How turning tea towels into face masks saved more than one business

At the start of the year, 2020 was looking better than ever for Koh Living, as the company had set a bold goal to reach $4 million business turnover.

Its warehouse was filled with new products including a range of high quality cotton tea towels, featuring its popular Aboriginal designs by artist Kathleen Buzzacott.

Then Covid-19 hit and everything changed for Koh Living and many other small businesses in Australia.

“We had 600 retail stores ready and waiting, many located in high profile, popular tourist destinations across Australia such as Ayers Rock Resort,” says co-owner Tui Cordemans.

“Just as we were getting ready to launch our new range across Australia, along came Covid-19. Sales dropped 100 per cent in April. All tourism destinations closed. No international tourists―previously one of our biggest target markets. Borders closed. Today we are still 70 per cent down on last year and our biggest selling retail outlets are either still closed or experiencing a significant reduction in trade.”

Throughout this challenging time Koh Living decided to re-focus on business to consumer instead of business to business.

“The impact of Covid-19 on Australian businesses and the economy has been immense, especially for those in arts and culture.

“Talented independent artists like Kathleen are solely reliant on the sale of their art pieces as income. That’s why it is so very important to us that we promote and support Aboriginal artists right now. Koh Living is honoured to be able to offer our beautiful art-inspired giftware for sale and do our part to support artists through this difficult time,” says Cordemans.

As Koh Living’s new tea towels were still stuck on the shelves of its warehouse, the company decided to pivot and turn them into face masks with the help of fashion designer Fella Hamilton.

“We heard that Fella Hamilton had its own business pivot―making face masks. When we got in touch to confide that we had thousands of high quality cotton tea towels sitting in our warehouse, together we reached the conclusion that these would make perfect mask material.

“Fella Hamilton was especially excited about using Aboriginal artwork and contributing to the ongoing success of the Indigenous community.”

With Kathleen’s express permission to once again use her very special designs in an innovative way, within days, 800 tea towels were being created into cloth face masks for use in Victoria and sales have skyrocketed, Cordemans adds.

“We cannot control what is happening, so we are just doing what we do best, keeping our business alive and supporting our artists and our retailer partners. To be able to innovate and collaborate with other businesses to help keep them stay alive too is even better.”

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