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5 Mins With.. DesignByThem On Their 10-Year Milestone

Established in 2007 with the mission to create an Australian design brand, DesignByThem has always aimed to bring together and represent the talent of Australian designers in a collection that is a playful balance of fun and function. Ten years on, let’s see how they got on…

Quirky Australian design house DesignByThem describe themselves as: “Bauhaus meets fun – you know, Bauhaus but if the weather was better.” And it’s so true.

I’ve always been a mega fan of DesignByThem. I remember meeting founders Nick (Karlovasitis) and Sarah (Gibson) about 5 years ago as a young, novice editor. Though the pair were outrageously chic and down-to-earth, there were two main things struck me most about them: 1. Man, these guys are crazy talented, and 2. They have something to say, and they’re not afraid to say it.

Not only are they some of the coolest design kids in the Asia Pacific, they also genuinely care about the value of Australian industry. DesignByThem produces some of this region’s most original and imaginative industrial design work. Their latest collection, Cabin, is definitely a new favorite, not to mention the Butter collection and the Ribs bench.

But more than that, they put their money where their mouth is. I hear so many brands who claim they “support Australian design” – and only have maybe one token Aussie creative on their floor. Nick and Sarah are always expressing their opinions and support of Australian design and it’s designers – and actively do so – not only collaborating with them, but taking their designs in-house including fellow creatives such as Tom Fereday, Seaton Mckeon, Jon Goulder, Trent Jansen and so on.

To celebrate their 10-year milestone, I sat down with Nick and Sarah to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the last decade for their brand. Here’s what they had to say…


When and why did you make the decision to launch your own brand?

We decided in our last year of university that we wanted to start our own brand. It was fuelled by the lack of Australian furniture brands wholly representing Australian designers. It’s changed a lot since then, which is fantastic. Australian design as a brand is growing with more companies dedicating resources to it.


What were the biggest challenges then, compared to now?

Back then the main challenge was funding our business and building the range of furniture to a level that could support other designers. We didn’t feel we could take on board the work of other designers until we had enough distribution set up to support their designs. It was also tricky to find good suppliers to work with us at such low quantities.

We now have a stable base of brilliant manufactures, the tricky part is getting them to work with our many custom variations and delivery locations. We’re also constantly running out of room, even with off-site storage. You should see our stock room at the moment, it’s one big Tetris operation!


Your vision is all about supporting Australian Design – explain a bit more about that philosophy and why it’s so important to you?

It’s always meant more to Nick and I to promote Australian design, rather than just promoting ourselves. It’s not only more fun this way, we get to work with some great people, but we also get to build and maintain an industry for future generations of designers. I’m not sure where this passion for Australian design has come from, perhaps it’s the typical Australian underdog mentality – we definitely think we’ve got a long way to go if Australian design is to compete with the likes of Italian and Scandinavian design in terms of overseas and local perception.


What do you think the biggest challenges are for Australian designers right now and how is DesignByThem approaching those challenges?

It’s probably seen as a bit controversial, but we really think limiting manufacturing to Australia will prevent many companies from exporting overseas or competing with overseas brands being specified in Australia. We’re not saying to make everything overseas – more than half of our production is in Australia – but certain materials and processes are sometimes better produced overseas with a better quality and price. Many Australian designers are using a lot of timber at the moment because it can be easily made in Australia, but this could have the potential to make the Australian design brand feel too craft based.


What are your best and worst memories of the last 10 years?

Ha! Great question! Let’s start with some good ones.

Delivering the Ribs Benches to the opera house. Firstly it such an honour to be producing this piece for Stefan Lie, secondly, it’s such an iconic building, we felt privileged it was chosen for such an amazing space.

Receiving our first shipping container – it was a point when we realised the scale of the business had really changed.

Getting our space in Chippendale – an entire building just for us? Wow, we couldn’t believe it! And it even has a loading dock. Prior to that we’d been up three flights of stairs, I have no idea how we managed it!

Releasing the Cabin and Piper ranges recently was very rewarding, the feedback for these products has been really encouraging and is driving us forward for the next 10 years.

And bad moments….

When the TomTom letterbox got copied. That was very disheartening, but a good lesson to learn, that the culture of copying is rife in Australia and that China is not necessarily to blame. The first time we sent out a newsletter, we got no replies! We were devastated. We soon realised that consistency was just as important in marketing as it is in design. The odd few deliveries that have been late, there haven’t been many, we’re very proud of our track record, but when it happens, it really cuts us up.


What do you wish you had known going in?

Nothing, ignorance is bliss! There are so many things we wouldn’t have done if we’d known how hard they would be.


What do you feel have been your greatest accomplishments as designers and as a brand?

I guess some of these are covered in the good moments above.

As a brand we’re proud of the consistency it’s had. As designers, we’re proud of the consistency as well, through the products we’ve designed and curated. We’ve always strived to design timeless pieces – there’s no sure way of knowing this until ten years have passed – but the Butter Stool was our first furniture piece and it’s still going strong, so that means a lot to us!


What’s next?

More new products! We’ve got so many ideas brewing at the moment, with some great design collaborations coming up. We’re also focusing on the USA, things are really building there for us and we’re looking forward to growing the appreciation for Australian design over there.

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