A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
This Christmas in Brisbane, more shoppers than ever before are following the accelerating trend away from the musak-haunted feet-brutalising behemoths which are our modern malls, and back towards the relaxed chatter and vibrant colour of the village-style market—with its delicious blend of aromas, its delightfully-human hustle, its ability to incorporate live performances and public platforms for community groups, and its makeshift atmosphere always promising the one-off and the unexpected.
Similarly, in the search for household wares which make us feel truly at home, or for gifts which genuinely communicate how we feel about the ones we love, fewer and fewer shoppers are content to hunt through acres of plastic and packaging for products whose individual glitter ultimately blurs into shiny sameness. As in ever-increasing numbers we flee the sterile concrete monster for the heady mini-carnival on the village green, a new generation of artisans and craftspeople rises to greet us with a handshake and a grin, and to meet our increasing demand for the unique and the quirky, for the local and the ethically-produced—for things made with care, and with love.
At the same time as the jaded consumer and the new producer blink together in the unfamiliar sunshine, sophisticated global trading platforms and social media networks such as Facebook are allowing market-stalls to cast cyber-shadows across vast distances. Long-timers in the game are finding hitherto undreamed-of markets for their wares; while others whose skills, in former years, may never have found expression outside their own sheds and sewing rooms are discovering a brave new consumer world yearning for all the flair and individuality they can offer.
One such newcomer with more flair than most is Leigh Parlby: creative director, head seamstress, logistics manager, sole labourer and chief executive of Loveleigh Designs and its sassy-but-sweet offspring Little Loveleighs. Like many of the other "crafties" who she has befriended in recent years, Leigh began her adventure into the world of the freelance artisan with little more than a life-long love of making beautiful things, and some treasured memories of a grandmother with special skills.
"Nan was a beautiful seamstress who hand-made lots of our clothes when we were little. As she got older she started making some of the most amazing dolls. Sometimes when I would visit I would watch her sew these tiny little dresses and think—I wish I could do that."
This childhood wish lay dormant for many years, awakening again only after Leigh had become a mother to three children of her own. "Doing craft" with her kids, Leigh once again felt her fingers tingling with the love of all things hand-made, but her talents may have remained a source of joy only to her own little ones had she not one day volunteered, on the spur of the moment, to help a friend in need."
"I was at a friend's house and she needed some help creating a masquerade mask, so I said to her, 'I love to do craft—let me have a go.' So while the ladies sat drinking coffee I sat creating. My friends all watched as I worked and said this is what I should do for the rest of my life. Unsure how to start I decided to start making little girls' hairclips and as time went on my ideas changed."
To see Leigh's exquisite handiwork today is to see a powerful argument for listening to the advice of your friends. Since those first few creations were given away as gifts, the ambition and skill which Leigh brings to each new piece has expanded at a rate which seems almost... supernatural.
"Flora, our Nan, passed away three years ago and funnily enough it was around this time that I started LoveLeigh Designs. Now that she has passed, for some reason or another I feel she is with me at my desk helping me when I am unsure how to make a certain flower or how to sew something into a headpiece. I do spend some time on the internet learning, but when I get stuck I really believe she is there. When I have finished some of my pieces I look at them and think: Wow, where did that come from? Did I really make that? I do wish she was here now as I have so many questions to ask her."
Whether Leigh's beloved Nan is with her in spirit, or whether she is simply inspired, I leave as a matter for the reader to ponder. No belief in the spiritual realm is required, however, to appreciate the soul which goes into each and every Loveleigh creation. Nor does the reader need psychic abilities to hear this little anecdote speaking volumes about the intense emotional connection between our local craftspeople and their work—yet another of the vital differences between cottage and corporation, to which more people awaken with each passing Christmas.
A cottage concern Loveleigh Designs may be—however, this particular cottage is fully wired-up with high-speed broadband, and is the command-centre not only for a market stall, but also for a burgeoning on-line business. While Loveleigh creations have appeared at locations ranging from the Butterfly Tree Market on the Gold Coast to the Mummy Tree Markets in Toowoomba, to date the bulk of Leigh's sales have come via her Facebook pages: Loveleigh Designs and Little Loveleighs.
In typical "craftie" fashion, Leigh has also formed strong links with a community of like-minded makers of beautiful things, selling Little Loveleigh necklaces via the Little Maison on-line boutique, and various pieces through the Little Wildrose website. From a customer base which in the early days consisted almost exclusively of family and friends, Loveleigh Designs has developed an eclectic following of teens, Mums, and fashion-conscious ladies from almost every age group and walk of life. In addition, Leigh accepts commissions via email, and has produced custom orders for such diverse occasions as weddings, first days at school and racing carnivals—and the creative ideas are not finished flowing by a long shot yet. 2012 will bring the launch of the Brotherleigh range—accessories and unique T-shirts for little blokes—along with a central Loveleigh Designs website to connect and publicise the various aspects of the franchise.
Reading all this, it may seem difficult to believe that Leigh's cottage command-centre is also home to a family of five, who in the midst of all this activity still somehow seem to remain healthy, well-fed and cheerful. How does the Loveleighs enterprise co-exist with the obligations and pressures of family life? What does a self-employed success story look like at the ground level?
"Time—time is something that is very precious. My kids love what I do and there is nothing better than showing them that it doesn't matter how old you are, who you are, or what you have going on in your life—if you really want to do something you can and will make it happen. It hasn't been easy though, our house always looks as though a bomb has hit it and I have to plan out most of my days and run on adrenaline and coffee to get me through. Organisation is a definite but that doesn't mean it always works either. Before I started my little business I was a stay at home Mum who had lots of time to bake and clean the house, now I am lucky if I can pop a packet mix of chocolate cake in the oven and pick the clothes up off the floor. It has taken a lot of adjustment. But that's the fabulous thing about life—it ebbs and flows."
Perhaps the best argument yet raised here for giving a special lady in your life something Loveleigh for Christmas is to be found in the above quote. If you want to show your love and appreciation for an amazing lady—someone who pursues her dreams in the face of all difficulty, or who is a positive example to their kids, or simply someone with whom any time spent seems precious—you could give her something from a rack in a giant department store where it sits alongside a thousand identical others; or you could give her something unique and never-to-be-repeated, made by a lady just as amazing as she is. Not only will the love and skill woven into each Loveleigh fashion accessory reflect your appreciation for the love and skill which that special lady daily weaves into your existence, but by directing your Christmas dollars towards the local and the hand-made, you will be supporting the exciting revival in traditional craftwork and artisanship which is breathing new life into our communities.
The Loveleigh Designs Logo
The final Loveleighs market stall for 2011 will feature at The Mummy Tree markets in Toowoomba this coming Sunday, December 11th. If you can't make it up the Range in time to see these beautiful creations in person, you can still sign on to the Loveleigh Designs or Little Loveleighs Facebook pages before 8:30pm on Monday December 12th to participate in the Loveleighs on-line Christmas Sale, featuring a wide range of Loveleighs creations priced to clear.