Meet Miranda Osborne, the creative mind, design visionary and business brain behind go-to Christchurch furniture brand Ico Traders
What is your work background?
My career has been a mixed bag. After only a year of art training, I decided to be an artist full time. I then took a job as a textile designer, designing textiles and helping to buy ranges of curtain fabric. This amazing opportunity allowed me to travel and gave me the skills to design textiles when I lived in London. Somewhere along the line, I switched from fabrics to clothing and spent several years working in the fashion industry, which in turn led me to buying and dealing more and more with overseas factories.
What was the inspiration behind Ico Traders? What made you take the leap and start your own business?
The Christchurch earthquakes were the kicker for me. I was travelling overseas a lot (in fact, I had just landed in San Francisco when the first earthquake hit), I had two young daughters and my job and family life were pretty damned busy. The earthquakes made me re-evaluate what was most important – and that was my family.
I thought that if I was going to bust a gut, then it may as well be for myself, so I could build a career that fitted around family life. My goal was to find a good factory with a good understanding of design, and one I could build a really solid relationship with that worked for both parties. I am happy to say that, while it took a year or two, I have truly succeeded in this mission. The people at my factory are awesome; they are proactive in designing, patient with my changes and have become true friends.
When did you start Ico Traders and what were the greatest challenges you faced?
Ico has been going for seven years now and every day is still a challenge. Running a business on your own is a 24/7 job with all the responsibilities down to you. I’ve learned a lot about accounting and admin and freight-forwarding! I am daily grateful for the help of my colleague Bridgett who works for me part time.
What is the ethos of your brand?
We are about home and family. Ico has been built around my children growing up and has always been run from my home. This means constant input from my husband and girls – everything I design has to pass the test of the everyday, rough-and-tumble chaos that is Osborne family life. This is why my designs are simple, sturdy and multifunctional. Most of them have more than one use or purpose and are light enough that they can be moved from room to room, space to space, inside to outside, as they are needed. My motto is: buy less but use it for more.
How has Ico Traders developed or evolved since you started?
I first started importing enamel lightshades. It was not until a year or two later, when I found a factory I felt I could truly work with, that the wire furniture was created and I found my mojo. Introducing great brands like Pressed Tin Panels and Wilson & Dorset sheepskins complements the Ico Traders brand and rounds out the range that I sell on my website.
We are about home and family. Ico has been built around my children growing up...and has always been run from my home
What are the toughest things about running a business in Aotearoa? What are the best things?
Being at the bottom of the earth is isolating and I miss the opportunity to gain inspiration at furniture shows throughout the world. However, that isolation is also a good way to ensure you are not swayed too much by trends and helps keep you true to your brand. A big downside is that I’m constantly asked for freight estimates to send products overseas, but the cost of freight is prohibitive. This is still an issue without a solution.
What or who are some of your favourite businesses, labels, makers or products in the Christchurch area?
Although they are not from Christchurch, I’d have to say that my admiration for design team Douglas & Bec is high, for the way they use beautiful materials in a true and simple way. In Christchurch, Julia Atkinson-Dunn of Studio Home selflessly champions small businesses and is constantly building up a supportive community for the creatives of Christchurch. I am currently trying to save my pennies so that cabinetmaker Neil Hopkinson (of Parsons Green Furniture, New Brighton) can make me a full row of oak drawers for my kitchen.
Are you from Christchurch originally? What do you love about living there?
I’m from Woodbury, near Geraldine. I’m a farm girl who lived a big chunk of her life in Auckland, then brought her kids back to Christchurch to be with family. Both my sisters and my parents live in the Canterbury/South Canterbury region (and my husband’s family all live in Christchurch). We said we’d stay for five years, and that was nine years ago! Christchurch is a small-town community the size of a city.
What’s your absolute favourite Ico Traders product and why?
It has to be the Hokianga hanging chair – it’s a whimsical piece of furniture that immediately relaxes you when you sit in it. I have loved hanging chairs since I was a young child and the Hokianga is only one of a collection of hanging chairs that I own. If I needed to name a runner-up, it would be the All Day tray – I love the curved sides; it’s such a handy item and has 100 uses.
Why do you love working with wood and coated metal?
There’s nowhere to hide; my designs are so simple and everything is open and out there. I love that all my products are handcrafted and, while I design them, the makers create every piece individually. Our oak range is handmade in Christchurch, using sustainably grown white oak, and I love that I can work so closely with my makers here.
What’s coming up for your business? What are you excited about?
We have five new designs for spring (that’s a lot for me). I design with the intention that my products do not follow fashion, that they will last through the trends and will continue to be sold over the years. We have a new table, a new bar stool and a couple of other surprises to launch in August.
What’s your advice for anyone thinking of starting a homeware business?
Travel your own road, but make use of the amazing community of small businesses out there; the support is incredible. Choose small items that are easy to store, easy to lift and cheap to freight!
What are your top tips for styling your home for autumn and winter?
Layer it up! In summer I want no-fuss, easy-to-clean surfaces and floors. In winter I add more cushions, sheepskins and shaggy rugs and just a bit more of everything to ‘bring in’ a room and make it more inviting. I’m a huge floor-sitter, so the shaggy beanbags, lounge rugs and sheepskin stones are a must in front of the fire, and the Willowby cubes make great little tables.
Words by: Sally Conor. Photography by: Sarah Rowlands.