needs to meet three criteria. SAFETY, EDUCATIONAL & PRACTICABILTY. Each of our products are carefully designed making sure they are safe, stimulating and practical.
How have you navigated growth over the years? What advice do you have for other business owners on navigating growth?
Ride that wave. It’s fun, but also hard work. Just keep trying and don’t give up. There would have definitely been a level of fear there when I started the business. A fear of failing. There even is now! But all my life I have been really good at turning fear into motivation and adrenaline. If you are able to do that, there is nothing stopping you. Someone once told me: ‘It’s hard to fail, but worse to never have tried to succeed.’ So true!
What are your tips for new mothers?
There will be easy days and terrible days. You’ll go through ups and downs. This is ok and perfectly normal. Just enjoy the ride. The lack of sleep was the most challenging for me! I’m not sure how I overcame it, but I became used to it eventually. I think we just do as parents. Also, no matter how old your children are, there will always challenges around. And that’s ok.
Shop Stina’s Style www.stinasstyle.com.au