We sat down with Joel Cooper, to talk ethics, his family, and the beautiful story behind his company’s name: Frank & Dollys.
Joel’s wife, Rachel, actually started Frank & Dolly’s after holding a lifelong appreciation of and passion for fabrics, op-shopping, and crafting. Joel, a former Oxfam employee, later joined his wife on her creative endeavour. The two always had a profound amount of respect for ethical production and sustainable practices, so they naturally implemented this into their own business. Is this a match made in heaven or what?
What made you start Frank and Dolly’s?
Rachel started the business out of a very natural desire to create and be resourceful with recycled and vintage fabrics. Rachel grew up in a family that was centred about the philosophy of making and being sustainable when it comes to our consumer choices! So it was lots of op-shopping for fabrics and getting crafty on the weekends, designing and turning their op-shop finds into new garments! Rachel had the most beautiful collection of linens and tablecloths, and made herself a simple dress out of her favourite piece. Everyone asked her where she bought it from, so she decided to make a handful and start selling them at a local design market! Rachel sold out of all her dresses that night, and so she made more, and more and more… and they kept selling.
This was the starting point, and really cemented in Rachel that others were just as excited about sustainable and crafted fashion as she was!
This was a long time ago now, and since then our little business has continued to form and grow, as have our offerings of collections and garments processes! In 2015 we moved away from vintage fabrics, and started creating our own fabrics, using all ethical and independent producers to assist in the dying and printing. I (Joel), who had previously worked for Oxfam, had a huge passion for ethical production, joined forces in the business and we moved to setting up a beautiful brand with a sole focus on making pieces with soul!
What is something others wouldn’t know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
It took us time to find the right people to work with! It wasn’t as easy as Googling “ethical fabric makers” or “independent seamstresses”… It took us a good three years to really cement our little team. It took trips to Ubud, visiting little studios, following our instinct and staying true to our core values. Our team is built on genuine relationships, and this takes time!
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
The most challenging thing would be balancing that pace that we want to work at and the pace that we are able to work at! We feel like our heads are exploding with new ideas and designs and adventures but we are constantly reminded to slow down and take our time, as that is when the most timeless things are created!
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Frank and Dolly’s, who made your clothes? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Of course. We have a small team of women in Ubud who make our garments. It began when we met Jero on a trip to Ubud. We were in a beautiful little store on one of the side streets, a store that reminded us of our own! We started talking to the lady behind the counter about who made the clothes, and she said she made them herself! The craftsmanship and detail was so beautiful.
Rachel was pregnant at the time, and struggling to keep up with our own orders, so we asked Jero if she could make 10 dresses for us. She took us to her home, we met her family, and got taken to her studio at the back of the family compound looking over the rice fields.
It had two sewing machines, a cutting table and a wall full of fabric! It reminded us of our studio at home, just replace the rice fields with gumtrees! Jero started to sew dresses for us, and it grew from there. One day Jero said to us, I think we should ask another lady in the village to help sew with us! And so the team grew, organically and naturally!
Jero has now asked other women from her village to join our team. They all work in their home studios, so they can work around their children and family lives. It feels so amazing to know exactly where our money is going, to see these incredibly creative and skilful women have work opportunities and a consistent income stream, without a middle man and with total control of their work hours and conditions. It’s the dream!
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
I was talking to a stranger, an older man, on the beach at Moggs Creek, and he asked me what I do. I told him about our brand and the plans for our business, and with such conviction he said “stay true because hard work pays off”. And that’s what we continue to do, stay true to who we are our vision, and we are so excited to see it resonate with so many people.
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
My tip would be, ask yourself what it is you want from the business and make these goals really clear! Get your priorities in line with your values so that you are measuring yourself and your business against your values, not external factors like your Instagram following or bank balance!
Where do you envision Frank and Dolly’s in the future?
More travel, more collaborations with beautiful makers and more creative collections! We feel like we are really on the right road for our values and life goals, so we hope to sustain what we are currently doing and check challenging ourselves to create new and exciting pieces!
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
Travel is a big inspiration for us, we love exploring new cultures and learning from ancient traditions and craft processes! There are so many incredible creators out there, with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. We just love learning from these people!
And also people who are pursuing their passions with balance and joy! Brands that have started from scratch, doing their thing, staying true to their vision, and not compromising that! These people inspire us.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
Our morning routine is a big family breakfast, and morning blessing and then entering the day ahead! We are currently travelling in Southern China, so routine is so important for our little family!
One book everyone should read? Why?
Hardest questions! My answer is any book of poetry! I’m currently working through Rupi Kaur’s collections, but poetry is my total muse—from the ancient Pslams, to Keats.
Rachel answers with The Alchemist, because everybody’s on a journey.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers our there in your world that you think people should know about?
Oh there are so many, and I feel like our Insta feed is full of amazing souls and creators! So here’s some people who are movers and shakers in our world are, currently:
Natural Harry – An incredible Geelong girl inspiring and challenging consumerism with sustainability!
Rob Bell – We love his podcasts, as feel explores, and unfolds spirituality and life philosophies
Emma Power – an inspirational teacher in Melbourne, opening up new and beautiful ways to live and think.
The Hustle Inspired – another great podcast for small business folk!
Musings from the Moon – Jenna is a divine thinker, illustrator and poet.