It’s so wonderful to see Urban Oasis celebrating 21 years. Tell me, how did the business start?

Carole:

I found my life was getting too hectic. I wanted balance in my life. I was doing interior design and also working in advertising at the same time. It was just go go go. Work can be such a preoccupation of the mind and your body. There was really a need to find a place of flow that worked for us and provided that soul connection. Great shops take time and you really have to stop and listen to people properly to make it work. 

I started with a wholesale trade stand promoting seven young Australian designers, being passionate about promoting Australian design.  I was seeing amazing quality and ideas here. I wanted people to see them, so I set up an exhibition stand at fairs in Sydney and in Melbourne, and it was an amazing success. It was only natural that Holly joined me. 

She actually worked at the same trade fairs helping young companies launch and build amazing ranges. After one day at a trade fair, we were in Pyrmont and we saw the Harris Street shop was available.  We said “Let’s do it!”, it just made sense and just worked from then on. We knew we could put all these things we were launching at the trade fair and could build a vision. Everybody loved it!  

Holly: Yes, there was always something missing for me until we had the shop – that end to end connection of idea through to the customer experience. I missed the buzz with people, the excitement and curating something tangible. To be able to find the products and put them together the right way. It was great to be in that space, to have a voice from beginning to end. 

So it sounds like you both had a passion for retail and knowing what people wanted. Where did that come from?

Carole: I was originally working at an advertising agency. I was the Creative Director of Leo Burnett and I got to that stage where my husband was travelling all the time and we thought we might move overseas. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to do that. Australia is where I wanted to be.  I have lots of careers in my life – journalist, interior designer and then creative advertising.  When I left advertising, interior design was a love I wanted to continue. The shop gave me that wonderful creative outlet again.

Holly: Yes, looking back it’s amazing how what we wanted just aligned at that point. I had been in fashion but there was a crossroads. I had studied fashion design, had a great job creating, designing, manufacturing which was my dream. I love working with startups. At the same time, I was working with three homewares retail shops and there was a side of me that was like, “Ah, I’m really enjoying this”. Fashion design is great but I wasn’t connected to the customer enough. I’d spend time in factories, going from pattern maker to sewer to fabrics suppliers. I just knew I wanted back into the retail space where I could present collections from a mix of designers for something truly unique.

That’s quite a journey for both of you. Over the years you have built some amazing partnerships with some great Australian brands and designers. Tell us about that process and what really excited you.

Holly: I think what excited me is staying true to why we opened. I want to grow with designers and learn what our customers really resonate with. Especially in fashion because we get sent a lot of invitations to take on international brands and we could easily do that. But there’s something really wonderful about having our local designers and nurturing those. They do such amazing stuff – everything’s ethically made and their whole concept is such a lovely perspective you don’t get anywhere else. Their uniqueness is the key to our success. 

Carole: For me, It’s about bringing together all my loves. There’s such a creative element between interiors and fashion. I appreciate everything – children’s wear,  homewares, fashion, men’s gifts  – the layering to make it special. That’s an integral part of what this shop brings together.  I really missed the trade fairs during COVID as it was hard to access and meet up-and-coming creatives – it is such an amazing part of the process. I love Elk the Label. I can always count on them for a good pair of boots or sneakers and great jewellery. I find that really important. We’re not about unwearable silly things but items that are their own style, that help women express who they are, without looking like everyone else. I am quite careful to make sure we maintain a certain level of quality – I know people rely on that. It’s integrity.  It’s the same for employing people  – they have to have integrity. It’s the true element of Urban Oasis. 

And what do you think is the secret to your success after 21 years? 

Carole: I feel we are the brain of a mini department store but with the soul of a boutique. So you can’t say we are a fashion sort first or a gift shop first  – because it all forms a story. I love the sense of treasure hunting here, the space lends itself for people to explore and find items that speak to them. I want to keep doing that.  Because we really like a one-stop-shop for so many different people and needs. 

That is so true. Going through the shop you really feel like a kid in a candy shop – I love that every time I come in. You are also in a unique part of Sydney  – have you had to adapt over time as Pyrmont changes?

Holly: Oh, it has evolved a lot which has allowed us to be more adventurous. When we first began 21 years ago, it was just a ghost town – quite a sleepy part of Sydney. And now, it’s just like this buzzing corporate society from Monday to Friday. And then on the weekends, you’ve got this amazing relaxed local community that comes alive. I love being part of their lives and hearing about what they are doing. Obviously, with COVID that changed this last year because we were able to be a lifeline to people who still wanted to connect with others and celebrate in tough times. You’ve got diversity here, which means it’s different every day. Customers become friends. So we are very lucky. 

You also have a wonderful team. How did that come together?

Holly: I just think there’s a really strong push for women at the moment. That makes me really appreciate our women.  We’re all different. But we’re all very similar and we love being around creativity. We have this real love of design. And we all love people I feel blessed to be working with such a great group of women. I love the idea of expanding that.

Carole: Very soon after we started the business we were blessed to have Lou join us. She has contributed immensely to how we developed. She has a natural ability to connect with our customers on any level. After 21 years, she is like family and I can’t imagine this shop without her.

And now it’s time to celebrate! How does it feel still being here after 21 years and what does this celebration mean to you?

Carole: I just think of right now. For me, it’s all about customers and great service, today.  We have some fabulous clients and my enjoyment comes from hunting for treasures they will love. Celebrating our birthday this month is to thank them for the 21 years of support. 

And what’s the next stage of the journey for Urban Oasis?

Holly: I’m excited to develop exclusive Urban Oasis product! It just seems the next step for us.  We’ll always keep doing what our customers love which is finding new Australian designers, however, I want to bring our unique style to more people.

We are also exploring the idea of expansion to another shop. Just like it was with Harris street, you wait for that right moment. So look out Sydney!

Urban Oasis will be hosting a series of birthday celebrations in instore

between the 22-24th April with

special guests and of course champagne and birthday cake.

Please join us to celebrate and see what’s new instore.

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