0

Your Cart is Empty

PODCAST - La La Land

podcast elie azzi la la land  stories behind the giftsWelcome to the I Still Call Australia Home podcast - your fortnightly dose of inspiration and joy sparked by the wild splendour of Australia. To see an overview of all podcasts, click here; otherwise sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode below.🥰 


ISCAH Podcast Episode 3 - The Pioneer of Australiana Design - Elie Azzi of La La Land

La La Land Elie Azzi Murilo Manzini and Lilly Perrot
From left to right - Elie Azzi - La La Land Co-founder, Owner and Creative Director of La La Land; Lilly Perrot and Murilo Manzini - La La Land in-house Illustrators and Designers; and an excerpt from La La Land's Exotic Paradiso Collection.  Click on the image or here to see all La La Lands Australiana products. 

 

Discover the story of La La Land - a leading Australian giftware brand, design studio, and publisher of artists and illustrators - as told by Elie Azzi - Co-founder, Owner and Creative Director. Learn of his humble beginnings; his creative design process that uses history, nature and art as its muse (with an Aussie twist of course!); and some sneak peaks at what's to come. Yes!

This is a special episode that demonstrates how the passion of one Australian has paved the way - and continues to pave the way - for native Australian-themed motifs on gifts and homewares that we see from many brands today.

Check out the episode by clicking your favourite podcast player below, or click on the green play button below to listen straight away via your computer or phone.

Alternatively, we've transcribed the shownotes for you below. Scroll down to read the full interview.

 

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify Listen on Amazon Music Listen on Stitcher Listen on iHeartRadio Listen on Podcast Addict

Shownotes 

Felicia:

Welcome Elie, to the I Still Call Australia Home podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Elie:

Thank you - and thank you for having me - and a big hello to all your listeners. I really appreciate this opportunity.

Felicia:

Oh, thank you. We're excited to have you here.

For those listeners that don't know you, Elie, can you introduce La La Land and tell us about yourself and your company?

Elie:

My name is Elie Azzi, I'm the Co-founder, Owner and Creative Director of La La Land. 

I've spent many years - 14 years building this small business in Sydney - we were based in Marrickville, but now we are based in Bondi. We are a giftware brand, a design studio, and a publisher of artists and illustrators.

We produce and supply greeting cards, homeware stationery products, and products really that inspire happiness and creativity because that's our main purpose.

Felicia:

Is that the main purpose you had since you started? or.... 

Elie:

Yes. So the purpose of our brand is to inspire happiness and creativity while supporting artists and illustrators. 

No, that evolved over time and over the years – it became evident that that's what we're here for. 

You know, there's two sides to it. It's, it's about creating illustrations and artworks that really provoke emotions that make people happy. You know, it could be opening up a gift and seeing something that really makes your kind of heart melt at, or it could be seeing something so beautiful that, you know, you want to, you know, decorate your home with, or maybe try to paint something similar.

Felicia:

Oh, fantastic. That's lovely. Can you take us back to before you started La La Land and tell us what inspired you to begin your business?

Elie:

So - I had just finished uni. I was very young, my first job out of uni, I was working for a Japanese company called Nishikawa living. They were huge in Japan, like the Sheridan of Japan doing luxury bedding and bed linen. 

They had started their project for the first time in Australia. They expected it to be a big success, but it wasn't. It was really hard for them to get Australians to know and understand their products because they was so expensive, but there was so much technology and luxury to them. Anyway, long story short, I was in there in their marketing team and I was very junior. I had just come out of uni and they closed down and made me redundant. So my first job out of uni, I lost the job…and I remember one of the products that they had was these beautiful floor cushions like these Japanese cushions. And I thought to myself, “Oh, I'll buy these cushions and I'll continue to sell them.” That's how it started. I bought these cushions. I had a business plan at the time and she, being French, her name was Ludy.  she, helped me import some brands into Australia from France. So we both started a business together, importing, European brands. And years later, it was so funny because it was for years and years, and we still had those bloody cushions! They wouldn't sell!

Felicia:

So easy when you see someone else do it.

Elie:

Yeah. Oh my God. We thought these cushions were going to be huge and nah-, but I mean, I feel happy that they were the ones that instigated the start of the business. So I'm glad they were there and I had experienced the redundancy; otherwise we would not have started La La Land. Oh. And so after importing for years, we noticed that it was really hard to make any money- the mark-ups were not very good…  and at the same time, we felt like we were supporting European brands while there was a lot of talent in Australia. So, you know, we thought why don't we start our own little brand on the side while we still import, and, kind of test it. So we'd started off with just a few greeting card ranges. 

I remember, I think the first ever launch was like 12 greeting cards featuring Australian artists. And then that kind of slowly, very slowly progressed, and it grew slowly because it was not an overnight success. There was not nothing like that, of the sort. It took years of hard work. 

Felicia:

Yes. I can imagine you've grown it to such an incredible business today. Yeah. So what do you remember about having those greeting cards? What was it about those early successes that meant you felt that that side business was going to become a main business?

Elie:

The first cards were very whimsical and, and some of them are quite dark. 

It was funny when you look at the ranges we had earlier on in the business that it's very different to what we have now. We wanted to do something different and we thought one way of being different is to do ranges that were more storytelling. So it wasn't your traditional happy birthday with balloons on it. It was, you know, it could be something that you would see in a storybook; and we were doing that a lot and we found that that was our success, that was our niche. And that was our point of difference. So we kind of made that group, but we, we aimed at focusing on Australian artists, not Australiana, just the fact that the Australian was for us, our point of difference.

Felicia:

Yeah. That's fantastic. I think you were probably one of the first to do that.

Elie:

Yeah. We started La La Land in 2009.  So yeah, we, we were one of the first brands to do Australiana, but again, that, that whole process was quite slow too.

