Kath O’Sullivan, designer and founder of local homewares brand Tribe & Temple, believes that our homes can reveal our true identity. She is interested in the beauty and diversity of self-expression in real homes – and in the relationship between self and home. As an artisan, writer and psychotherapist making a new creative life in Bellingen, Kath’s eclectic past is reflected in her designs. Tribe & Temple produces stunning artisan homewares for a growing number people who favour handmade and personal home decor over mass produced.
We interviewed Kath to gain a better understanding of how this writer and previous founder of ethical brand agency ‘Active Voice’ came to discover Bellingen and to orchestrate the creative life change that so many of us only dream of.
What initiated the life change and why the move to Bellingen?
In a nutshell, Sydney-fatigue. I’m pretty sure that’s a thing. My partner and I reached a turning point and decided we wanted a life together that moved at a gentler pace. We took several exploratory drives up and down the east coast, checking out the options. Just initiating that process allowed a sense of possibility to open up. Then we drove into Bellingen, experienced the glorious beauty of the hinterland, the fabulous roads for cycling (my partner, Alex is the cyclist) and the smiling faces in the town. Really, Bellingen had us at hello. On a subsequent trip we fell in love with a big crazy house on 10 acres just outside town. Next thing you know, we’re selling our home in Annandale and here we are, almost two years later.
I am keenly aware of how lucky we are to be able to live in this very precious part of the world. And, it’s wonderful to be in a community that’s teeming with talented artists, clever creatives and beautiful minds. That was my perception of Bellingen from the outset and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. I hope my business can contribute something to that, not just benefit from it.
Tribe and Temple is such an interesting business name. Can you explain its origins?
Tribe and Temple has a few layers of meaning to me. Firstly, and rather literally, I wanted my brand and my creations to celebrate the artisans and aesthetics of many “tribes” – past and present. I love mixing fabrics and textiles from different cultures and eras to create something unexpected and beautiful. I hope my designs might in some way reflect ideals of cultural pluralism and harmony. The word tribe also conveys connectedness and a sense of belonging, which are qualities we value in our homes.
This brings me to Temple. Perhaps if we think of our homes as sacred and safe spaces, they are rather like temples. I’m not a fan of consuming homewares like fast fashion.
Disposable, mass produced, copycat interiors say nothing about who we really are. I’m interested in the beauty and diversity of self-expression in real homes – and in the relationship between self and home. I value mindfulness of the process of creation, and conscious choices that let go of what’s ‘on trend’ to find what resonates with you and your values. Our homes can reveal our true identity.
You have had a variety of jobs and and multiple career changes, from writing and editing, to PR and media and then a complete shift into trauma counselling. Has your latest reincarnation awakened a new creative streak or has creativity always been a constant for you?
Pondering this question, it comes to me that creativity has been at the centre of all my life’s twists and turns; and in that very process of twisting and turning itself. I’ve certainly reinvented myself more than once.
As a child, my creativity was expressed through music. Later came writing, editing and publication production, then helping businesses and NGOs/NFPs to articulate and express their values through meaningful communication and good design. Later came helping people to explore their inner lives and find new and creative ways of relating to themselves, their pain and to other people. In my latest incarnation as a homewares designer (which still feels quite new and thus a rather bold declaration), I am taking great delight in the creative process myself, and I value the joy that beautiful objects can bring to others.
As for sewing, I was initially inspired by my mother, who is a demon on the sewing machine. In fact, all the women in my family were sewers and creators of beautiful, often repurposed, things to be worn or to adorn the home. I progressed from hand sewing crooked Barbie outfits as a wee girl, to machine sewing clothes from bedsheets at boarding school, to making and selling hats at markets as a uni student – long before my current cushion obsession.
The fabrics you source are stunning. Would it be giving away trade secrets to divulge your sources?
My fabrics and other textiles come from artisans in Thailand, Japan, Africa, Vietnam, Peru, India, Mum’s old fabric stash, my late Aunt’s chest full of vintage treasures, surprising finds in op shops, and contemporary fabric design houses all over the world. My name is Kath. I am a textile addict.
Where do you gather inspiration for your designs?
I do spend hours mining Pinterest and Instagram, but often the inspiration comes from the fabrics and textiles themselves. I basically play around until a design presents itself. Inspiration also often comes from the design process with a client. I have co-created some beautiful cushions and collections with clients by sharing ideas and photos of various combinations until we nail it.
Do you have any business mentors that have provided support in setting up and running Tribe and Temple?
Not mentors as such, though I worked with a fantastic business coach for many years when I was running other businesses. I’m also stay connected to http://www.flyingsolo.com.au which is a wonderful hub of information and support for micro businesses.
There are some amazing women in this realm of the home whom I admire. Helen Edwards who runs @recycledinteriorshub and is the champion of #realhomesmovement is a great example. I’m very grateful for the encouragement of Sydney-based stylist Natalie Fryer @m2propertypresentation and I also have a few favourite interior designers including @brionyfitzgerald and @anna-spiro-textiles. Not mentors. I just style-stalk them.
At the moment you are selling on-line. Do you have any plans to sell Tribe and Temple wares locally?
Yes! I’ve made a few cushions for Coffs Coast locals who’ve found me on Instagram. I have a small collection of vintage Japanese indigo cushions at RetroBello and a boho collection at the Woodcraft Gallery at the Old Butter Factory. In late January, you will find an installation of my cushions at the Coastline Credit Union in West Kempsey – part of their shop local campaign. I would love to find more local stockists and am very open to wholesale enquiries. I may set up for markets next year as well.
So at the moment, how can Bellingen Shire residents find your wares?
Check me out on Instagram @tribeandtemple and visit my Etsy shop https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/TribeAndTemple
Real life visits to my home studio are also welcome by appointment, though at the moment there are renovation works to navigate. Sing out via 0418 208 558, DM on Instagram or Kath@tribeandtemple.com
I also have a bunch of boards on Pinterest where people can view my fabrics for custom orders and other textiles including kantha quilts, which are not yet listed in my shop. https://www.pinterest.com.au/tribeandtemple/boards
It’s a work in progress and I’m continually adding to it because, you know, textile addiction.
Any exciting future plans for your business?
Actually, I’d love to start helping people who are setting up AirBnBs to make their spaces uniquely beautiful. Plus, watch this space for the launch of my new website – tribeandtemple.com!