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FeatureBusiness

Christina Dennis.

From humble sewing beginnings, Christina Dennis has created a sustainable small business selling creative, handmade reusable items.

Nov 15, 2022


Words: Lindy Ralph

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Christina Dennis is a second-generation Gippslandian who grew up in Wombat Creek. Her family runs Wombat Honey – you may have seen the cute, bright yellow stand on the Princes Highway. Her brother Glenn Lavell is the owner and manager, while her parents Paul and Sue and her other brother Jason manage the hives and produce the honey.

In 2018, Christina started Natures Eco Stores, a sustainable small business selling handmade reusable items such as burp cloths, breast pads, bibs and reusable cloth pads.

Christina has always been creative; her mum taught her to sew at around the age of ten.

“I created – with her help – a dress that I entered into the local show… it had a little collar and little puff sleeves… it was relatively basic.”

FYI, her sister Lisa won first prize. Christina came second, but… whatever!

“...when she hits that stage in life, she will say ‘Mummy, I need them’ not ‘Why do I have to wear these?”

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Starting from those humble sewing beginnings, Christina dabbled in scrapbooking, making special cakes for family and the occasional reusable bowl cover – she laughs when she remembers one of her friends asking if she could make them some “shower caps for bowls” – but it wasn't until she had her first child, Adeline, in 2015 that she resumed sewing.

“It was nothing big, just bits and pieces for the kids and myself. It wasn't until after a miscarriage in late 2018 that I really got going. I needed a creative outlet, just to sort of channel my anger at what had happened. You go through an anger phase of ‘why me? What did I do wrong?’

“It was providing things to others and seeing the joy in their faces. Even though I was going through a challenging time, I was able to still create joy for others and joy for myself in seeing them use the products.

“I have always tried to have a ‘less is more’ view on life and, after adding a second child [Oliver] in 2017, I realised just how much waste is created. So, what I had sewn and used at home to reduce our waste – cloth wipes and reusable food covers – I decided to try to sew for others.”

Sustainability is important to Christina, both in her personal life and in her business.

“I design and create with minimal waste in mind, utilising offcuts and remnants. Currently, my fabric scraps are either composted or used for facial wipes and earrings. Other scraps go to kindergartens for art and creative play.

“I have also put a lot of thought and care into the packaging and presentation of my products. I endeavour to have zero plastic packaging; my packaging is upcycled, recycled, recyclable and/or compostable where possible.”

Christina is passionate about women's health and loves that her daughter Adeline has grown up watching her make reusable pads.

“They don't faze her at all. So, I know that when the time comes, when she hits that stage in life, she will say ‘Mummy, I need them’ not ‘Why do I have to wear these?’

“It is a privilege to be able to create products like our cloth pads as they are a necessity for the everyday lives of women. It also promotes more conscious decisionmaking in the younger generation. If an older female is using reusable products, it is something that is in the washing. It is something that can be discussed, which normalises periods.

“Providing a sustainable hygiene option allows my customers the ability to receive a beautiful product that makes them feel proud and beautiful while reducing waste.”

Longevity is an important part of making sustainable products and Christina is always looking for ways to make her products last longer.

“My shower caps have an adjustable elastic. If over time the elastic loses its stretch, a customer only needs to replace the elastic, giving their shower cap a new lease on life.

“My customers love receiving quality handmade items that are made with as sustainably sourced materials as possible: knowing that they have an item that will last, is practical, is useful and also reduces their environmental footprint at the same time.”

In late 2021, Christina and her husband, Jonathan, who had been living in Bairnsdale, packed their whole life into a caravan and headed north to soak up the sun in Bundaberg, Queensland. The long, wet months spent living in a caravan with Adeline, Oliver and new baby Elsie were extremely challenging, so sewing had to “take a back seat”, but Christina is determined to continue building her business.

“I have always wanted to open my own little shop but, you know, funds are a consideration, especially with the economy the way it is at the moment. It is probably a lot further away now… but it is something I am still trying to work towards.

“I do hope to keep plodding away and creating quality and sustainable items for my customers that they can use to reduce their plastic footprint. Every little bit helps. If one person used a reusable sandwich wrap or food cover every day for a year, they would save over 100 metres of cling wrap going into landfill.”

Before having Elsie and moving to Queensland, Christina sourced beeswax from her family's honey business to create beeswax wraps. While that is on hold for the time being due to postage costs, she hopes to bring back the product in the near future.

“Once I am settled and set up properly, I am hoping to look into finding a local beekeeper who might sell me some wax to keep making wax wraps.”

Running a small business while caring for a family is a big challenge, but, when it all gets too much, Jonathan is her biggest supporter.

“I bite off more than I can chew sometimes, but I am getting there. I have a supportive husband too. He has been great. When things get hard, he’s like, ‘No, keep doing what you're doing’.”

When asked to give Gippslandians a tip for better living, Christina's answer came easily:

“Since selling up and travelling in the caravan with a three-week-old, I have come to realise that although there are circumstances around us that we can't control, we have the ability to keep in check what goes on in our thoughts. It is like how a smile is contagious – positive thoughts and words have the same effect.

“Change your words and you can change your life. I honestly believe that our words can increase or decrease our level of joy, and therefore can have either a positive or negative effect on our future. Our words convey our thoughts and emotions and if we keep our words constructive, healthy and healing, we can achieve positive results.

“Much like with our own health, all it takes is a small change to create a positive impact on our environmental future. Small steps lead to bigger steps and positive change creates positive outcomes.”

Christina sells her sustainable products through Made It, an online village for Australian makers. With “three little people” at home, she asks customers to be patient with delivery times, but these gorgeous homemade products are most certainly worth the wait.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 24

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