Felicia:

I think you've created a wonderfully successful Australian business with Australiana, with a lot of – now we’re in 2021 - a lot of amazing collections and products over the years. And, you know, I think we spoke before, but what stands out to me (because we are all about Australia and we’re in that business, and that's what our listeners love), is your Australiana ranges. But you know, you are one of the first to do it. And I remember I was overseas, you know, I'm from Brisbane, but I was overseas for many years and came back and I was so excited to see in a Brisbane arcade in this little gift shop I remember, I went in and I saw one of your first Christmas cards that had Australian animals on it in a Gumtree, with Christmas hats on

And I was just so excited. I thought, finally, someone is doing an Australian theme for Christmas, and this doesn't have children in the snow with mittens on so I was happy someone was doing it. And, because it was one of my bugbears about coming back from being overseas. And we have all these amazing artists, amazing animals here and there, and still we're showing this, you know, wintry paradigm and Christmas. So like, I love how you were definitely in my mind, you were one of the pioneers in Australia, that's doing something that's actually quite trendy now. And you know, a lot of people have caught up and realized what a great thing you've been doing. 

Can you help our listeners understand what was your first Australiana themed collection and your motivation to start pulling Australian animals and flowers into your product?

Elie:

I remember when we first started La La Land, what was really trendy at the time were Woodland animals. People loved  owls and deers and anything that felt or looked European… and they were stuck on it. And it was so hard to get people out of that whole owl and deer trend. And for us, it was, it wasn’t our intention. It just kind of happened. Naturally our intention was to support Australian artists. Amongst the artworks that we first published there was this one particular artwork – it was by an Australian artists called “Flossy P” and it's funny because we still have this artist and we still publish that particular artwork. I think it's the oldest artwork that we still have running since 2011. And the artwork is of this giant wombat, head to head, you know, with the little girl leaning her head against the wombats hair.

Felicia:

We've got the mug of it here and use it every day. We absolutely love that too.

Elie:

It's a beautiful artwork. And I think that's something that was something very magical and emotional about it because it was between a girl and an Australian animal. And, you know, it was whimsical, it's obviously unrealistic size or it won't really happen, but it must've, it must've provoked something because we saw that a lot of people were buying it. So we noticed that that was our best selling card. Okay. What else can we do apart from cards? And so that's where we started exploring, you know, Australian illustrations and artworks, but that in fact at the time was a challenge. There wasn't many artists, that, you know, that style or subject. So I started giving the Australian artists some briefs. So it was like, can you do that? Can you do this, you know, a few examples where Flossy P ended up doing something similar with a platypus and I asked an artist called Animal Crew to do a dress up Koala. And there was another Australian artist we used to publish a lot at the time called Me and Olly; and I asked her to do a Christmas range, with Australian animals. I remember it was also a challenge at the time to get Australian artists to do Australian artworks, because at the time there was something very cringy and cheesy about seeing an illustration of a Koala; and people just automatically associated it with the tourist market at the time. 

Felicia:

Not now though, not at all. Right.

Elie:

Yeah – and it makes sense. I mean, we have so much beautiful flora and fauna in this country that it just makes no sense to turn to any other country to gain inspiration when it's right here in front of us. 

Felicia:

I mean, I couldn't agree with that more. We just love all the Australiana, you know, just using our own backyard is the muse for your work. This makes perfect sense.

Elie:

I think, you know, they call it a trend, but I really believe it's more of an evolution. We, I think, as we started to realise that we are like, we started to feel so much pride in being Australian and living in Australia. You know, when you look at what's happening over in other countries, especially now, and, and you realise how lucky we are, I think there's this sense of pride that you carry with you. And so when you see a beautiful painting of flora, Australian flora, you know, you just make sense that that is us, that is our home, that is our garden. And, and so you welcome these kinds of illustrations and motifs a lot more than what you did 20 years ago or 15 years ago.

Felicia:

And it feels like home.

Elie:

Yeah. It feels like home and we're proud to be Australian. And this is our subtle, very subtle way, because it's not Australian to show off. So a very subtle way of showing our pride.

Felicia:

Yes. Well, that's a lovely take on it. I really like that.  do you have a favorite Australiana collection today?

Elie:

Oh, think my favorite is, is one that's coming…

Felicia:

Can you give us a taste of it? 

Elie:

I’m excited about it. One thing I like – my biggest challenge as a creative director is how do we evolve it? You know? There’s only, I mean, other brands since we've started doing Australiana have just grabbed traditional illustrations of Australian animals in portraits style, illustrations and, you know, put, put them on a mug on a cup; or on greeting cards; whereas for us, it's so important to evolve and to come up with something completely new, come up with a concept that people haven't seen before. So we're constantly challenging ourselves to do something different. So one thing that's coming that, you know, I, for me, I just love, is a collection we called ‘Serendipity’. It's a very vague word for word for artwork, but, it's very Regal. So we explored old England and the influence the English had on Australia and how do we, and we try to express it in a very beautiful Regal old way, if that makes sense.

Felicia:

Yes.

Elie:

So that's coming and that's, I think my favorite so far,  but I mean, it's insane that I've loved every collection we've launched. Floral Paradiso and Exotic Paradiso are amazing. They're so contemporary and beautiful… and I love anything to do with the ocean and the beach. So we’ve explored that a lot recently in the past.

Felicia:

Oh, good. Oh, I'm excited to see anything new coming there too. I'm really excited to hear this, you know, seascapes and oceans. We've got so many main things, sea animals, native to Australia, and yeah, that would be very exciting.

Elie:

Yeah.

Felicia:

Fantastic. So without giving away any trade secrets, can we talk about your creative process for your ranges? What's your inspiration? How do you, you talked about briefing artists earlier - do you mind talking us through that?

Elie:

Yeah, so my inspiration comes from history and nature and fashion. You would never think it was fashion is a big part of it, but I'm obsessed with a lot of what talented fashion designers come up with. And then I also obviously look to nature, but a big part of my inspiration is history. 

An example of that, I guess, was we often look at, you know, throughout history, what we've seen in art in the world of art, -  we've done a range, for example, Chinoiserie – where traditionally it was what the French take on Chinese art and used as wallpaper and we turned it around and made it Australian. So we've done something similar to that era or that time where they did beautiful wallpapers with illustrations of birds and trees, but we made sure that all the trees and the flowers and the birds and the animals were all Australian. Again with ‘Tree of Life’ [collection] - that was inspired by the tapestry in the romantic era. So, yeah, so what I'm trying to say is we look at history, fashion, nature, and we always, always try to evolve it. So we even, when a range is popular, we still discontinue it because we want to see and do something new. We just don't want to do the same thing over and over again. And I think that's our point of difference. And that's what keeps us on trend is that we, we don't stick to animal portraits or we try to steer away from things that look too traditional as well.

