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We’re speaking to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country to better understand how they’re adapting to stay open, how they’re keeping their community safe, and how we can support them now during this time, and beyond. We’re focused on keeping Australia open for business, even if doors are closed. #OpenWeStand
Newcastle-based homewares and lifestyle store, House of Lita, is a haven of linen, rattan and chic gift ideas. Founded by Lauren Steel and Brigita Millard in 2018, the duo have shifted their focus to House of Lita’s online offering, as they have closed the physical store due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Having an established online store has been invaluable during this time — if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a business at all during this time,” Steel told TheLatch—.
While the online store was a secondary offshoot to the bricks and mortar House of Lita, this time has given Steel and Millard the space to perfect their digital presence.
“This has given us the push we needed to improve it and work harder on our online presence which I believe will benefit us on the other side,” Steel said.
We spoke to Steel about how the team has diversified their product offering and how she stays motivated at such a stressful time.
TheLatch— Hey, Lauren. Could you please tell me about House of Lita — and when and why you launched?
Lauren Steel: I lived and worked in Sydney (minus a couple of years in London) for over 10 years where I worked in publishing — both print and digital — and I specialised in interior and lifestyle publishing as interiors, homewares and design have always been a big love of mine.
My now-husband, Mitch, is from Newcastle and after a stint of long(ish) distance, I decide to make the move from Sydney to Newcastle and reluctantly leave my publishing career after roles at the likes of lifestyle publishing brands MyDomaine and Vogue Living, but with the very exciting prospect of opening my own homewares and lifestyle store in Newcastle — a forever dream of mine.
About six months into my move to Newcastle, I took the plunge and opened House of Lita — a homewares and lifestyle store — with a very good friend of mine, Brigita Millard (the founder and designer of childrenswear brand, Indah Designs) in August 2018.
Now, a year-and-a-half on, we import collections of Moroccan rugs and textiles, stock some of the countries most well-known brands (Zulu & Zephyr, In Bed, PR Candle Co., Lack of Color, to name a few) and we have just created and launched our own linen womenswear collection called LITA.
TL: Talk me through your digital presence, does having an online store help House of Lita?
LS: We have had an online store and website for House of Lita since we opened our bricks and mortar doors. While we are store first and we built House of Lita around having a unique store offering for Newcastle, we also knew the importance and opportunity that comes with an online offering and presence.
Having an established online store has been invaluable during this time — if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a business at all during this time. Another positive for us is that our website was always slightly secondary (even though we knew it required more effort and work) so this has given us the push we needed to improve it and work harder on our online presence which I believe will benefit us on the other side.
“Having an established online store has been invaluable during this time — if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a business at all during this time.”
TL: When did your business first start to feel the effects of COVID-19?
LS: From memory, it was early in March when the restrictions weren’t yet in place, but there was a lot of uncertainty and when the potential effects of COVID-19 were really coming to light. While we were opening the first week or two of March, it was close to being one of the quietest and slowest months we’ve had to date.
TL: Have you had support from industry peers? How are you helping each other?
LS: Newcastle has a real community feel and we’ve always felt support from other local small businesses. Whether it’s a simple Instagram shout-out or an email or text with a request for advice, we certainly feel the support is there whenever we need it.
TL: What does it mean for you now? Have you had to pivot your business/way you operate?
LS: It means that our store is currently closed so we are investing more time and resources into our online store. Once we can open our doors again, we will thankfully be back to our normal business model but are of course aware of the financial effects connected with COVID-19 so we may need to look at diversifying our product offering or services which is something we’re always open to anyway.
TL: How can consumers support your store now in the short term?
LS: While it’s a tough time financially for many people, we don’t want to encourage people to shop for products they don’t necessarily need, however, we do offer a lot of products that are very relevant and practical during this time — furniture and homewares to turn your home that you’re spending most of your time in into a space you love, linen and knit loungewear (including our in-house brand, LITA!) that is ideal for days at home and self-care items such as incense, candles and books.
Plus, we can send a gift for you! It’s a tricky time to send gifts when you have to try and shop, wrap and post while staying home so we can do this for you — with complimentary wrapping and shipping. Or of course, supporting by following us on Instagram or by signing up to our newsletter is always so appreciated.
“While it’s a tough time financially for many people, we don’t want to encourage people to shop for products they don’t necessarily need, however, we do offer a lot of products that are very relevant and practical during this time.”
TL: Do you think the way you operate your business will be changed for good?
LS: Yes, I certainly think our attitude and commitment to our online store and presence will be improved for good.
TL: As a business owner how are you staying motivated? What drives you?
LS: Both my business partner, Brigita and I just love both of our brands — House of Lita and LITA — and we are so committed to them, believe in them and are dedicated to their success so it’s easy for us to keep motivated even though things are a little turned upside down right now.
TL: What do you think we’ll learn from this experience?
LS: I think overall we’ll learn to appreciate the simple and everyday things that bring us joy and that perhaps we may have taken for granted — whether that’s appreciating your home that you’re lucky to live in, appreciating family time that you’re lucky to have and knowing that while it’s cliche to say, being healthy and happy is what is most important.