For as long as she can remember Ellie Collins has been inspired by nature. Now she’s used that muse to create an online business.
As a little girl growing up on acreage at Lilydale in Victoria’s Yarra Valley Ellie Collins loved nothing more than having the space and freedom to roam and play in the bush. Her other great joy in life came from crafternoons with her mum.
“I made anything and everything,” she recalls. “I loved making bunting from natural fabrics and every pot plant in the house was wrapped in hessian or bark or whatever I found in the great outdoors. I collected timber to make wooden picture frames and planter boxes. I was always busy with a project, either finding the materials to make it or actually involved in the creative process.”
These days she’s taken the concept to a whole new level by creating an online business based on artisanal accessories inspired by the natural world. Called The Vintage Tree, Ellie sells cushions, ottomans, bags, jewellery and her own handmade dreamcatchers, all with a boho rustic vibe and a down-to-earth sensibility. “A few years ago I started making dreamcatchers from old doilies as gifts for friends,” she explains.
“I just love the way they work inside or outdoors and move with the breeze. I also love the history of using something that has a former life and tells its story in the occasional stain or age markings or signs of wear. From the responses of people I made them for I was encouraged to make them for sale.”
In the early days she continued working full-time as a product coordinator for a make-up company, but gradually her after-hours passion started taking over her day job. Weekends were entirely consumed by setting up her shingle at markets and weeknights were devoted to making stock and establishing The Vintage Tree online store.
“So I went part-time,” she explains. “Then two years ago the business had expanded to the point where I needed and wanted to give it my complete attention. Apart from anything else I was getting a bit tired from working every night till midnight filling orders.”
The home Ellie and her husband, Luke, created in the Dandenongs was a microcosm of The Vintage Tree world, with natural fibres and native American accents contrasting against a neutral backdrop. “Structurally the house was quite sound so Luke and I gave it a facelift,” she says. “We painted throughout and, being a plumber, Luke was able to do a lot of the work himself. We have a friend who is a carpenter and he gave us a hand with the kitchen and the outdoor area. We created a studio for me upstairs so it was perfect for working from home.”
Luke is the green thumb in the partnership and has toiled long and hard in the garden. Ellie added her signature embellishments including, of course, lots of dreamcatchers and vintage touches. However, an offer that was too good to refuse and the quest for more space in which to raise a family meant that Luke and Ellie recently sold their dream home.
At press time, they were still casting around for the perfect spot on five to 10 acres to make their new home. The fact that the couple was also recently married added to their workload, so Ellie says they will take their time until the right property comes along again.
Meanwhile, The Vintage Tree is powering along with Ellie expanding her supplies from all over the world with distinctive cushions, leather goods and homewares from Turkey and Morocco, and Mountainside jewellery from high in the Rocky Mountains in the US state of Montana. In spite of the long days and hard work she continues to have a stall at the Saturday market at St Andrews in the Christmas Hills.
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 20.2. Click here to subscribe to our magazine.
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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Kim Selby