Felicia:

Yeah. Yes. I think that's a real strength of yours and I think that's what keeps our customers coming back again and again, and may, you know, I'm so excited to see what you're doing next, because it always is exciting 

Elie:

Yeah. And trust me, it's so exciting too. The process is so exciting and, and we, are very, very lucky because our in-house artists Murilo Manzini and Lilly Perrot are the most talented and, you know, such a huge blessing to have them work for us because they've been able to deliver and, and express a vision of what is in my mind, you know? So that, yeah, I'm very thankful for, for having such a creative team as well.

Felicia:

Yeah. That's fantastic you’ve got in-house artists. So can you let me know… when you're sitting around the La La Land Land planning table, you say, ‘Hey, I want to do a new collection around Regal old England styles’ – how does that work? Do you have a full view of colors and motifs and things, or is it a, a combined creative process or how does it work?

Elie:

So I, I start off on Pinterest, I create folders per range and start looking at what, through history, what other big artists have done. I look at, you know, landscapes in nature, then I've put them all together.

And then I put them on, I, I create a document on InDesign showing all my inspiration and my process sometimes, you know, my, what I've got in my mind at the time, ends up being very similar to what the result is, but then other times it completely changes. So what I originally had in mind, you know, with the help of Murilo and Lilly; and feedback even from our sales agents and sometimes stockists, we change it. We're not, we're not afraid to take feedback. In fact, we love the feedback and there's no -  I'm not really stuck, you know, in, in my mind or in certainly like I'm not stubborn. If someone says this is just not hitting the mark, I'm like, okay, okay. I sit back and go, what's wrong with it. And then we keep analysing that until we work out why it's just not there yet.

Felicia:

Wow. That's fantastic. So it's sort of – you come up with the creative vision and share it with the team, and then it's a process where it might be the same or they think through it..

Elie:

It could be completely different. A good example of that is the ‘Floral Paradiso’ [collection]. So when you had, if you had seen the first version of that, it was so different. 

It was my, my intention at the time was, okay, guys, we want to do something very contemporary. I don't want anything that remotely looks like pencils or water color. We want something that looks contemporary, but not in a very solid, flat graphic light, either in the middle. I really looked at how other fashion designers do it with their prints and what kind of style of illustration they used. So we're like, okay, let's when we're looking at florals, how do we not make it look like a very old fashioned print of a wallpaper. We want it to make it look very, you know, colourful, but in a way that looks like something people would put in their home and, and it would match their furniture if you get what I'm trying to say.

Felicia:

Absolutely. Yes. That makes perfect sense. It's a really interesting process that you go through.

Elie:

Yes. In the first two ranges it was just not good. It wasn’t -  people didn't like it. We asked our sales team and our sales team asked some of their stockists. 

‘Hey, what do you think of this La La Land and working on this range?’ And the feedback was negative. And I was like, okay, that's okay. 

Felicia:

Good to know before you manufacturer it and it just sits on your shelf.

Elie:

And that's the thing, that's why I don't take -  any feedback is good feedback for me. I would rather be wrong than be -  have stock that just doesn't move. 

And so it was an interesting process and it happens a lot. We, you know, often it's, it's very clear and the range works out very quickly. And then other times we've worked on it for over six months. I mean, it's, it's such a, and that's, that's the thing. People see these products,  and, and I'm so glad that people love what we do, but very few know how long the process is before a product hits the shelf.

Felicia:

Oh, well, thank you for articulating that, because it's really interesting to hear. It's not just, you come up with the inspiration, all of a sudden you've got the design and how that goes.

Elie:

Yes. So much goes into it. And I guess for you, for you to a lot of retailers like yourself, work so hard in collecting and researching and making and creating a point of difference for your customers and the customer experience is something that you would also need to think of. Yeah.

Felicia:

Yes. Fantastic. And how do you come up with a name for the collections? Like you talked about the serendipity collection is England.

Elie:

Well I did this course once, throughout my, you know, for the last 15 years, I've always loved learning and I've always enjoyed the whole self-help thing, you know, reading. Yeah. People laugh at it, but I, I really enjoy it. So I've always liked doing courses or reading books, but there was this one particular business course that I did-  one thing they kept talking about was - they called it green braining – the names of things. And the example they gave was, you know, there'll be a muffin in a cafe and a sign on, it would say ‘muffin’, but no one would buy it, but then they called it the ‘cheeky delight’, or, you know, the ‘cheeky muffin’ or ‘chocolate indulgence’... and then by the name alone, people felt something. And so that was a lesson I learned years ago in a course I did. And so I use it all the time. So when we, when we come up with ranges, we were like, okay, what words come to mind and how do we green-brain it? So how do we make it sound like a, a story or an experience and not, not make it so realistic and okay - it's, these are birds, so let's call it, you know, birds.

Felicia:

Yes. Selling the sizzle not the sausage. Yes. That sounds great. I know we we've experienced that because you called one of your ranges ‘Love from Down Under’, and obviously there’s a lot of our listeners have children overseas or really close friends and family overseas, so to send, or, you know, to send something with ‘Love from Down Under’ was hugely popular. And whenever we would put that against your other collections, it would always be the first to sell out. And that was a lot to do with the name as well as being a beautiful collection. 

Elie:

And look, I think , it's probably got something to do with the fact that we do greeting cards as well. So for us, the greeting is a big part of the product, although in ranges like homewares, it's, it isn't play, doesn't play such a huge role. Like you said, it kind of does. And unlike other brands, we actually put the name of their range, quite big on the packaging. It's not subtle or small, it's not near the bottom, it's not just near the barcode - it's part of the artworks. So people again can see the artwork, read the name and feel something. You know, I mentioned our purpose earlier is to inspire happiness and creativity. And we really mean it. And we try to deliver that purpose in so many ways,  not just our products, but even from naming our ranges.

