CLARENCE+ Made in South Grafton
Technically Leigh Holford does not and has never lived in the Clarence Valley but there's good reason she's included in this mix of women in our Creative Forces section.
Her ideas have made an impact here. While she and her family call Brisbane home, their business operations are based right here in the Clarence, the South Grafton Industrial Park to be precise.
Her family runs the century-old Krugers sawmill which was relocated from Ipswich to the Clarence in 2011.
"When the lease was up they began looking for a more permanent location to base their operation and Grafton really appealed as it is a real hub for the timber industry. The opportunity came up to buy land there and to have that close connection to all the other timber manufacturing businesses.”
And, while the mill is well-known for its replacement axe and tool handles, its most recent line of products is attracting the a lot of attention. And Leigh has been in the driving seat of that.
MOOV Baby was coined by the mother of two after recognising there was a gap in the market when it came to quality-made and designed indoor play equipment for babies and toddlers.
"My dad had been talking about making cots and nursery items for a while. They are always looking out for new product ideas as manufacturing in Australia is a pretty hard slog and quite a competitive industry having to compete with the cheaper imports from China.”
Leigh's interest in free-play children's equipment came after she had her first child, son Cax who is now three. A friend introduced her to the Montessori* philosophy and RIE*-style gross motor development, which has its mainstay in the Pikler* triangle design, so she started to look around Australia to try and buy one.
"It was really difficult to find and the examples I did find were clunky and quite expensive. They were more industrial, for use in daycare centres, so not very appealing for the home.”
And so Leigh pitched the idea to her dad who made up a few different prototypes with his team before settling on a final design.
"I tested it out with Cax and, once we had a product ready to manufacture, the Grafton team really ran with it.”
The MOOV Baby range started with three items - the rocking circle, Pikler triangle and ladder.
"I've still got the very first system sitting in my living room. It's still going well, used daily by my son.”
The quality of the equipment was paramount when designing the MOOV Baby range which uses all Australian timber processed at the South Grafton mill.
"We try to use and source everything from the Grafton area. It's the centre of the universe here for the MOOV Baby range. I think the only thing we get from elsewhere are the screws.”
Leigh said the dowel was made from native hardwoods like spotted gum and the ply from premium Australian pine.
"It's all natural and really kid friendly. I have photo of my baby chewing away at it. The equipment is very much made for the market it is intended.”
As far as having a business plan Leigh said it was just a matter of having faith in what they were doing and putting it out there on the internet.
"Websites are much more affordable now so we thought we would give it shot, not really expecting too much to start. I remember how excited dad and I were when we got the first 100 orders. It's really taken off since then. I didn't think beyond just giving it a crack and whatever happens happens.”
Leigh said while they were nervous about whether parents would invest the money in their play equipment systems she did feel attitudes towards children's toys were changing.
"Parents don't just think about buying little toys that kids play with. My son's very active, he wants to run and jump and climb and pretend he's a dragon and lion. We live in an apartment and a lot of city-based people do live in smaller spaces that don't have a huge area for their kids to play, so to have something that looks good in the house that is multi-purpose and multi functional and also lasts for years makes sense to them.”
Despite it being designed for babies and toddlers to develop free movement skills, she said a lot of people who had seven and nine-year-olds were still using the system and enjoying it.
"People with multiple young ones like it too because it's a toy they can all use together in different ways.”
She said it had been really exciting watching MOOV Baby grow as a business and how word has started to spread.
"Instagram is getting into it. It's a great way to get your products out there. Recommendations by people posting pictures, those kind of endorsements means they have confidence in the products.”
She said they even had a celebrity post courtesy of Sophie Vines (The Block). "She has a huge following and loved the natural style of our products. We got 1000 new followers overnight after she posted her kids playing with it. That kind of thing really made us believe in ourselves.”
Leigh said they had been receiving inquiries from around the world "Saudi Arabia, Poland, Czech Repbublic, Slovakia and the US asking to buy it.”
"Freight is the main issue though and I don't think we'll be looking to manufacture internationally. We'd just like to keep it in Australia, and Grafton, at this stage.”
See the full range at www.moovbaby.com.au