Walter and George are real though. ‘The name [WalterG] comes from our grandfathers, Walter and George. They both passed away within a year of each other and we both inherited a small amount of money, but it was enough to start our business. The name was a little nod to them’.You can buy WalterG textiles from Sydney to New York; beautiful prints in coastal colours with vintage designs – but there is no ‘WalterG’, something that confused some of the company’s earliest suppliers. ‘Everyone thought we worked for someone called Walter who ran some big business empire’, remember Lauren and Genevieve, who co-founded WalterG in 2011. The name might have been the best planned aspect of the business (‘we didn’t even really do a business plan’). The rest, it seems, was a mixture of serendipity and huge amounts of hard work.
In the late 2000s, Lauren was staying in India completing an mandatory internship for her degree. ‘I was living in Hong Kong at the time’ says Genevieve, ‘and went to visit her as a friend on holiday. We fell in love with it and a week before Lauren flew home we emailed “hey, what do you think about starting a textile company?”’
Despite the fact that neither Lauren or Genevieve had graduated or run a company before, the answer was obviously ‘”Wow, sounds awesome, love to. How do we start?”’.
The answer, of course, is complex. Genevieve and Lauren explain that ‘It was probably a year before we started because we both had to save a bit more money and finish our degrees… At the end of the day, as a stock-based business. You can have all the dreams in the world but you kind of need cash’.
The stars ultimately aligned for Lauren and Genevieve. After a government grant and graduation, the money and timing came together which let Lauren and Genevieve move to India to for six months to ‘learn it all’.
Sanganer, a historical centre of textile production in Rajasthan where Lauren and Genevieve lived, presented huge challenges. ‘”It was just like ‘we’ve got this much”’, they recall ‘so we’ll have to live off this $2.50 a day so that we’ve got money to put into the stock’.
There were also incredible opportunities in Sanganer though. ‘It’s been a home of block printing for hundreds of years. Lots of natural dying happens there and in some of the surrounding villages. A lot of people who live in that area have something to do with block printing or block carving.’
Living in Sanganer also meant a chance for Lauren and Genevieve to meet the local women who work in the textile industry. Though a lot of large firms are own along typical patriarchal lines, traditional block printing provides an independent income stream for many women in the area. ‘A lot of women work in block printing over there, which is fantastic because it’s something that women can do with a little room in their house… They’re able to have a traditional housewife role but have an income as well, which is great.’
Founding a company is very different from making it successful though. Lauren and Genevieve found out the hard way there is a limited market in Australia for naturally dyed textiles though. Brighter colours are more in vogue but there has been a resurgence of appreciation for the handmade, high quality goods that WalterG (and Bailey Nelson!) provide.
The United States also represents a huge opportunity. Genevieve and Lauren note that the country is really enthusiastic about Australian style. ‘They’re always saying to us “we’re loving everything that comes out of Australia, it’s so different”, but being in this country we take it for granted a little bit’.
It’s easy to understand the Americans’ love for WalterG’s textiles. As a country with a long heritage of making fabrics and a cold climate in Northern states, beautiful throws, blankets and bedding are essential for a lot of households.
As with Lauren and Genevieve’s time in India, entering the United States presents a lot of challenges for the three woman team behind WalterG. ‘We’re getting to the stage where we might need more people, but for the moment we’re just seeing how it goes.’ In what could be an unpaid ad for Microsoft or Google, Lauren and Genevieve attribute their ability to manage a company and live life at the same time to apps that let them work remotely.
The business world might be changing rapidly, but the story of WalterG shows that traditional ways of patterning and making textiles still have a place in people’s hearts, and homes.