Felicia:

Fantastic. That's amazing.  I'd like to ask you, you know, over the years, you've expanded or remember your earlier ranges in terms of your Australiana and motifs of native birds and flowers in the earlier ranges, you had the cockatoos- sulfur-crested; glossy black and Major Mitchell; and koalas and banksia and wattle; but I see, you know, you've expanded your range over the years. So for example, in ‘Exotic Paradiso’ [collection], I notice you've got the spotted quoll and numbat in there, which I haven't seen before, which is exciting, and a Princess Parrot, and new birds and animals and flowers. Can you talk to me about how you decide on those motifs and what goes into the collections?

Elie:

Yeah, so Exotic Paradiso (collection). So the, the way I wanted okay. 

So we first started with ‘Floral Paradiso’ [collection] - so that was very,  the subjects were, although, as I was saying before, the process took so long, but the subject was simple. It was, it was for flowers and beautiful birds. Yeah. But then to take it to the next level, I wanted some to too, it was launched around winter time. So we wanted to go for the darker colors, but we thought, what else can we do in Australia that people haven't seen so much of? Like, I think people have seen the kangaroo and the koala so many times that I wanted to show this at the time when we were, you know,  brainstorming this range, the whole animal print was really trendy. You know, the leopard print, the zebra print that, and you would see it still it's still is today.

Elie:

So I thought, okay, well, the animal print is really on trend at the moment and we're not going to do a leopard print. So why don't we look at the prints that our Australian art, sorry, Australian animals have. And you look at, if you look closely and I don't really, there's not much mention of it on the packaging, but we chose animals that had a beautiful pattern. So the spotted quoll has - so their spots are so beautiful against the caramel, you know, for the Numbat that the stripe of the numbat, you know, the sugar glider has a beautiful pattern around its ears and along its back. And the lizard in particular is one of my favorites. It's, it's such a beautiful, you know,  pattern all over its body. So we used, this is an example of, of a range being inspired by fashion. You know, we looked at what's on trend, and then we turned it into something that's Australian.  and that's why we've chosen the animals that are featured on the Exotic Paradiso range.

Felicia:

Well, that's fantastic. I think that's a fascinating process and our listeners would love to understand that better. I know from my own perspective, we're all animal lovers here at, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ and you know, where we're down at our local sanctuary and volunteering, and we're all really, really into Australian natives. And so seeing all these new animals, and especially in danger, species like the spotted quoll and numbat - that just makes our heart sing to see that in your ranges.

Elie:

And, and that you volunteer in an animal sanctuary as you volunteer, it just shows that you really, and truly live your brand. And you know, it's not just a business for you, it's, it's part of your life.

Felicia:

No, we're very passionate. Thank you😊 

So my next question for you is speaking about, you know, especially leading on from how you can take these patterns and translate them to the Australian animals and can present them in a fun way that people will love.  How important is it to you to get their anatomical or botanical features of the animals and plants correct (or not?)… You know, do you have conversations about that?

Elie:

Yeah, it's funny. Cause I'm a little bit of a conservative myself in that where I don't like things that are not,  super,  how do we explain it? Because you know, Lilly or Murilo often make fun of me because they'll be, I'll say to them... “No, but that doesn't really happen in nature” – ‘Really Elie?...And do you really think there's going to be, you know, not a koala eating a meat pie.’ I'm like, “Okay, I get that’, but it's yeah, it's a case by case is against that. Sometimes I am quite strict with it in my mind. It needs to make sense. And other times it doesn't. And I think when it doesn't, it's more of a, it's a different customer in mind. So when we think of our ranges, we always think of different,  the recipient of the gift, not the customer per se, but the person who's receiving the gift, it's a young, if it's a young boy or girl, a Koala eating a meat pie would be cute and funny and, you know,  or even the, you know, the dad would love that. But then when I think of the, you know, the mature lady who who's fascinated by watching birds and gardening, I would definitely try to keep it as, as real as possible. So yeah. So keeping the recipient of the gift in mind for us helps us decide how realistic we should be. We shouldn't have it, but we've made mistakes. I just want to mention, we used to put, we used to include,  Proteas.

Felicia:

Yes. Oh yes. They're not native.

Elie:

Oh. And, and we, we used to receive some complaints and there was this particular email,  she got into so much detail of what each was so informative in the email. And at the end, we were really grateful.

Felicia:

Yeah, no, they’re South African …  it's a common mistake. I mean, they're in bouquets for weddings and people think they are Australian. You can be forgiven, I think for that one, Elie. So,  I think there was another collection you did with your Nature's Dwellings tropical and you have a koala up a Banana Palm.

Elie:

I, I did Google it. And apparently,  there are photos in real life with koalas have climbed up the Palm trees. I know it's not their natural habitat.

Felicia:

Yes. Hopefully not because there aren't any gums around …. because they enjoy the texture or something.

Elie:

Maybe they just want to explore something different.

Felicia:

So how do you decide,  you've got Lilly and Murilo is your in-house illustrators, which you mentioned. And so obviously they do a lot, your collections and a lot of the Australia ones that we love, but how do you decide whether to outsource or not? Because I know you also use other Australian artists like Elise Martinson, and you've mentioned for CP and in may, how do you decide whether to go external or keep it internal?

Elie:

Well for our greeting cards.  we publish a lot of artists on our greeting cards. We have over 50 artists that we publish. They all get their name and website mentioned on all our products and they get a commission for the sales that we make.  When it comes to collections, to be honest at the very beginning when,  you know, I mentioned that I was giving creative briefs to, to artiststo get more Australia, out there. Because that was, what I was looking for and needing. And so that's the reason why we started, we hired our very first in-house artists…  and now we're at a point where we, if we see an artists come up with a range,  or more so they have a particular style that's really personal to them, we want to feature that style and on our range, we would then invite the artist,  to, to be part of, you know, a proper range.

And we commissioned that range. So it's a hard one because it's not, there's no real rule about it. It's just that if we see something that we were missing, we would then invite another artist. The best example, I guess, is,  the First Nations nations artists that we invited to publish,   Glenda McCulloch. I'm not sure if I'm saying her name. Right. How embarrassing.  so she's obviously that's with indigenous art. It's not something we would do in house. And so that's a style obviously that we would love to promote and to offer. So we would invite the artist.

Felicia:

That makes sense. Yeah. That’s really beautiful.  and certainly people are appreciating first nations art a lot more than in previous decades, I guess, which is great.

