Life Instyle sat down with Lara van der Berg, creator of Dusky Robin Leather to discuss all things business, inspiration and the future!

What was the spark that inspired you to start your own business?

After having my third child I wanted more flexibility than my corporate role of 18 years offered. I was working long hours and felt the pressure of balancing my career with raising 3 children under five.

Growing up my six siblings and I were always immersed in my parents family business, which was a leather business (Henk Berg Leather) started in the 1980s by my father, a dutch born craftsman. While studying at University I worked for my fathers business and continued to do so after completing my university studies and commencing my professional career. My love of small business and leather began.

Seeking better work-life balance my husband and I joined forces, using our different but complementary skills to launch our new brand. 


What were those first steps you took to launch? And what would you say was the scariest part/your biggest fear?

We had identified a gap in the our market for high quality functional leather products in beautiful bright colours and buttery soft leather. It took several years to find a leatherworker to produce our designs in the leather and quality we required. Following this, we launched our new label Dusky Robin alongside Henk Berg at Life Instyle in Melbourne in 2017. Exhibiting at Life Instyle was one of the best decisions we made.  It enabled us to test our product through direct feedback with our new customers. We were overwhelmed by the response! Since our first show, we have rapidly grown. 

My biggest fear was failure and taking the risk of leaving a job that I really loved and that had the safety of a guaranteed good income.


Tell us a bit about how you design/make your product. Who/where/how/why etc.

The first part of the design process is functionality. We identify how the product should function (how, when and why would you use it). Following this, we then think about the aesthetic and start thinking about leather colour, fittings and lining. Our design sketches and prototypes are then turned into reality through a sampling process which often requires many versions to get it exactly right. We work side by side for each step with our makers who are a family-owned business in India, this means a lot of travel and amazing food! As we are a small family business we prefer to work with small scale craftspeople, often family-owned business just like ours.


Describe your customers and the community you have built/embraced.

Our customers vary from small family-owned businesses just like us to large international stores. We love attending Life Instyle and each year learning more about our customers and their story.


Why is it that you think your customers love about your brand/product?

Our customers often comment on the design and quality aspect of Dusky Robin Leather. They also love that we are a small Australian business. Old fashioned great customer service is at the core of our business. Our customers love that you can always speak to the owner of the business anytime.


How do you/your team stay inspired and authentic?

Being a small family-owned business it is easy to stay authentic to our purpose.We are inspired every day by our staff, customers and their feedback. We are also inspired by nature which has the most amazing structure and colour to work with.  This means we can be inspired in all sorts of crazy environments.


Who would be your dream collaborator?

I would love to collaborate with Barbie Kjar, an amazing Tasmanian printmaker, who creates spectacular drypoint etchings.



What path led you to Life Instyle and what is it about the show that makes it a great fit for you?

For many years our customers had mentioned that Life Instyle was Australia’s best curated show and they thought it would be the perfect fit for us. They were right! When we looked into this we were blown away by the quality and thought that went into this event. We felt it aligned well with the ethos of our brand. We were right and have not looked back. Life Instyle is a fantastic place for us to meet up with exisiting loyal customers and quality new customers.


Can you share any spoilers on what we can expect from your new collection at Life Instyle Sydney?

We are currently working on an exciting and secret range. What I can tell you is that the new range has been inspired by our customer requests, and includes new colours and new materials.


Who are some of the other brands at Life Instyle who you love/admire?

There are too many to mention but I love visiting the First Instyle part of the fair and chatting with new exhibitors with amazing ideas and products.


Can you share one of your proudest moments in business so far?

For me the proudest moments are the little things like receiving an email or phone call from a customer telling us how happy they are with our product or customer service.


What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?

There are so many people who have offered amazing advice along the way. By far the best advice I have been given was from my father as a young child. He always emphasised the importance of creating items that are functional and that last. He often would say “small is beautiful” and this applied to many different aspects of my life. In the busy world we all live in it is easy to loose perspective of what really matters and feel the pressure to grow bigger, faster. 


And what advice would you give someone else thinking of starting out?

I have so much advice!

  • Always understand who your customer is and listen to them.
  • Create a product you are passionate about and believe in yourself. With enthusiasm, drive and determination you will achieve whatever it is you set out to.
  • Learn from others who have built a business and listen to their advice.
  • Most of all, surround yourself with amazing people.


What exciting things are on the horizon for 2020 and beyond?

In 2020 we are bringing on board more amazing staff to help manage our growth and ensure our customers remain at the heart of our business. We also have some exciting new announcements - stay tuned!


When you’re not busy with the business, what’s your ideal way to unwind and give yourself a little bit of self-care?

With a business and three small children unwinding and self-care has been difficult to achieve. For 2020 this is something we are focusing on not just at home but in our workplace for us and our staff. My hit list for 2020 is to unwind through more Yoga, ocean swimming, reading and more sleep!


Karaoke song of choice?
Toto - Africa

Favourite Podcast?
I will get back to you on this one.  Any downtime you will find me unplugged and buried in a good book.

Guilty pleasure?
Making and eating toasted marshmallows - made using a kitchen form and my gas cooktop in the kitchen when the kids are in bed!

Next holiday location?

You can meet Lara and see the Dusky Robin Leather range at stand 2310 Life Instyle Sydney, 21-24 February 2020 at the ICC Sydney in Darling Harbour. Registration is now open.