A different way to make sustainable furniture
“Sustainability is not just in the materials we use. It's about the design having longevity, something that's not just in fashion now. Something that someone's going to want to have in their home for decades or even pass on to next generation.” -Alison Collins.
Many families have chosen a seachange in recent years to begin a new way of life away from the bustle of the city. But not as many have combined a seachange with developing a successful business turning recycled timber into bespoke sustainable furniture.
Luke and Alison Collins started Bombora Custom Furniture in their garage in Melbourne’s inner suburbs in 2010. Luke was initially following his part-time interest in between shifts working as a firefighter.
“Luke developed a passion for furniture making and we wanted to see if we could turn it into a business,” Alison says. “It just started as a hobby and it's cascaded and rolled onto where it is now.”
After selling a few pieces of furniture online, more orders started to roll in via word of mouth and the business picked up momentum. After the birth of their daughter in 2012, the couple decided to move to Torquay on Victoria’s Surf Coast, about 90 minutes south-west of Melbourne.
As well as a new way of life, the move exposed them to new materials and new ways of building a small business. With the benefit of a large number of referrals and repeat customers, Bombora has grown to eight people – five furniture makers, two administration staff and Luke's Dad who is described as “a casual run-around helper”.
Such is the expansion that Luke and Alison are about to move into a new, larger factory in Torquay which they will own, giving Bombora certainty for the next stage of its development.
“It's a great move because we can own the building. So rather than paying rent, we're going to be investing in the future of our family and building our assets,” Alison says. “There's a really great creative vibe as well out in the industrial estate. We'll be surrounded by other great businesses and creatives as well.”
As Bombora expands, Luke and Alison want to ensure it remains committed to the sustainability that has been important from the beginning.
“We want to be proud of what we do and we want to leave the world a better place for our children and our children's children,” Alison says. “It’s become integrated into everything we do. Every decision we make, every product we want to create.”
“Sustainability is not just in the materials we use. It's about the design having longevity, something that's not just in fashion now. Something that someone's going to want to have in their home for decades or even pass on to the next generation,” she says.
Luke recalls seeing disused furniture and timber on the side of the road and thinking there must be a better way.
“I used to pick those up and build furniture out of it,” he says. “With timbers like that, you build it once and hopefully it will turn into heirloom pieces that get passed down through generations.”
Bombora uses hard woods that are native to southern Australian such as Messmate, Victorian Ash and Tasmanian Oak. They prefer recycled and reclaimed timber due to its beauty, durability and reduced environmental impact.
Luke’s favourite is recycled Messmate because of its history.
“It was cut and felled 100 plus years ago and I love that it's got that story about it,” Luke says. “What would've been firewood or put in a tip, now will last for another 100 or 200 years, which is awesome.”
In 2015 Bombora launched their “1 piece = 1 tree initiative” where they plant a tree for every piece of furniture they create. Customers are increasingly drawn to such initiatives and want to be involved in the creative process, including selecting the wood.
“We're not a production line. We love collaborating with our clients to bring their dream piece to life,” Alison says. “Each piece is designed to fit perfectly into their space, to fit their needs, to look the way they want.”
Each item is also seen through from the design to finished piece by the same furniture maker, giving them a greater sense of enjoyment and ownership, Luke says.
And the business is not only about sustainable materials but also sustainable work practices. Rather than set work hours, employees are encouraged to work as a team to create a set number of pieces.
“We've learnt that balance is really important,” Alison says. “They have the amount of work that has to get done for the week and as soon as they're done, they can go home. They have more balance and a healthier lifestyle. They work as a team and then they can do other things as well. Go surfing, they can go hiking. They can do other things in life as well.”
The pair feel a keen responsibility towards their staff and pride in creating jobs people love and can do close to home. Luke and Alison also keep their family time sacrosanct.
“If the surf's on, just go for a surf. The to-do list will never end,” Luke says. “We value time to ourselves and the same for our employees.”
ANZ has partnered with Bombora since the start. The relationship has grown from a personal one (home loan) to a business one, initially a business credit facility, and more recently the purchase of its new factory.
It’s fascinating to see how Alison and Luke have developed their business with a focus on sustainability and flexibility. Working with clients from design all the way through brings a personal touch to everything they produce.
There's so much care for how they work with their staff. It's not about hours worked, it's about what gets done and that creates flexibility and wellbeing for their team.
Sustainability is a key element of this business. Taking 100-year-old pieces of timber and turning them into bespoke pieces furniture that will be around for generations.
And for us at ANZ our strategy is to help build the financial wellbeing and sustainability of our customers.