Vanessa Bell of Sarah Jane Bond at home at the family property at Breadalbane, NSW. PHOTOS: Rachael Cramp from it’s a beautiful life photography.
Vanessa Bell’s appreciation of wool first developed in the 1990s when she was modelling superfine Merino wool garments for some of the world’s top fashion brands. This admiration for the fibre grew further seven years ago when she married a woolgrower and settled in country NSW. In 2017, Vanessa launched Sarah Jane Bond – a brand selling premium hand-knitted baby blankets made from superfine Merino wool – and she has big plans for its future.
While Vanessa’s relationship with Merino wool began in the late 1980s when she started modelling, the inspiration for her Sarah Jane Bond brand goes back even further, to 80 years ago when her great grandmother knitted a Merino baby blanket that was to become a family heirloom.
Vanessa’s great grandmother was a lady dedicated to the wellbeing of her family in fairly tough social and economic circumstances living in Forbes and Dubbo. Like many other mothers, she knitted with Merino wool to create comfortable baby wear and durable clothes for her children.
Eight years later, on the birth of her son, Vanessa searched for “a proper cot blanket” to keep her baby safe and warm. She reached for her great grandmother’s Merino woollen blanket which was still going strong after all those years.
When Vanessa launched her baby blanket brand in October 2017, she decided to name it after her great grandmother: Sarah Jane Bond. “After all, her beautiful knitting was the catalyst and inspiration to create these family heirloom baby blankets,” said Vanessa.
Vanessa has had a very diverse background, from fashion to finance, from media to now being a farmer and business owner. She says it has been an interesting, challenging and rewarding journey.
“My love of Merino wool and my relationship with wool actually commenced on the runway modelling for clients such as Valentino and Armani. In the 1990s, high-end designers were utilising superfine Merino wool in a way I thought beautiful and functional. I’m proud to say my very first shoot for Vogue Australia in 1989 was wearing a Merino blazer for Jean-Paul Gaultier.
“My passion for excellence in quality and design stems from my fashion background. I lived overseas for most of my twenties, four years living in Tokyo, stints in the UK, USA and New Zealand modelling for clients such as Christian Dior, Comme des Garçons, Anne Klein and closer to home Country Road.”
On returning to Australia, Vanessa focused on new careers in finance, the wine business and then more comprehensively in media.
“Then in late 2012, I met a shy farmer through friends and in 2013 I moved from Sydney to live with my now husband and son,” she said.
Vanessa and her husband are based on a 875-hectare property at Breadalbane on the Southern Tablelands of NSW, with another nearly 9,000 hectares at Gilgunnia, south of Cobar. Together the two properties run about 5,000 Merinos, cattle and cropping.
“On marrying Philip, I gained three stepchildren. Our girls are in Queensland and Victoria and we enjoy raising our boys here on our farm south of Goulburn. I really enjoy being on the land and I’m very proud to be producing fine Merino wool and woollen baby products in one of the world’s best growing districts.”
Sarah Jane Bond baby blankets are hand knitted in country NSW from soft Merino wool yarn.
THE SARAH JANE BOND BRAND
Sarah Jane Bond produces a range of hand knitted Merino woollen baby blankets, booties, beanies and matinee jackets, with new blanket designs in development. Vanessa is also excited to launch hand knitted sleeping bags in Autumn 2020.
Each baby blanket or product is hand knitted with completion times varying; more intricate patterns can take up to three months to finish. Vanessa’s knitting team knit from their own homes, free of smoke or animals. They knit to specific designs and to demand.
They only use 100% pure Australian Merino wool, of approximately 18 micron.
“I was motivated to create an on-farm business drawing on my media skills to value add to our existing farming enterprise,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa developed the business during the first nine months of 2017, with its official launch in October 2017.
“There were all the usual suspects sitting behind starting a new business: strategy, marketing plans, prototypes, differentiating features of the product, implications for the customer and market research, together with a positioning statement that would carry the brand as it expanded.
“In terms of building the brand it has been relatively organic, a bit like moving to a small town! It takes time to get to know everyone, for them to get to know you and to build trust. I’m keenly aware of the importance of delivering an outstanding quality product while building authentic relationships at every touch point of the business.
“This desire to create bespoke family heirlooms and to build genuine connections with families has been hugely rewarding and instrumental to our success. I feel like we’ve settled in now, we are established and focusing on new opportunities and scaling the business.”
SALES AND MARKETING
100% of the brand’s sales are online through sarahjanebond.com, with sales currently being made in Australia, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, France and the USA. Vanessa says the digital space has played a major role in the positioning of the brand, both in the domestic and international markets.
“The online space offers incredible opportunities especially for people in rural or regional areas; you can now invite the world into your top paddock, entertain them, educate them and encourage them to buy. It’s a scenario previously thought impossible.
“Utilising the digital space is integral to the success of the business, leveraging various media channels and platforms to build a customer fan base.
“The role of social media has been so interesting; we’ve established so many connections and opportunities arising from not only a genuine following but by a sense of camaraderie as seen in the #buyfromthebush campaign.”