Vanessa Radford

LightenUp
Rowena, NSW


What do you make?

We make bespoke lampshades from beautiful fabrics designed primarily by Australian textile designers with most printed in Australia.

We also currently offer timber lamp bases, introduced in March 2019, designed by us and hand turned by Pete from Traditional Turnings in Melbourne using Australian timber.

What do you want customers to know about you and/or your work/product/business?

All our lampshades are handmade by us on our farm in North West NSW. Almost all our supplies are sourced within Australia with one exception, lampshade paper which has to be imported from the UK.

The idea of LightenUp was born from a need for colour in the midst of drought and to help with mental health. After a drought from 2013 through to 2015, a welcome reprieve in 2016, and then settling in for another dry time in 2017 and beyond, I couldn’t see how I could be strong enough for our little family. So I started LightenUp in the hope it would give me the strength to cope, being something I can control and as an outlet, without any real idea how well it would be received. Getting creative has really helped. My sister Jenny came on board not long after and she is a fantastic mentor and website manager! We would be lost without her in this role! Now, we have grown to 3 sisters working together, with my daughter Zoe as well, and one of my good friends/neighbour!

Where do you draw inspiration?

Definitely from other Bush Businesses run by women! I love how social media has opened up a whole new world - there are so many amazing bush women out there killing it!

When selecting fabrics for our gallery I draw inspiration from the Australian landscape, flora, fauna and colours. Our country is truly beautiful.

From my husband Chris - he is such a stoic, hard working bloke - nothing is ever a problem. I can’t believe how well he handles the stresses of farming - he just gets on with it and doesn't complain. A constant problem solver. I am trying to be like him!!

What are your hopes for your business/work/practice?

We definitely hope to grow our business but are mindful we don’t want our products to be seen in every retail shop in Australia. We would like our lamps to be a prized possession tailor-made for each client. We would like people to see a lamp and ask ‘Is that a LightenUp lamp?’

We are also in the process of being able to offer (within the next 12 months) our own fabric range, designed by an emerging Australian textile designer. We are VERY excited about this as it is something we have always wanted to do.

We also have a few collaborations in the works with other Australian textile designers! So lots of exciting things ahead in 2021!!

Where do you live? Tell us about your place/community

Our farm is 34km west of Rowena, 25km south of Collarenebri and 35km north of Cryon - on a black soil plain in the middle of not much! There are literally no hills to be seen from our farm. The levee bank around our house is our hill. We grow wheat, chickpeas, barley and oats, and also run a flock of Merino sheep.

Rowena is a very small village where our kids attended Rowena Public school - with 2 teachers. There is a Post Office, pub, 2 churches, community hall, oval and about 10 houses! Collarenebri is bigger with a population of around 400 people, with a few more amenities - luckily!

We are so lucky to have the support of our community for our business. Whenever Chris (Mr LightenUp) or I, head anywhere locals are always asking how the business is going which is so kind.

Further to this, our employees on our farm are also very supportive!! They help (or onlook and laugh) with photo shoots, deliver lampshades or pick up supplies when they head to town to pick up parts. I’m very lucky!

What is it like making/creating from a rural/remote community? (are there particular challenges or joys?)

LightenUp would be nothing without the internet and social media, this has allowed us and so many others to start businesses in rural remote areas. It’s pretty cool that we send lamps all over Australia made in our little HQ in our backyard in the middle of nowhere. It’s awesome that I can be helping lambmark in dusty sheep yards and an hour later in HQ making beautiful lampshades, or I can be sitting on a tractor planting a crop and ordering fabrics at the same time (if the mobile reception is ok).

Challenges - plenty!!! Remoteness for supplies being delivered. Freight companies will only deliver to Narrabri or Moree - 90 minutes away. It’s a hard slog explaining to suppliers that even though these freight companies say they can deliver to our door - this is DEFINITELY not the case! Higher postage/freight costs due to rural/remote location. Hard finding casual employees due to distance from town and black soil roads that aren’t often graded and impassable when it rains. Working not only from a remote location but remotely from each other. Jenny (sister/partner/mentor) lives in Canberra. Sue (sister and does our accounts) lives near Dorrigo and Zoe (Vanessa's daughter and PA) lives in Newcastle. Internet issues!

How has BFTB impacted your business?

Where do I start?

Just before BFTB promoted our business in late October/early November last year we had around 4000 followers on instagram - we now have 11.2K followers!! At least once a week we have a potential client either email or call and mention they found us through BFTB!!

We now employ 3 people part time - Sue does our accounts, Zoe is Vanessa’s PA - both Sue and Zoe work remotely - and a great neighbour and friend Sue Ricardo who comes in at least once a week to help make the lampshades.

We are literally run off our feet! The demand for our products has not wavered - we would have to be 10 times busier than last year.

Because of the impact of BFTB on our business, I have come to realise that this business can be a source of off-farm income - rather than just a little side hustle it’s actually the real deal!!

It has also helped our community businesses! We head into Collarenebri at least twice a week to post parcels and we are constantly receiving parcels through our local post office in Rowena. We are the largest poster in Collarenebri! Furthermore, whenever I head into Colly I usually buy some meat from the local butcher, head into the little grocery shop and get a coffee at the local cafe/gift store ‘Backroads’. Before our business, these are things I would usually save doing until I went to a larger centre. It really is a huge flow-on effect.

What does it mean to you when a customer decides to purchase your product? How do you celebrate?

It is the best - we love that our products have resonated with people. Lampshades are back in!!

We also absolutely LOVE when customers go to the effort to take a picture of their shade in their home with a lovely comment, it really warms our hearts.

We also have a large returning customer base, which is really comforting knowing that they are happy with our product. It appears lampshades are addictive!!

My Products

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