FK chats to Geelong lady Lauren about her new space Herman’s Cousin Harriet, and her label Oktoberdee
Tell us about your brand new refurbished store Herman’s Cousin Harriet and what things we can expect to discover.
My little shop has been reincarnated from “Herman Huckleferry and the Oddities Factory”. By removing a wall the space has tripled in size and now boasts a lovely shiny concrete floor and red brick feature wall, albeit made from wallpaper. Aesthetically the space is quite industrial and I love the backdrop that it creates for all the lovely things in the store. Herman’s Cousin Harriet houses a mix of giftware and accessories as well as a refined collection of vintage clothing and shoes from the 1950’s to 1980’s. If you tilt your head to the left you will discover my little workroom, where you might find me designing a new collection or sewing up a new Cravelle.
You have your studio and shop combined – what do you love most about this set up?
Oh, I am so, so lucky to have this set up. It works wonderfully well. The store is tucked away in a little arcade right in the heart of Geelong, so it is a well-kept secret that I exist. I love that people get so surprised to find me here, and even more shocked when I tell them that I have been here since 2006. They often tell me it’s like finding a little gem, as you might do in Melbourne. The position of the store is ideal though, it strikes a lovely balance of customers in the store and then times when it is pretty quiet and I can work productively on the label.
The other lovely thing about this set up is that it gives me a variety of things to do; from designing and managing Oktoberdee to buying in stock and merchandising the store with products from other labels too.
What other kinds of treats and treasures can we expect to find at Herman’s Cousin Harriet?
I love to discover new products to put into the store. I often meet artists and designers in settings such as markets, and so take pride in offering the wares from upcoming labels, and being the only one in Geelong to do so. Of course you will find the full collection of Oktoberdee. But you will also find lovely jewellery from Emily Green and Sarah Dingwall. And as well as jewels you will discover adorable stationery by Paper Boat Press, Bespoke Letterpress and Write to Me to name but a few. I have always been absorbed by vintage goodies, a beautiful selection of interesting clothing and shoes will be found in store too. I can afford to be quite particular with the selection as the store is petite. Every piece will either be made with amazing fabrics or designed with unusual shapes and detailing, and I am proud to say it is all very reasonably priced too.
Treasures that you will find, but that you cannot take with you are the quirky, if not creepy, little dolls hands that obediently hang the jewellery off the wall and the enlightening mechanics lamps that hang above the clothing racks to name but two. A treat you can indeed take with you is my self-proclaimed adorable gift wrapping, in brown striped paper, with red and white string and finished with an old European stamp. Cuteness!!
What has been the most successful aspect of your store?
By golly, keeping the store afloat has been hard, hard work. Had it not been my studio as well this whole time then it simply would not have survived. Throughout the first couple of years there would be months where no-one even ventured inside, and it was hard to stay positive and motivated. The fact that I am still here five years on and growing is really all the success I could have hoped for. The refurbishment has certainly given the space and me a real lift, it has a new found energy and I think people can feel it when they come into the store.
Another aspect I am really proud of and pleased with is the fact that two other little creative spaces have opened up around the corner from me recently, and together we now have a little hub, a three-way destination to bring people back to this end of town. Frank and Dolly’s and Polly Put the Kettle On are delightful little spaces too and the friendly owners are certainly the closest thing I have to workmates.
When you are not in your shop, what are you usually doing in Geelong?
I do spend almost everyday in the studio and store, however there is so much going on in Geelong at the moment that I have a very long list of things I want to see and places I want to visit. New galleries and stores are opening up all over the place and great little cafes with charming character and reportedly very good coffee. It is so nice to see Geelong moving forward, as a city we still have so much potential and it is great to be witness to the shift. In the warmer months my boyfriend and l love to go down to the beaches and spend time outdoors. But in the colder months I tend to be a real homebody, arranging and rearranging the little creative nooks in our house, while he tends to the outside, our veggie garden and our chooks. We aspire to one day have our house fully sustainable. Oh, and of course with any spare minute you will find me delving into dusty boxes at the back of a local op-shop.
What inspires you about your surroundings and what other aspects about Victoria do you love?
I believe it isn’t until you look elsewhere that you can fully appreciate what you have, I know that sounds a bit cliché but having returned from my first overseas trip last year, I started to see Geelong through different eyes. I love that we are so close to Melbourne, that without much effort you can keep your finger on its creative pulse, yet far enough that you don’t get caught up in the pace. You cannot help but meet inspiring people, play with inspiring objects, take in inspiring images and listen to inspiring ideas.
What is the hardest part about running a business?
The hardest part of running these businesses is realising that not everything comes naturally. I have to work really hard in the area of marketing and PR, it is a tricky role to play when you are the designer as well. Also, for me at times I find the financial uncertainty quite disconcerting, it is important to remain focussed and keep a strong belief in your abilities and the product. I also think it is really important to be adaptable and willing to do absolutely anything in order to make it work.
Did you have any shop experience before and what advice would you give to others?
My first job was as a volunteer at the local Salvo’s in Drysdale where I grew up. I was 11 and by golly I loved it so much! After that though I did gain experience in both retail and hospitality which has given me great customer service skills and multi-tasking know-how. It has also given me an appreciation of the benefits of working for oneself. I did work at one point for a lovely little gift store, which I thought was the bee’s knees, but at that point having a store of my own simply wasn’t a dream of mine. It wasn’t until this versatile space became available as my studio, that the idea was conceived.
In terms of advice, generally speaking I have come to realise the importance of reassessing my goals every so often. Career goals I set in my early twenties don’t really fit anymore as I stare down the barrel of turning thirty. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change them, but it’s empowering to really know the path you’re heading down is relevant and the right one for you right now.
All the specific details
171 Moorabool Street
Geelong, VIC 3220
Ph. 03 5222 1598
Herman’s Cousin Harriet
Such a gorgeous store! I have not seen it before….must pop in on my next free afternoon. So many pretty things!
Lovely Lauren, great to see you here!