After leaving her home country of Denmark to move to Australia with her Australian husband, Gillian Rose took a second plunge and started a business called Danish by Design. Founded in 2001, the company specialises in importing high-quality early childhood products primarily from Denmark, and has catered for clients including Nicole Kidman and Princess Mary.
We stopped by Gillian’s lovely home in the Melbourne suburb of Black Rock to talk culture, design, and the challenges of starting a business from scratch.
How did you first start Danish by Design?
When I first moved to Australia from Denmark, I was initially working in marketing. Then came our first baby, and that’s really where things changed. We went back to Denmark for our daughter’s first Christmas when she was about six months old, and of course we looked at all the baby products over there and realised there was such a different range of choices for parents. So we brought some things back home to Australia. Friends kept asking me where we had found the products, and that’s when I thought, ‘Gee, there must be a business opportunity here.’
When I first started Danish by Design, I worked from home – at that stage we had two children. Nigel was very encouraging. He’s been great throughout it all. When you have a house and family, running a business is difficult, and there were times when I was ready to pack it in. But he would say, ‘Keep going. It’ll come.’ And it has. In fact, about four or five years ago Nigel decided to jump across to Danish by Design, so now this little business is employing both of us!
How has your Danish background affected your approach to parenting and design?
I see myself as having a Danish approach to incorporating children into the house – for example, in Denmark we don’t really have a freestanding highchair in the kitchen. We set a chair at the table and children eat with the family. The products in Denmark are made to appeal to an adult’s environment, because fundamentally little children don’t mind how they look. There’s also a lot of emphasis on making things that appeal to both genders. There are gendered products, but the differences are a lot more subtle than here in Australia.
Danes are prepared to pay good money for something if they’re going to have it for a long time. It needs to be pleasing to look at, but it also has to be hyper-functional. Longevity is important, too. Those particular Danish values are really important to me.
Do these values influence the business?
We have a tagline that says, ‘Quality enhances the beauty of living.’ Life’s just too short for bad quality products. Whatever we bring in for Danish by Design has to be unique in its category. The Leander cot, for example, transitions through to a junior bed. The bouncer we have suits children from newborn to three years old, whereas most only go through to nine months old.
It’s also really important to us that the products don’t just get thrown out. They hold their value. If you make something, make it so it lasts! Or make it so it can be recycled. We choose our products on quality and sustainability. I know our products are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s important to me to be able to buy something once, and have it for as long as you need it.
Rather than having endless plastic toys lying around, buy a few great quality products that inspire you. I think that’s the secret.