From island travels to business success! How two young women turned their passion into a business

Take a peek behind the scenes of Koh Living in this Q&A with Co-Directors, Tui Cordemans and Nyree Hibberd and discover how their successful giftware business first began.

You are business owners and best friends. When did you meet and where? What did you have in common? 
We met nearly 20 years ago at a party and firstly discovered our mutual love of music and dancing! In time we also realised we both had a passion for travel, business and living life to the fullest.

How did you choose the name of your business?
We’ve spent a great deal of time on holiday together in Thailand and we both love the country. In our 20s it was heaven, a beautiful island lifestyle – hanging out, enjoying food, chatting, sun and sand. So when it came to choosing a business name we loved, it seemed natural to choose ‘Koh’, which means ‘island’ in Thai.

When we began our business, we were excited at the idea of travel as part of what we did. Of course, what we quickly discovered was there was going to be a great deal of hard work for the next few years and little travel.

What sparked your business idea? 
We met a business owner in Bangkok in a café who owned a homewares company in Australia, and she made it sound so easy and fun –  and so it began!

What was your first product idea? 
The essence of Koh is about ‘being different’ from the very start. Our first product was a range of colourful, hand-carved candles. There was nothing like them in Australia and they became an instant hit.

Who was your first retail partner? Are they are still with you today? 
We are proud to say we still have many of our first retail partners. One we initially hand-picked was Bluestone Candles up in Sassafras Victoria – it’s been a pleasure working with him throughout the years.

Why did you choose ‘Australiana’ as a theme? 
We didn’t choose it, it chose us. We had a product that was doing really well and we thought it would look amazing with Aboriginal artwork, so we tried it and it worked.

Australiana is also about travel, something that is so important to us. We want to help people reminisce about their travels in Australia. However, our range is not just about travellers. Our products help customers connect to things they love, bringing a smile to their face, or connect to people they love, through gifting something that is close to their hearts.

What was your biggest learning in the first year of business?
Don’t trust a supplier to choose products for you! We sold out of our first shipment very quickly and for the second shipment, we asked the supplier to send their best sellers. Big mistake! The supplier sent stock they wanted to clear. From then on we started tracking every sale we made so we were on top of stock levels and made smarter decisions. Back then we didn’t have a computerised system – we wrote down every sale.

How have you – and the business – grown and changed?
The business has grown from selling candles out of a boot of a Datsun 120Y to a well-respected, national gifting brand and we are incredibly proud of the journey.

We have grown personally because we learned everything as we went along. We are both committed to learning about business, people and ourselves. We are always reading a book, seeing a mentor or coach, attending a seminar or course and sharing what we have learned. We are street smart… always getting better at what we do.

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