Peta O’Neill, founder, Love Mae

I think there is so much more depth in a lot of customers now. People are making better, more conscious decisions as to who to purchase from ...

Unless you follow international design news, you may have missed the announcement that a Byron Bay brand recently took out Best Exclusive Launch at NY NOW for its super trendy four-piece bamboo dinner set. In addition to the bamboo set, Love Mae also dabbles in fabric wall decals, wallpaper and wrapping paper. The company has grown from humble beginnings to now having stockists around the world in just seven short years. We had a chat to Love Mae’s founder, Peta O’Neill about work life balance and the perks of doing it for yourself.

Congratulations on taking out the Best Exclusive Launch at NY NOW recently! You beat 2,500 other exhibitors from over 80 countries. What went through your mind when you were announced as the winner?
It really was one of those little moments where you just look around wondering what’s really happening, we didn’t quite understand for a good couple of minutes! We were so excited, it was so much fun.

Tell us about the set that won the accolade?
We won the award for our four-piece, illustrated bamboo dinner set, which we moulded the design of. It’s been incredibly popular!

Take us back to the beginning, how did Love Mae come about?
Love Mae is seven years old now so it’s been quite a journey. It first came about when I was pregnant with my second child and was just sort of playing around with the idea of what to do next. I was a photographer by trade and had a little bit of work with a couple of young designers on the Gold Coast and the three of us put our thoughts on the table about a new business in design. The girls aren’t with me now, so fast forward seven years and we’ve had some of our biggest growth spurts to date in the last 12- to 15-months and we are now located in Byron Bay and really looking forward to a whole heap of new products that will be very Love Mae-ish in design.

What compelled you to use bamboo in your dinner sets over more common materials such as melamine?
We were using melamine and those dinner sets went really well but I saw a documentary about the island of plastic in the South Pacific. Basically the currents take all of the little plastic bits floating around in the ocean and they’ve formed up to make a huge island. For me, it was horrendous to see because I realised that I was a bigger part of it than most. Sure, anyone who buys plastic products is part of it but to actually be manufacturing melamine, which is the biggest component of the plastic island, just felt awful. After a few sleepless nights, despite the success of out melamine dinner sets we really had to take them off the market and go back to the start to find a product that was environmentally viable. We did our research and found a wonderful bamboo supplier and we’ve been happy and a lot more at peace with the products that we are using now.

Wow, how hard was it to come to that decision to change course?
It was a really hard decision because when you are a small business making money off a product it’s hard to turn around and just can an idea. We are super proud that we did it and lots of good things have come from it though.

What inspires you?
My children, as cliche as that sounds. A lot of my inspiration for products starts with the things that I can’t find myself online and then the inspiration for the designs comes from things around us.

What’s the best part about owning your own small business?
Most of the time it’s working for yourself. I think that even if I worked for someone else I would still put in this much energy and this much effort so to be the beneficiary of that is fantastic. And on those days my family need me, I feel like I can be more flexible. I think the most important thing is how I feel about our every day and working for myself makes my every day feel great.

Tell us about work life balance, how do you achieve it?
With Love Mae it’s about seasonal balance as we do two seasons per year and so rises and falls the demands of that. At the end of the day it just comes down to sleep, you revert back to when you had babies and were getting none so you know you can do it and that you’ll get through it. Our team is growing and with that comes more and more balance, being able to peel off jobs and hand them to a new staff member and to be able to afford that staff member is wonderful.

What were some of the challenges you faced in the early days?
There were so many! Of course financial challenges were really first and foremost because it can make and break any situation. Cash flow is always a trouble as a growing business is an expensive business. I think the other pressures are confidence, knowing you can keep redoing it each season and keep reinventing yourself, and every now and then you wake up to an email or a post on Facebook or Instagram that can completely devastate you. Recently we woke up to the news that a major mainstream store has gone and done a bamboo dinner set at a ridiculous price because they can, those things are a real challenge.

Do you find that there is a shift for consumers to be more aware of the products they are buying?
I think there is so much more depth in a lot of customers now. People are making better, more conscious decisions as to who to purchase from. It’s not to say that people aren’t still going to go out and buy the cheap alternative but they are not going to feel about it the same way they would about buying a Love Mae dinner set.

What do you hope to achieve with Love Mae?
I hope to achieve longevity. I think that is a really wonderful thing to stay self employed and offer employment to others. Of course there are the normal business measures of more products and better cash flow and all that stuff but longevity is what stands out to me as a really good thing at the moment.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt on this journey?
Not to sweat the little things. Some things can feel so massive, like when that mainstream store released a similar set for a ridiculous price, but you have to remember that it will pass, it’s not going to be hole that opens up and swallows you whole. I think emotion can sometimes make it seem bigger than it really is.

Do you have any advice for other people who might have an idea and a dream?
Network! Don’t reinvent the wheel. Everything you’re about to do, perhaps not product wise, but business wise is a formula and so is everything else that comes with it. Network with the right people and get the right advice, it can save you a fortune and in time as well.


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