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The OiOi Story - Interview with Wonderful Mama

Posted on January 15 2016

We chat with the founder and designer of OiOi baby bags, Lisa Bennetts, and hear how she created these bags for when she first had her daughter who is now working with her on the business. A truly inspiring story.

Tell us a little about yourself Lisa..

I was born in Melbourne, lived in Melbourne. Then in my late twenties I lived and worked overseas and in the UK. I have always been in the fashion industry actually. I started off pretty much doing what my daughter Isabella is doing, which is media when they first introduced it. I then went and worked for Sussan as a buyer till I was in my mid twenties and moved over to the fashion accessories side of the business. I so I’ve been exposed to a lot of influences I guess. Living in the UK was a great experience. They were good times. And then returning to Sydney, I had Isabella at about 37. A beautiful surprise! I ran the business from home for a very long time. Up until the last 10 years or so.

As far as interests go, I love cooking. I enjoy going to art galleries. We love living here, close to the city.. enjoying the urban thing.

Isabella and lisa Oioi

Isabella has been inspiring in terms of opening my eyes to things. Whether its social media, new ideas, she’s bubbling with ideas all the time which is wonderful. She has all this energy. She used to sit next to me when I was packing the boxes for David Jones. We lived on the Mornington Peninsular with a veranda full of boxes. The truck used to come up and I would have everything laid out ready to go in and this little one would be sitting drawing all over the boxes so they’d go out with drawings all over them. Or she’d be hiding amongst them. Whatever I did, she was with me. Deliveries, she’d be toddling along. She’s very much grown up in it. And I think that’s why she’s been so good at school. She’s been with me working with figures, foreign exchange etc. She has maturity and a business mind already. I don’t think she even realises how much she’s absorbed just being around it in terms of both creativity and running a business.

What inspired you to launch the OiOi baby bag range?

I was working with Oroton at the time, designing their brand, Fiorelli, when I had Isabella. And someone said, “You need a bag” and I just said “What do you you mean?”. I needed a bag for all my bits and pieces and that’s how it evolved. I made a template at the time. Prada was quite big with microfiber, the very urban look so I made the first bag very incognito. I didn’t want to be carrying a bag and my partner didn’t want to be carrying a baby bag with prints, teddy bears and the rest of it. The name OiOi is after Isabella’s father and my grandfather who was Italian and used to go “Oi oi!”. Its catchy and it wasn’t babyish.

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I had to order a minimum of 500 units which was shipped in and went into the garage. I remember our poor dog sitting in amongst all the boxes having no idea what was going on. My husband said to me, “Off you go, take a bag..” so off I went to a shop down in South Yarra, walked in, I had the bag on my shoulder with the pram and she said, “I’ll take four”. It was just a plain satchel. As Isabella grew, I didn’t need that bag as much so I design a quilted backpack. I would do the template in cardboard to get a feel for the size and spec.

In 2002, we were approached by an Australian girl who was living in America who wanted to distribute the bags and sell them to her friends. She came back and said, they want colour, prints and patterns. So OiOi, for the greater part of our range, was known for patterns. It was a very strong part of our range for a long time. That’s where it grew really quickly. Then it all became a bit more classical but I do still bring patterns in every season.

Where do you find your inspiration for the patterns, prints and colours in your designs?

I’ve always had an appreciation for fashion and fashion handbags so that’s where I get my ideas from and then give them a practical twist. I have to continue to evolve. This market is, to a certain degree, saturated. There are a lot of new people coming in so you have to keep moving. The men’s bags are a real opportunity and are very popular.

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When you first started OiOi, did you ever imagine Isabella would be sitting here working with you on it?

Its kind of meant to be really. She’s always been creative and artistic. She used to draw bags when she was little. She was only about 6. I remember, it was turquoise. I think its in her DNA.

Isabella, what’s it like working with your mum?

Isabella: Well, first of all, there are no boundaries. We’re both passionate, sometimes too passionate. Sometimes I bring up OiOi too much. She wants to relax at home but its my OiOi time because I’m not at uni or at work. I’ve always been very proud of OiOi. When I started the Instagram, I recruited all my friends to follow it to get the followers up. I’ve always loved having a mum with her own business, I think its really cool. Its been lots of fun. I’ve been fortunate enough to go on a lot of overseas trips over the years as ‘Little Miss OiOi’.

Lisa: You’ve been very good at telling the story and promoting OiOi.

Isabella: I give you a hard time sometimes.

Lisa: Yes you do! You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.. But you drive me.

Isabella: I’m learning too. I don’t think I give you enough credit.

What does a normal working day together look like?

Lisa: It's usually in the evening or late afternoon. We’ll sit down in front of the computer and she’ll run me through things that she’s done or seen.. website banners, what we should be doing with our look. For example, instead of doing our normal photoshoot, why don’t we make it so it looks more like Instagram which changes the feel and look.

We’ll be in the kitchen, I’ll be cooking and we’ll be exchanging ideas at the table. I’ll pop over and look over her shoulder. She helps me with writing blurbs for OiOi and she’s great with statistics globally and market movements etc.

Isabella: Every Thursday night when we’re talking through prints, there’s another family connection. Our new textile designer is a friend of the family so she’ll come over and we’ll work with her.

Lisa: It’s very organic, intimate being in the home.

How would you describe each other in ONE word?

Lisa: Passionate! You should see her when she loses her temper 😉

Isabella: I’d say intelligent. I don’t know if that’s the right word but a lot of the time people think you are just creative but really I’ve come to know you as very good on the business side.

What are your favourite bags from the collection?

Lisa: I like our new tan nappy backpack - it's younger and more contemporary.

Isabella: The carry-all nappy bag is a classic with the two compartments!

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Finally, what can we expect to see from you and OiOi in the future?

I’m actually thinking of entering the baby clothing category. To be honest with you, with OiOi, we have an opportunity to grow it and dip our toes in a few other areas that compliment the range. I think we have built a very strong bag business and now we’re looking at how to extend it into other areas. It may have taken me 19 years but while Isabella has been educated, that’s what my primary concern has been, to keep this ticking in such a way that it doesn’t run me, I run it. To be able to bring Isabella up, educate her and now she is an adult we can work on it together.

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This article was originally published on Wonderful Mama - an online magazine that shares inspiring stories about Australian women. Lisa and Isabella were interviewed by the editor Emma Stewart in 2016.

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