Elie:

And again, that was something that was often considered some, you would find it in tourism stores, but now we're seeing more and more of it,  in a beautiful contemporary way,  and traditional way. And both approaches, you know, -na lot more attention is given to that style of art, which I think is, is amazing. It's so good.

Felicia:

It's amazing too, because I think a lot of souvenir shops may have not had the authenticity and the commissions and things appropriately. And I know the government had an initiative to crack down on that, which is great. Even we were approached with them being tested with that Aboriginal designs were authentic. How you described them, there's became rules around it, which I think is great because it can only support authentic First Nation artists better. So. Absolutely. Yes.  That's great. 

So,  we're talking a lot about collections now. There is a collection that stood out recently and I sold out on  its first run. You did some amazing, amazing marketing around it, which is the ‘Wild Fur You’ collection; which is a really cheeky collection for the listeners that don't know it's got pairs of Australian animals mating on, but at first glance you might not notice that’s what it is - it's just some beautiful Australian animals at a glance.

And when you look closely, they're actually mating. And I said to,  my rep who's Matt,  look, I don't think I can stock it. I think it's one step too far and we didn't get it for some time. And Matt said to me, are you sure this is like, Myer’s bestselling range of La La Land. And I thought ‘Oh my goodness. If Myer can do it, we can do it too.’ And we, I think it was, you know, you'd had it out for a while and we got it in and sold out straight away and I saw people were searching for it in the search bar of our site.

Elie:

Yeah. We had it for some time.  and we again, we wanted to do something that was very different and cheeky fun.  It's really cheeky. And like, I get it, it's, it's a bit full on for some people, but it's something that it does happen in nature and it's not pornographic. It's usually just showing what you would make. You might witness yourself on a bushwalk.  And so when we, when we did it,  I was really surprised when Myer took it on. I did not expect that at all. And then after getting some publicity, you know,  I think it was Seven News that wrote an article on that pedestrian TV wrote and that only sold out and people would like looking for it and ask emailing us, you know, they, they want some of this, you know, I think people that had never heard of who we were, sort of knew who we were because of this, this cheeky range.

Felicia:

That's great.  and we would get feedback from customers too, and their reviews when they got their products, they'd tell us that,  they had so much fun, you know, with bringing out the Christmas drinks in this tray, at the Australia and the collection. And everyone's very nice and then they notice what's on it. I think that's a good laugh.

Elie:

And I think that's, what's like really cute about it is that it's so subtle, you know, you're going to realise how naughty it is until you really look you double look and then you're like, Oh, look at that. That's okay.

Felicia:

I think it's provided a lot of happiness and inspiration😊

Elie:

That’s the idea😊

Felicia:

You've done it. That's fantastic. And so what were the -  I can imagine were there creative tensions around the La La Land design table when that was coming out. Like, is this too far or?...

Elie:

At first,  you know, the idea came because I saw an artwork of two rabbits. You often see rabbits doing it and it's funny and you giggle, but I saw this particular work of two rabbits.  and it was,   by this,   I can't remember. I think his name was Caesar, so he's a very, he's a well-known artist, but I can't remember his full name and it was done in a really beautiful Woodland setting. And I thought, Oh, you know, what, what would it be like if we were to explore that idea, you know,  in-house and we do it with lots of Australian animals and we'll do it in a way that there's a pattern and that's how it came about. But originally I was going to do it in alphabetical order, but then I realised that that wasn't appropriate because then it would look like we were targetting children, which were not…

Felicia:

And that's a lot of animals to do too..

Elie:

But that was, that was how it kind of started. So we often start somewhere and then it ends up somewhere completely different, but it's not so completely different, but it worked. And I think Lilly Perrot did a great job with making it look the style of,  illustration wasn't too realistic. So it was a little bit lighthearted in the way she illustrated it.

Felicia:

Yeah. Since she's done all the research right. With the animals, how they, for real

Elie:

….There’s three because it's true that they wait in line. Yeah.

Felicia:

Yes. Hang on. Which one is the three.. echidnas!

Elie:

There's one female and there's males that wait in line. And,  and it's, I mean, it's hilarious. I mean,

Felicia:

Yeah. I can probably tell you some stories about the echidnas at the sanctuary. They certainly enjoy that activity. Probably not PG for this podcast! Fantastic. Oh, that's really great.  

So,  what other collections I'd like to talk about the Coastal Abode collection as well? Because like we were talking about before about this trend is there's a lot of Bush Australia trends. So a lot of,  native, you know, eucalyptus flowers, wattle, koalas kangaroos, those traditional animals, which we still love that. What I love about your Coastal Abode collection is you're introducing corals, you know, the Australian sea lions, seagulls, pelicans, and all sorts of animals into that collection, which aren't traditionally seen in this Australiana trends. Can you talk a little bit about what your thinking there was?

Elie:

Yeah, so we wanted to do something that was really offbeat and,  unconventional. And I say that because the range explores animals inside someone's homes.  So it's an illustration of,  of what it looks like and living room, but inside the living room, there's a koala holding onto a surfboard that's against the wall. There's cockatoos on a pot plant, a plant in a pot there's,  there's a seal lion like you mentioned, and, and there's all animals that you would find or could possibly find near the beach. And so again, we tried to make it as realistic as possible… we tried to explore something that's so weird and unconventional.  There was a time,  where we wanted to do more with, with indoor plants, because we knew that,  if people, Australians love their indoor plants, so we included that kind of look and feel, but made it,  very quirky where it's. So we tried to imagine what would someone's home in their dream look like by the beach? And I guess that's where it came from.

Felicia:

Yeah. Fantastic.  it's beautiful. And we haven't even spoken about,  the product ranges, like,  you know, what you put these amazing motifs and designs onto. So can we talk a little bit about how you decide what products and new products these collections will feature on?

Elie:

Oh, well, the most important thing for us as you know, is the illustration and artwork. So when we choose our products, we try to choose products that show clearly the artwork. So we went in the past, we move, looked at products,  that are too small or, or maybe don't show the artwork enough that we don't go for it. We go for,  focusing on our point of difference, which is the artwork. We also try to think of products that are practical, so people can actually use and reuse and reuse as opposed to things that just, they,  for no reason, put on the bookshelf, although we have done that and we, we focus as much as we can on, on useful products.

