Mahlia Interiors was founded in May 2018 by Becky and Lana, a duo team who shared a passion for the intricate handmade detail of these stunning products.
Specialising in bone and mother of pearl inlay, Mahlia sources a range of furniture and homewares from artisans in India, and more increasingly, designing custom orders, so that every customer can have the perfect piece of inlay to complement their space.
In just over a year, Mahlia Interiors has grown exponentially, recently hosting their first pop-up showroom in Melbourne, and collaborating with a number of designers and large brands in the interior space.
Question: What originally inspired the creation of Mahlia Interiors?
Lana Rosenbaum: Becky and I had both always wanted to run our own business. It was something we talked about all the time. We'd thrown a lot of ideas around but the one definite was that it had to be a product we loved, and in an industry we were passionate about. We were both big lovers of bone inlay but didn't realise the other was, and when we finally started talking about these gorgeous products (and how Becky's mum's house was full of them), we knew straight away that this was the business idea we'd been chasing. After sleepless nights of research and planning (mainly due to our excitement), we realised that we could create a brand dedicated to solely providing high-quality inlay pieces, to those who also have a love of inlay.
Becky Bannar-Martin: My mum has always loved inlay pieces, and her home has slowly become an inlay paradise! I've always admired the products in her home, but secretly, I was even more obsessed with the fact that they're all handmade and have their own unique quirks. So when Lana and I started talking about creating an online store selling bone inlay, it was just the perfect idea for us. We'd been colleagues already for one and a half years, so we knew we worked well together, and that our skills were a good match to compliment the others.
Question: Can you talk us through the creation of an individual Mahlia Interiors product?
Lana Rosenbaum: The products are all handmade by our production team, and some of the larger dressers can take four weeks to create, because of the intricate detail within each pattern! Each individual piece of ethically sourced bone or mother of pearl shell is hand carved into the shape of the pattern, and then secured on the wooden frame of the product. Once that's set, our production team pour a layer of coloured resin in between, which is then dried and all products go through our quality control process before being packaged and dispatched.
We have so many different patterns and colour options - there are no limits to what can be created in this beautiful form!
Question: Where do you source your materials?
Becky Bannar-Martin: Our products are made in northern India, in a beautiful state called Rajasthan. We have developed a close relationship with our production team over there, who hand make all our inlay pieces… and do an incredible job of it!
Question: When did you know it was time to have your side hustle become your full time job?
Lana Rosenbaum: This was a really big decision for us and we'd been umming-and-ahhing about it for months. The business was growing and we were frantically trying to manage it all outside of business hours (which is SO hard when you're trying to maintain a high level of customer service)… our partners were sick of us being glued to our laptops all night… and we had a giant list of things we wanted to do to grow it, but just didn't have the time to do so. We were both ready to move on from our full-time jobs, and we thought… we're either going to look for a new full-time job and never have the time to properly give Mahlia the full attention it deserves, or we take the risk and do it now.
Becky Bannar-Martin: We'd been considering it for a long time, and honestly we knew it was inevitable that we would take the plunge, but the question was just 'when'. Then one morning on my way to work, I was listening to a podcast and it was almost as if they were talking to us. It was about how two girls took the plunge and left their jobs to work on their side hustle. I sent Lana the podcast, and we just decided to stop letting the fear and uncertainty guide our decisions. We believed in ourselves, and the business numbers spoke for themselves. We were so inspired after listening, we just thought… let's do it. A week later we resigned.
Question: What did you learn during your first pop-up showroom in Melbourne?
Lana Rosenbaum: The showroom was a real learning experience for us. It was hard work, organising the deliveries, unpackaging and lots of heavy lifting, but it was most definitely worth it. We already knew that a large number of our orders were custom orders, but I guess the showroom really highlighted that people wanted a personal and customised experience. We would have customers come in and point to a product and say: I want THAT design, but in a different colour, and with slightly different dimensions.
Since then, we have reviewed our overall marketing direction and are pushing the awareness of our custom orders offering which is quite unique… we've also added our contact number to our site for that more personalised experience that we learnt from the showroom was so important. We realise that our products are an investment, that people will cherish for a long time, and they (and us) really want to make sure their piece is the best suited for their style and the space within their homes. We find so much joy in working with our customers to achieve this.
Question: Overall, what has been the biggest lesson you've learnt since founding Mahlia Interiors?
Lana Rosenbaum: Behind every success there are hours of hard work, mistakes and perseverance.
Becky Bannar-Martin: Trust yourself! Also great customer service is a huge lesson; it really is the key to every business.
Question: Why do you believe it's crucial for businesses to collaborate, especially in the design and interior space?
Lana Rosenbaum: It's not just about selling a product or service, when you're in the design and interior space. We use content to create a story and showcase a particular 'lifestyle' for our customers. The best way to demonstrate and create this dream is through collaborations, where we can have access to and use a combination of beautiful products, and a variety of colours and textures, to compliment our inlay pieces and complete the 'dream'. Quality content is absolutely crucial in our industry, and collaborations are a great way to make content work harder and smarter for us, benefiting everyone involved. This loop where content is shared, it's invaluable. It also builds really lovely relationships within the industry.
Question: Do you have any advice for others hoping to start a thriving business, with a friend?
Lana Rosenbaum: Yes, lots!
One of the reasons our working relationship has worked so well, is that we have different interests and skills within the business. We're not fighting to do the same jobs, or both avoiding other jobs. Everything I enjoy working on, Becky doesn't, and vice versa. We also have the same values and expectations around different areas of business: customer service, financial management, brand voice … That really helps when it comes to decision making.
Becky Bannar-Martin: We can also both be brutally honest with each other, and know there are no hard feelings. That's been important. At the end of the day, we know we're just trying to make a decision based on the best possible outcome for the customer and the business.
We also let ourselves have fun and be silly, not a day will go by where we don't have a solid laugh with one another.
Question: Can you talk us through a typical day for you at Mahlia Interiors?
Becky Bannar-Martin: Every day is really different!
Because of the time difference in India, we usually wake up to 10+ emails and messages from our production team overseas, so mornings are spent replying to emails. We will check and respond to all social channel enquiries, as well as communicating daily with our delivery teams, customers and production team on order and tracking statuses. Whether there may be a photoshoot planned, collaborations being discovered, or finance meetings, we always seem to be doing something different from the day before.
Lana and I currently work together from our homes or cafes, but we're looking at joining a coworking space moving forward, hopefully with like-minded people. We're booking more meetings with designers and stores, designing new products, and are working on our marketing and overall business plan for 2020.
Question: How can we find out more about Mahlia Interiors?
Lana Rosenbaum: We'd love to show you our stunning inlay products, and share our love for these beautiful pieces!
Definitely have a look and get some inspiration from our Instagram: @mahlia.interiors Or visit our website: www.mahliainteriors.com.au
Interview by Brooke Hunter