Tell us about yourself. What was the spark in your past that led to your creative career?
I loved drawing and was always a creative kid, but I kind of lost my way through my teens into my mid-20s. My parents heavily discouraged my creative pursuits, so I found myself distracted by travels and wanderlust. At the age of 24, I found myself in a tiny Japanese town on top of a green tea field teaching English and painting surfboards on the side. This was when I realised the importance of following my heart and brushing aside the thought of not feeling good enough to pursue the arts. I enrolled into RMIT School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne and sojourned home to fulfil my arty-farty desires. Melbourne was a great design breeding and training ground, with a plethora of talent and new small ventures constantly popping up there.I developed a discerning for layering effectively (in photo shoots and fashion). I had another creative surge when I moved to Sydney and was thrown in the deep end working for a massive Australian fashion label, sourcing props for their photo shoots and interiors for their stores. It was during this time that I really honed the ability to tap into another person’s creative vision and translate it into a 3D space.
Another spark occurred when I was dressing windows on George Street for a fashion behemoth (my last job). I found myself talking to the mannequins and making up stories about their past and present to keep myself creatively amused, which told me it was time for me to get out of the window. It was during this time, Kawaiian Lion was born.
How did your situation change when you had kids?
There are the usual suspects – less sleep, less time, less hair, more mess and more planning. But with it comes a ridiculous amount of love and self motivation to achieve creative goals and form amazing relationships with good folk who help enrich the label and our family’s livelihood.
No-one can really explain just how ridiculously tired you will be, and just how much love you will be brimming with when you have a child. I am literally smothered with wet kisses everyday and cuddles are endless. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the same. I am still a homebody, we go to the beach, we cook, and we hang – It’s just that there is this happy little monkey hanging off of me.
What’s a day/week in your family like? What kind of care arrangements do you have and do you have any tips that help things run smoothly for you?
Mondays: Kawa and I hang or visit friends. I attempt to pack orders and answer crucial emails while she naps.
Tuesdays: We visit Nannie (Kawa’s grandmother) and Kawa spends the afternoon at their house while I go home to do work.
Wednesdays & Thursdays: Kawa goes to family daycare, which is local and an awesome community service which I highly recommend to any parents.
Fridays & Saturdays: my partner Des and I split our day so we both work a half day each and care for Kawa in the other half. We have been doing this split shift for over a year and find it is the most effective for working and maximising time with Kawa. We both get to spend quality time with her, minus the guilt factor, and then have time to work on our brands.
Sundays: is family day as much as possible! We do have the freedom of being able to choose our ‘Sunday’, so we just make sure there is one full day where we do not do any work. Sometimes Des is busy painting a mural or installing wallpaper over the weekend, or I have urgent design deadlines to meet, so we jiggle our days around. We are both pretty flexible people, so it works for us to have a loose schedule.
I work whenever Kawa is sleeping, which means early mornings, nap time or bedtime. I have found over the last year and a half that there is no point having a whingy monkey at your leg while you attempt to write a coherent email, so let’s just go to the park!
We have been working towards being work-at-home parents and maximising family time ever since I fell pregnant. As our businesses have both grown, Des has been able to cut down his work for the opera and spend more time at home. Kawa now wakes up assuming her father will be there and is confused of his whereabouts when he’s at work.
Kawa is the most beautiful name – how did you decide on it?
Kawa translates as ‘River’ in Japanese. In Chinese, the ‘Ka’ means family and ‘Wa’ is good health. We decided to choose a name that belied her Asian heritage to run alongside her Scottish surname, Sweeney. Leaf is her middle name, and she could not be any more like a little River Leaf.
Tell me a little about your business, Kawaiian Lion, and what we can find in your store that we can’t find anywhere else?
Kawaiian Lion is about homewares that you, your dude and little ones can all enjoy. It’s about hardy cushions and blankets that you can throw around, sit on the floor or take out to the beach with you. It’s about being inspired by ’60s and ’70s vintage and using fashion techniques, such as stone washing, embroidery and patchwork, to create products that embody the look and feel of a bygone era. Kawaiian Lion aims to create a home that is non-gender specific and does not scream “guurl” or “man cave”. It’s about finding that balance, evoking a laidback island-luxe kinda feel and not taking ourselves too seriously –embracing a jumble of prints, textures and old surf lingo.
“It’s really important to me that kids and guys love everything I make because home is a space for the whole family,”
What do you find most challenging about being a creative mum? What do you find most rewarding?
Book-keeping, taxes, Excel spreadsheets, receipts, invoicing and dealing with numbers and money. My eyes glaze over and my head starts whirling when any of the above are mentioned. It is extremely unnatural for me to know how to deal with these things and causes rashes to appear all over my body. It has been a huge learning curve and I have had to force myself to confront these matters. It actually took me about a year to realise that I was running a business – all I wanted to do was design some cushions! I’ve learnt it’s best to get others to help out, but I’m yet to find this amazing person to sort my receipts. However, it was surprisingly rewarding when I figured out how to do my first formula on an Excel spreadsheet.
Even more rewarding is receiving emails, Instagram messages and/or having random people I encounter in my daily life telling me how much they adore Kawaiian Lion and are glad of its existence. It totally gives me the warm fuzzies and confirms I am on the right path.Best piece of advice you’ve received about parenting?
When I was eight months’ pregnant I thought it would be a great idea to go to a Buddhist retreat where I didn’t talk for a few days, and learned how to walk, eat and do everything extremely slowly. Right at the end of the three eye-opening and arduous days, the female monk walked up to me, patted my belly and said, “Happy mum, means happy baby. Always remember that the baby feels what you feel. You happy. Baby happy.” Where do you find inspiration and motivation? Are there any specific apps, websites, people or tools that you adore?
Etsy. I adore Etsy. You know how some people like to kick back with a beer and watch a little bit of trash TV? Well, my version of that evening is to set myself up with a cup of tea and trawl through Etsy, searching for my usual suspects including antique patchwork quilts, embroidered moccasins, folk dresses and vintage patchwork pieces. I like to ‘favourite’ things that I would love to purchase but hardly ever do.
I also love poking around in op shops, people’s garages (if they let me), the tip and second-hand markets – Manly market and Kirribilli are faves. I really treasure old things. I like things that somebody has owned before, as they carry a story. I also enjoy interpreting vintage for a modern audience.
I have an awesome bunch of creative mates who offer inspiration and are a sounding board for design ideas and creative vision. I’ve been so fortunate to have been led to such super duper people during my time here on the northern beaches.
My husband, Desmond, is an incredibly talented artist and I am forever inspired and bewildered by his skill and technique in direct contrast to my haphazard random style. He has nudged me into working for myself ever since we met, and I am so grateful for the support and encouragement along the way.
Dee Tang is founder of homewares label Kawaiian Lion and mum to Kawa, 20 months. From peace-sign wallpaper, to yin yang cushions and Make Waves Not War pouches (perfect for stashing keys, wallet and phone!) Kawaiian Lion has dibs on practical, unpretentious, surfer-girl chic. See more of her homewares collection via her shop, Instagram and Pinterest.