Elie:

And we're always looking for feedback. We listened to our stockists as we listen to our sales team.  and we, we think of, we try to think of ways that again, you know, what will make people happy in their day to day lives? You know, takeaway coffee cup would, you know, if something isn't good example of something that is so can be so beautiful and it makes you happy every day when you go get your coffee or make your coffee. Yeah. So it's little things like that that I think count,  when, when in our thought process, fantastic.  

Felicia:

I notice you’ve got some new pot plants coming out…

Elie:

Yeah. Pot planting. We can't wait. Yes. It's very exciting. And it's a, it's a category of products that often people,  either choose, you know, just solid colors or very simple like Stripe, you know?  but what we've done is we've done something where the whole artwork is all over the pot planter, and we've tried as much as possible keeping in mind, interior, interior design of, of people's homes to match the artworks -  we've tried to -  we didn't go for the funny dress-up koalas, you know, we went for the more stylish,  illustrations that we thought would work.

Felicia:

Yes. And that's, I guess those indoor pot plants are in people's homes, hopefully for a long time.

Elie:

Exactly. Yeah. And,  and yeah, and to, to raise a little plant.

Felicia:

That's great. And so,  Christmas is coming up soon in terms of your release of your preview to stock us, which I get so excited about because all our listeners and certainly our customers at ‘I still call Australia home’ -  your Christmas range. And, you know, personally, I almost started a Christmas business before I started this business doing Australiana and Christmas. 

Elie:

I didn't know that. So your business at the beginning was, was mainly for Christmas.

Felicia:

No, that was my idea to do Christmas decorations. Yeah. So,  but I ended up starting, you know, a different sort of business, like gift business, which they should have surrounding things. So,  but that's why we get extra excited to hear about it. And we love showcasing all your amazing Australiana baubles and decorations. So,  I think we could probably do a whole separate Christmas inspiration podcast with me.

Elie:

I would love that. I love Christmas. 

Felicia:

Great - so can you give our listeners a bit of a preview, you know, about what we can expect from the La La Land for Christmas 2021?

Elie:

Yes. Well, we have a huge range of products and ranges coming for Christmas. Oh wait, I don't know how much I should reveal.

Felicia:

Sorry. I don't want you to reveal anything don't want to!

Elie:

No, no, that's okay. We’re doing – so expect Drag Queens and nutcrackers…

Felicia:

…My favorite thing I love, even though they’re German, you’ll probably give them an Australian twist. I would love that.

Elie:

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got a few Australian animals in outfits in the traditional nutcrackers.

Felicia:

Fantastic. I know you had a card last year. That was hugely popular actually with a koala and a wombat…

Elie:

That's actually what inspired this range is we saw that people loved it as a greeting card. So like, okay. Maybe we should include more characters. And we've got a range called ‘Neighbours’ coming, which explores buildings that you would find in Australia where you can see what people are doing inside their homes and apartments during Christmas.

Felicia:

Oh my goodness. What a fantastic idea.

Elie:

Yeah. And again, that's something that you often see, you know, houses with snow on them, and then you work with Christmas trees inside windows and, a fireplace. So we went on a different approach where we looked at the buildings in Australian houses and apartment blocks and, and during COVID, I guess that was our inspiration - is that we all had to stay home - and, and it was interesting, you know, to look into people's home window windows and see them. And that's where the idea came from is, is what would Christmas look like if we all had to stay home?

Felicia:

Wow. That’s really exciting. Can’t wait to see it. I can see you doing a green branding with that name ‘Neighbours’ 

Elie:

A lot of green braining every day.

Felicia:

Love it, love it. And I guess, you know, that makes me think of the European windows. It's probably an Australian twist on that European thing where you can walk the streets, you know, around Brussels and things. And actually people just have their front windows - .You can see things for real, you know? 

Elie:

Exactly. We’re based in Bondi. So a lot of the architecture and the colors of the buildings we got inspired by were our surroundings and I think it's going to resonate. There's also like an old terraced building, which is really beautiful, that we often find in the inner West of Sydney, but I'm sure they’re in Queensland, too.

Felicia:

Yeah. We've got Queenslanders up here. The old Queenslander made from timber.

Elie:

Yeah. Maybe.  cause I know in Queensland you guys have a, there's a particular style of houses there that's higher.

Felicia:

Yes. They’re called the Queenslanders and they were designed because the timber houses and they’re higher, and they have verandahs all the way around them because, so you can -  you know - we live outside more than some other Southern States - and you can always catch the sun on you -  or the shade -  depending what you need, you know - ,all times of year - that's sort of the Queenslander.

Elie:

So why did they elevate them all it was, is it to do with flooding or anything or,

Felicia:

 no, it's not flooding it's airflow. Yeah.

Elie:

Yeah. Yeah. That's fascinating. So next in our range next time I think we should include a Queenslander.

Felicia:

Yeah. Well they're much loved up here, so that would be great.

Elie:

Okay. And, and, you know, just these conversations, that kind of spark ideas and you're absolutely right. We should have thought about that. So we definitely won't forget Queensland.

Felicia:

Our Queensland listeners will be thrilled.

So you guys over the years as well, I think people who already know you or finding you for the first time may or may not know that you often give back as well to charities and you've supported a lot of Australian charities. So it's clearly something that's important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Elie:

Well I've always had the belief that the more you give the more you receive. 

So I've always believed that in order for us, it's, you know, in order for us to succeed, we need to be very generous and give back to the community. I'm not saying I'm doing that to, for the intention of  succeeding. I think it's more an act of gratitude saying, you know,  showing gratitude by doing more for other people -  and so we've always wanted to be part of other charities, you know, no matter what comes up in our lifetime, you know, if it was the bushfires and helping the animals,  and growing trees, new trees for them, it was the time where, you know, we were talking about black lives matter and then looking, you know, in our own backyards and looking at how the first nations people are treated, you know, in here in Australia and what we could do about that.  

There's so many things that we could be part of to improve our society and our community that it wouldn't, you know, it's important to, to do something. And,  last Christmas we, we worked with,  sorry, two Christmases ago - we did the heart foundation. Yes.  and this Christmas we're doing and the last Christmas again, we'll do doing, helping the children in hospitals. Yes. Starlight foundation.

