French handmade homewares range launches in Australia

When someone tells you they were inspired by Picasso you’d be forgiven for thinking, well, yes, which artist isn’t’? However, for Karen Miles it wasn’t so much his skills that she admired, but more his attitude that led her to follow her dreams and start her own business.

“I went on a tour of the Picasso Museum in Paris last September, as part of a Paris excursion I attended with stylist Megan Morton’s The School,” explains Miles.

“I learned Picasso experimented with a wide range of techniques and mediums and didn’t worry too much about what people thought of him. He went with his gut and his interests and talents and gave no attention to anyone who said ‘you can’t do that’. And that certainly paid off didn’t it.”

When she returned to Australia and suffered from the dreaded post-holiday blues, Miles realised she needed to find a way to make France a regular part of her life.

“I spent a lot of my time in Paris and Provence looking for linen tablecloths and cushion covers with a classic French ‘grain sack’ stripe. Grain sacks were once widely used by farmers across Europe to identify their grains when they sold them at market―each family had their own colour and stripe pattern on their grain sacks.

“I couldn’t find the products anywhere, or even the fabric or antique versions to make up for my own home. Not being able to find the French grain sack products here in Australia, and knowing that so many women covet the designs, I knew there had to be a gap in the market I could fill.”

After working on creating the label for six months, French Consul was launched in March this year. Seeing her ideas become a reality and being so quickly loved by retailers has been amazing, says Miles.

“It’s fulfilling to look around my studio and be surrounded by something I created and to be making products for Australian retailers and their customers that are handcrafted and support artisans and small businesses.

“I hear the same feedback a lot when retailers see our products, that finally they’ve found what they’ve also been looking for―grain sack stripes make Francophiles go weak at the knees. It’s a nice feeling to fill that need.”

Grain sack linen homewares are hard to find and can often be very expensive because you need to import them. “I wanted to provide an accessible price point and a regular local source for Australian retailers and we’ve done that... I also love that our linen flax is grown in France, loomed in Ireland by one of the last standing family-run linen mills, and hand cut and sewn in Ireland and Australia.

“The time zone differences between Australia and Ireland also mean I’m doing FaceTime meetings and replying to emails late into the night and paying suppler invoices in euros is never fun with exchange rates and bank fees.”

Miles has been surrounded by creative people her whole life, including her mum and grandmother, and those memories and that amazing gene pool was imprinted upon her.

“I am greatly influenced by my history―a creative mother who was highly skilled in a wide range of artistic pursuits from calligraphy to sewing, and my grandmother who ran her own store fashioning gowns for the ladies of Strathfield in a time when very few women owned a business. A framed photograph of Edna outside her store, with her mum, sits proudly inside the French Consul studio.

“I grew up in my nan’s sewing room and on her dining room table having the hem adjusted on the latest beautiful dress she was making me as a child. Our retail and design community of talented, creative women that I’m surrounded by here in Australia have taught me to be the architect of my life.”

By Marion Gerritsen

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