Leah Bartholomew was the last interview I did during my crisscrossing of the Gold Coast region. I would like to say lucky last, but in all honesty, I felt like me and my sister were the lucky ones! The creative headquarters of Beneath the Sun is tucked against a small thickly forested hill just a few blocks from the beach in Coolangatta. Leah and her partner, Building Designer; Tim were relaxed and barefoot – oozing the friendly coastal vibe you would expect from those living in such a beautiful region. While my sister and Tim retired to the large back deck for a beer, Leah and I took up the corners of each end of a squishy sofa to chat about her little art based empire and how it all took root. A born and bred Gold Coast girl, Leah was all sun, surf and sand until she made a move to Melbourne to study Graphic Art. Her aesthetic and skills didn’t go unnoticed and she was snapped up as the assistant for prolific creative, Beci Orpin. For 5 years Leah assisted Beci on a myriad of projects for a super collection of clients including Insight, Mambo, Roxy, Gorman, Jethro Jackson, Built by Wendy in NYC and Irony in Japan. She was supported in her own development with the completion of two solo shows. In 2011 the sub tropical sea breeze of the Gold Coast called her back. Leah’s first passion is painting and her art was heavily inspired by nostalgia and her childhood on the coast – heading home to family just felt the right thing to do. With a plan in place Leah and Tim moved first to the hills inland of Coolangatta to get things kickstarted, then after a year back down to the beach to enjoy the seaside lifestyle. Leah always knew that she wanted to apply her art and design to homewares, so a collection of products began to take shape under the moniker; Beneath the Sun. She was able to call on her the extensive network of makers and friends that she had built over the last 10 years to suss out how to get it off the ground. And as per usual, she maintained her freelance work creating textile prints and graphics for big business clients and has also begun working to fill the demand of commissions for her paintings. But how exactly does a small company like Beneath the Sun actually produce their products? I know…I can hear you covering your mouth and whispering “….China…” but you have got it wrong. Determined to create a true local brand, Leah set out to disprove the perception that it is not financially viable to manufacture products in Australia. She networked and researched her local area with a vengeance. Soon she had collected a handful of small and talented teams to deliver her vision. The little faceted Gem vessels are made by two sisters in the hills supplying ceramics to a number of local set ups. She has another team of local women who sew her cushions and bags while the wooden products have their pattern applied by a fantastic local printer and are finished by Leah and Tim in their backyard! The furthest suppliers are Melbourne’s Frankie + Swiss who print the beautiful ( I can vouch for this!) pillowcase collection and Printink Studio who screen print her cushions. To me this is a modern brand making “stuff” the old collaborative way. I am not sure when our interview really officially finished as we found all four us sitting around the table, drinking beer and sharing stories that regularly crossed from work to personal life. With so much to talk about we ended up moving down to a beachside burger joint (owned by a kiwi!) to continue annnnnnd feed our faces. It’s up there as one of the more idyllic Easter Fridays I have had!All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM LEAH:
Despite many misconceptions about the area, the Gold Coast can grow, support and cultivate creatives in a way that rivals many popular centers! I am ready to head that way for a sabbatical!
I shot of a recent commission by Leah. Photo supplied.