Felicia:

Yes. How do you decide who to give to? Because like I said, there are so many worthy causes out there.

Elie:

I really don't know how to answer that. It's, it's not something I, we talk about it and we're like, what, who, you know, who can we support?  What’s happening at the moment around us?  The Starlight foundation came up because we thought we needed to do something for children and the most,  the,  most vulnerable children are the ones in hospital. And so we, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't close to home in the sense that I had someone in my life going through something, just more of a thought process of, you know, who's out there. 

Felicia:

Well, that's great. And I guess they, you know, are inspiring happiness and things is what Starlight does for those children.

Elie:

Absolutely. Yeah. When I was talking to them about it, they, they thought our values were so much aligned.  And so it was great. And we actually,  we, we didn't tell anyone this, but I guess I'll tell you now, not that we, we donated a Christmas bauble to all the children as well – and they really appreciated that because they did bring smiles to people's faces, especially during such a dark time in their lives.

Felicia:

Oh, that's lovely. Thank you for sharing that. Were there any other charities over the La La Land you wanted to mention?

Elie:

There’s been, so there's been a few little ones.   and, and if there's any charities listening,  and if you want to reach out to us, we would love to do something.  we often get, you know, schools,  contacting us parents, you know, volunteering at schools for, for raffle prizes. So if anyone wants to do that, they could reach out to us.  yeah, so we're often doing a lot of little, little ones.  and they're not always big ones;  sometimes they're just local.

Felicia:

That's nice. Yeah. Fantastic. Oh, well, thank you for sharing those stories.  I'm just thinking it's April 20, 21 and now were pretty much a year and a month into this global pandemic. So it'd be remiss of me not to talk about that.  Because it's impacting businesses differently and in very different ways.  Has impacted you in the last 12 year, 12 months. And what's the biggest challenge?

Elie:

Well, the, when it first came, it was so scary. I felt like I was in a movie and I think everyone can relate to that, you know, with the unknown and running a small business, it was terrifying because we want to obviously keep, you know, paying our staff, which was our priority was staff. And we didn't know if we, if we could, like, it was, we were so scary that we were going to completely shut down and not be able to survive it. We were lucky in the sense that we had puzzles that kind of helped us, you know, it helped us continue with the sales online, which helped because we're mainly predominantly a wholesale business. We don't really have a big -  we sell online - but it's not anywhere as big or significant as our wholesale; as you know; when all the shops closed down overnight, we were like, okay, where do we go from here? How do we survive as a business? And so we focused on promoting these puzzles, but they sold out and then we were like, okay, we need something. 

Because I don't think people at the time were thinking of like what presents to buy each other. I think everyone was just in a state of panic and puzzles were great because it was calming and, you probably know puzzles are still doing quite well.

Felicia:

Yeah. We went in hard on whatever we could get our hands on. Puzzles!

Elie:

There's so much in demand. I think other brands sold out as well.

Felicia:

Yes, definitely. I know. I literally, I remember that day, I did a ring all around Australia, to get my hands on, whatever I could, you know? – as much as I could, because I thought this is, yeah, we need something like this.

Elie:

…and I think the biggest things was that we could survive - you know, for me, I've always, there's always been, you know, when you run a business, there's always been fear – you know, there’s always fear – ‘is this going to be successful’? ‘Are you going to make profit this year?’ ‘Are you going to have enough money to pay your, you know, rent’ - is this kind of, you're scared that, you know, you're not going to make it or maybe, you know, manage, your growth is another one, you know, how do you manage it? And what we got from COVID is that we can do it, you know, there's this sense, this strong sense of reassurance really came up during COVID. It was like, well, if we can survive COVID we can survive anything. And that feels good today.

Felicia:

Yes, definitely. Definitely. And it's not over yet. I think there's the challenge. I think it's a long road.

Elie:

I think it's going to be with us for a while, but it's just about adapting to this new world. And I think Australians are very good at adapting. You know, we, we're not so stubborn in the way we live. We could, we could adapt, you can see that by the way we follow rules and the law, we, you know, we respect what our leaders say.

Felicia:

Mm, yes. So is that the biggest silver lining of the COVID experience is your knowledge and confidence of survival, or were there any other silver linings that COVID gave La La Land?

Elie:

 it was also helping us create a bit more structure with delivery times. You know, we struggled last year for Christmas because we had so many late deliveries from our suppliers. And because of what we experienced last year, we've created so much more structure around timing. We're planning everything so far ahead. 

So I think that's been a good thing…. And the use of having our team work around new programs to better structure their work, and their project and, you know, video calling each other and all of these things. I think we've all learned. We would never have even thought of video calling each other when now it's just second nature.

Felicia:

That's true. Yeah. Who knows what will happen to our cities because of that.

Elie:

And I don't know if it's like, it's scary to think that, our cities are very quiet, still quiet. I mean, I think they're a bit better now. So what it's like in Brisbane and the gold coast they can is your city's busy at the moment.

Felicia:

Yeah. That's city center. It's pretty quiet still. Yeah.

Elie:

For us too. So I mean, a lot of local, a lot of businesses in the city have, have really struggled.

Felicia:

Yeah. We sort of talked about it with zoom, but are there any changes because of COVID to your business?

Elie:

Well, we focused and launched a lot more puzzles. We tried to keep in mind things thatyou know, help people if they’re at home. We launched memory cards, as an extra product, that we thought was what could be helpful along with puzzles for people were, I mean, there's, there's a lot of little things. We, we put on our blog how to make your own masks,  you know, face masks using fabric using our tea towel. 

Felicia:

That was great.

Elie:

So we, we kind of, it did kind of shake us a bit and made us think outside of the square. And it's made, I think all of us appreciate our lives more than ever, and our jobs and having a job. And, you know, someone told me this,  months ago and it kind of stuck in my head that they noticed that since COVID started, people are nicer, you know, when you're walking down the street or when you're buying things, people are friendlier and nicer -  it's they mentioned, I started to notice it and maybe subconsciously I was, I started to be more open to smiling strangers and saying, hi, when I walk my dogs, you know?

Felicia:

Yeah. There's been a lot of silver lining for a lot of us. That's good. And what's next for La La Land then? What's next? Yeah. 

