A conversation with Designer, Founder and picnic master Sharnee Thorpe of Wandering Folk.
Born and raised in Hastings Point, Sharnee Thorpe spent her childhood painting and drawing with her grandmother and recalls many hours spent down by the beach. After meeting her husband Arthur some 12 years ago, they’ve travelled both solo and together ever since. From impromptu trips in their 1969 Commer Camper dubbed ‘Bronson’ to sailing the Whitsundays with good friends, they always seem to squeeze in a picnic full of cheese, wine and breathtaking scenery.
It was through this exact lifestyle, a gap in the market for good looking, high quality camping gear and Sharnee’s background in Textile Design that birthed the idea of Wandering Folk. Picnic and camping gear that isn’t just good quality, but also looks the part too!
When was Wandering folk born?
Started 2014 and launched summer of 2015. There was a year of sampling and hashing it all out first before it launched and then I went to America with a sample rug, went on a big road trip around America for 6 weeks with a friend to basically test drive the rug and make sure the product was of good quality and to also see what changes I needed to make.
And where did the idea come from?
Basically not being able to find something that was high quality for camping that was also really nice to look at… not ugly camping gear haha!
I couldn't find anything that I liked on the market so I guess having a background of textile and print designer, making the print was the easy part.
You mentioned a background of textile/print designing… how did that come about?
I always did art in high school and was always drawing and painting with my grandmother.
So I did a Tafe course for a year, after leaving the hospitality world, which is where I discovered the career path in textile design, which basically makes you an artist of surface design.
The only course in Australia is at RMIT in Melbourne, so I moved from my Hastings Point to Melbourne to study for 3 years.
So you’ve gone from growing up on the Northern NSW coast to living in the thick of Melbourne city… what was that transition like?
Well back then, this area wasn’t what it is now… there wasn’t much opportunity or really anything happening for that matter so it became a little uninspiring.
Arthur and I were so ready to be somewhere with a lot of culture and artistic things happening all over the place, all the time. It was a really great time in our lives to experience the city for 3 years.
Can you recall your biggest setback?
Well in the early days, I did a pre launch/presale for my first product so that I could pay for it all and send out all the orders and there was a huge miss-hap with the printing.
All the samples were amazing and perfect but then when the whole order came, they were all faulty and discoloured due to a fault in the printing process. There was oil or something in the fabric, which had turned all the colours brown, and a heat setting that wasn’t used during the process so I ended up having to recall all of the sales. It was so heartbreaking.
That must’ve been devastating! How did you overcome that?
Friends! So much support and reminders that I had created such an amazing product that people really wanted. And especially the support from customer reactions, everyone was just as heartbroken as I was.
I was also selling ‘the highest quality’ product on the market so I really wanted to live up to that statement. And Arthur of course, his support has always incredible.
What’s been the biggest ‘pinch yourself’ moment during the Wandering Folk journey?
Probably being stocked in Spell. They’ve been supporters of WF since the early days and I remember them making an order in the beginning that was so huge, it was like half my stock and I couldn't believe that such a big company like that wanted my product in their stores, especially because, at that time, they were only stocking their own products.
They’ve been such a big driving force for me. I’m still so grateful for that opportunity and for them still stocking my product!
You’ve done a lot of travelling… what's been your favourite trip so far?
We had some epic back-to-back trips with Will & Bear last year! We started in Sri Lanka, and actually got to relax which is super rare for us because we’re usually jam packed with adventures and exploring.
Then we went to the Whitsundays and sailed around with Elise, Dom and Loz and Alex (Will & Bear). That topped every trip I think. Just being on a boat for 5 days, sailing along the bluest water you’ve ever seen, sunset picnics and sunrise swims with amazing food and great company, it was pretty special.
So it’s safe to say you’ve got the picnic life down pat…
(Giggling) yeah I’m pretty pro at picnicking now, 5 years of full time picnic’s will do that to you!
What’s your favourite part about having a picnic?
Um… the cheese and wine! I do love sunset picnics though because i’s not too hot and the colours in the sky are slowly changing, mix that with being surrounded by the best company, staying put and chatting. It’s about being in that moment.
“Wander often, wander wide, Wandering Folk is a way of life” -- what does that motto mean to you?
Inspiring a lifestyle rather than just buying a product. You know, getting out and doing more things like watching the moonrise over a picnic, or hiking for 4 hours with your picnic rug and enjoying the view at the top.
I love seeing the photos our customers capture after lugging their rugs around; setting up a picnic and getting to experience a moment within nature with someone they care about. It’s also nice knowing I’m not the only crazy picnic lady haha!
And what’s the best part about being your own boss?
The flexibility and freedom! Being your own boss and being inspired and excited about what's happening in each day because each day is so different! It’s also really hard as well, but I guess Wandering Folk is an extension of my lifestyle, I live and breath what I’m doing everyday and the ethics behind Wandering Folk is basically what we already do in our lives, like jumping in the van and going camping or hiking to waterfalls with a backpack full of food and a rug attached. I’m really feeling the benefits of working for myself now that I’ve just had my bub Velvet, taking maternity leave when I need and then being able to take my baby ‘into work’.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the designs?
Well, I’m the biggest lover of vintage so I’m always looking at the colours and designs of second hand pieces from opshops to Persian rugs. And also looking at previous artists like William Morris, an 1800’s textile designer who made incredible block prints, and then hashing them out and applying colours that are relevant to today.
So what’s next for Wandering Folk, anything we should be excited about?
I do have something coming out super soon, which combines my two favourite rugs!
Okay that IS exciting! When can we expect to get our hands on one?
Hopefully launching at the end of October. I’ve actually got the sample sitting right in front of me, and we’ve done the entire shoot, so I’m just patiently waiting to share it with everyone!