Elie:

There's a few licensing programs coming up. For some reason I've been, we've been attracting licensing companies like other companies, iconic companies too, you know, we've done recently, we've done one with Streets ice-cream.

Felicia:

Yes!

Elie:

And, now we're look, we're, in the process of working on a few others, some are Australian, some are not. So there’s a few new products. 

You’ve mentioned the pot planters – we’ve got new large totes. I personally love anything to do with style; interior or fashion. So my, my personal expression has always been in that kind of area. So I would love to do more things that really,  kind of keep us challenged in the world of, of beautiful trends. If that makes sense. I'm not sure if that made sense, but yeah,

Felicia:

It makes sense. Yes. We'll look forward to seeing what you're going to bring out. That's very exciting.

Elie:

So, I'm excited about that. And I think we, you know, if we can, if we could be successful in that, it just will open up a huge door for a whole new kind of part of the business. 

Felicia: So what I'd love to do with you, Elie, is a quick fire round before we wrap up to just learn a little bit more about you. So just in a quick answer round, I'm going to ask you five questions. So the first one is what's your favorite Australian animal and why?

Elie:

My favorite animal is the wombat because it reminds me of my fat dog.

Felicia:

Oh, that dog, what sort of breed is he?

Elie:

But one of my dogs is a Jack Russell Cross Foxy. Oh, I've been trying to get him to lose weight for years and he just won't have it. And he's really tubby and awkward. He walks around, reminds me, but when I look at it, I see a wombat. It reminds me of my dog is so cute. And they're just so adorable. And I've, I've always wanted to pat one, but I've never pat one. Have you ever touched a wombat?

Felicia:

  1. I would love to as well. Yeah. Let's keep, I've got a dog. It's exactly the same in terms of weight. 

Elie:

Some tips later about how to, how to help your dog lose weight.

Felicia:

Oh, no, I'm not, I'm definitely not the right person. I’m too soft!

Do you like Vegemite? 

Elie:

Absolutely. I grew up with it. Yeah, I love, I love it. 

Felicia:

Where did you grow up? 

Elie: So I grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, so my parents are actually Lebanese, so it was a very strange thing for a Lebanese family to have Vegemite in their cupboard, but we did; and I loved it. Great. On top of all the Lebanese kind of your typical food that we would have in the fridge Vegemite.

Felicia:

Awesome. What was your first Australian concert you went to?

Elie:

When I was, I can't remember how old it was, but the first concert I went to was probably,  Enrique Iglesias, I think. Yeah.

Felicia:

Didn't expect that one.

Elie:

..and Dido

Felicia:

Oh, yes. Yes.

Elie:

When she, when she came into Australia, I was very young as well. And I met Destiny's child in Bankstown Square shopping center, out West of Sydney back in the year, 2000.

Felicia:

It must've been before they were absolutely huge and stopped doing shopping centres!

Elie:

Yeah, it was. And no, it was just the three of them at the time. And I remember I was in my school uniform and I waited for hours to get it in my album signed. I told them when I got to the front of the queue that I was a fashion designer and I loved their fashion style. And although I was in my school uniform and it was a bit of a lie, I wasn't, I wanted to be, but I wasn't. And she asked,  Beyonce asked if I had a business card and my heart dropped. I wish I had given them like my email or something, but I said, no, I didn't. And then I walked off of my head down. I was, I think, 15 years old.

Felicia:

You must have just been thinking so many things in your mind at that moment.

Elie:

I know I was so overwhelmed and I was nervous and I don't think they would've ever contacted me, but just the thought that there was like 1% chance, you know, I think my email at the time was ‘funky as’ yeah.

Felicia:

They would have thought that was really trendy and cool

Elie:

Back then.

Felicia:

So what's your favorite Australian biscuit? 

Elie:

Iced Vovo.

Felicia:

Oh yeah. I've seen those in a few collections.

Elie:

Yeah. Well, not anymore because of it, you know, we have to be so careful now

Felicia:

You've gotten too big Elie😊.

Elie:

Yeah. We just can't take any risks anymore - back in the day, I suppose. Yeah. We had a few of those around. 

Felicia:

And what's your next bucket list place to visit in Australia?

Elie:

You know, I haven't been to Ayres rock and it's always, always wanted to go there. I hear that it's it's a very magical place and very spiritual place. So I feel like that is something that all Australians should visit at one point in their lives. Cause it's right. In a sense. I think it's just so weird that it's right in the centre of our country. I would love to go, but I haven't been, what about you?

Felicia:

I'm the same. I would love to go. And haven't been, that would be my top one. My mother’s a painter and she went and did all these amazing paintings of the rock and said how amazing it was. So I would imagine if you went, you would be so inspired and create incredible things.

Elie:

Yeah. Especially the colors, the colors would have been so amazing to paint. I imagine your mum would have had a great time.

Elie:

I didn’t know that your mother is a painter. I have to see her work.

Felicia:

Ah, yeah. I'll send some stuff to you. There's a lot of that that runs in the family, I guess, which is why we love art – yes I draw. Yeah. So a secret hobby. I have, I have a lot of our drawings on some of that things here, some things that we send out with our gift tags and things. 

Elie:

So I have to keep an eye on it next time. I see. Because I know that you've been, you're a remarkable marketer and you have this remarkable way of offering more than what people expect, you know,

Felicia:

So nice. Thank you. Well, it is about you though Elie today! 

So where can our listeners find out more about you and more about La La Land?

Elie:

You can visit our website, our socials, and you can visit our office – we’re on the road – often people just walk by thinking we're a shop, but we're not, but you can still come in and we love visitors, but yeah, definitely our Instagram, Facebook would be the place to go to just stay up to date. We also have a newsletter that you could join our mailing list. And if anyone who wants any advice or anything can, contact me personally through social media as well.

Felicia:

Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you. And I'll make sure I include all those links in the show notes for people. So yeah, absolutely. This has been great fun. I'm so happy to get to know you better Elie and really enjoyed it. 

Thank you so much for sharing all those insights – the passion for your business just shines through. And you know, I just think just what you've achieved in your business is really inspiring.

Elie:

Thank you. It took a very, very, very long time – so that’s one of the virtues one needs for this, but thank you. I really appreciate your support over the years. You've been great to us and you know, without stockists like you, we wouldn't exist. So thank you.

Show Links: