Three years ago, in a pre-COVID world, Aussie farmers were facing the most devastating drought in recent history. At the time, the mainstream media focused on the more sensational angles — think your stereotypical Aussie battler aesthetic, malnourished cattle and tumbleweeds blowing down a derelict town centre.
But Grace Brennan knew there was so much more nuance to the situation. Grace knew the incredible amount of up-skilling many of these families were doing to try and supplement their income. Grace knew that many women were creating incredible businesses. But if only there was a way to share this with the rest of the country.
And so, in October 2019 she dreamt up an idea from her kitchen table in the town of Warren, NSW that would connect rural-run businesses to city consumers and create an altruistic revolution in the process. In just seven weeks, Grace’s newly-launched Buy From The Bush Instagram account, which showcased beautiful things to buy from rural communities across Australia and used the #buyfromthebush hashtag, had over 130, 000 followers and increased rural postage figures by 30%. Shops were literally selling out of stock and by December 2019, Buy From The Bush was the second-highest search term nationally.
Grace’s simple idea from her kitchen table sparked a momentous movement. A few months later, the CEO and mother of four was invited to give an address at the 2020 Australia Day presentation at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (you can watch her powerful speech here, which unsurprisingly went viral at the time.) Families around the country vowed to do all of their Christmas shopping from the Buy From The Bush account and a sense of community (albeit, a digital one) was forged between the city and the country.
“We just had to tell an engaging story and invite people into the experience of drought. As a result, we get these beautiful messages from people in the city thanking us! I remember a message that said ‘thank you for letting me connect to an Australian identity that I feel has been lost over so many years.’ It’s kind of this nostalgia of the Australian bush but in a very modern sense. Modern rural communities are so much more than tired farmers in paddocks,” Buy From The Bush’s founder Grace tells Kiindred in an exclusive interview.
Today, the Buy From The Bush Instagram page has 254K followers, its own stunningly curated website which spotlights everything from rural fashion, art, homewares, baby clothes and beauty and has generated over $9 million in revenue for small rural businesses. Grace is no longer a one-woman wonder either, with a hardworking team employed to keep the juggernaut that is BFTB churning along. Three years on and as Christmas fast approaches, we’re watching history repeat itself as our country brothers and sisters face more horrific climate catastrophes — this time with floods. So, if you’re not quite sure how to help, why not do your Christmas shopping via Buy From The Bush?
We sat down with Grace to talk about how Buy From The Bush has evolved in the face of a global pandemic and floods, what she’s learnt along the way, why she brings her whole self to work, and her top Buy From The Bush picks for Christmas.
Let’s start at the very beginning of this epic story. You famously dreamt up Buy From The Bush from your kitchen room table…
I live on a farm in Western New South Wales, in a place called Warren. In 2019, we were in the midst of a pretty significant drought. So all around me, I saw the community suffering and small businesses suffering. This was starting to get coverage in the media. Still, it was largely focused on farmers, sick and dying stock in the paddock and not really on the impact of drought beyond farming in local communities, on households, particularly women.
So at the same time as seeing all the suffering, I was also seeing lots of incredible side hustles and small businesses trying to level up and generate some cash flow and diversify when agriculture couldn’t be relied upon.
I thought that if I created an Instagram account and start to showcase all the beautiful things that you could buy from these talented business owners around me, and just ask my friends and family in the city to do their Christmas shopping in the bush that year, that maybe we could generate some cash flow and some visibility for some of the small businesses suffering drought. That’s where it began and it quickly grew.
It went absolutely nuts, especially over that Christmas period of 2019. It brought the two worlds of the city and country together. What was it like to see that play out?
It’s interesting because I grew up in the city, but moved to the country. So all along, part of what motivated me was bringing our two communities together and trying to let people in the city into this fantastic life that we were living out here, but also to the talent and the remarkable kind of resilience that we were seeing all around us in rural Australia.
It was also a way to enable city people to help us because having lived in the city, but always had friends in the bush, I knew that feeling of ‘I know there’s a drought, but I don’t really know what to do about that. And how am I meant to help?’ So it was really about providing a very simple formula for not only recognising the situation but then also helping pragmatically. So here’s a beautiful handbag, if you buy this handbag, not only will you be getting a beautiful Christmas gift, but you’ll also be investing in this amazing female-led business in the middle of nowhere, who will probably reinvest that cash back into the local community, she’ll buy coffee, she might hire a local painter and that ripple effect of their investment.
We were obviously surprised at the incredible growth, but part of me wasn’t surprised that people were engaging with this story of the talent and, and resilience of the small business owners because I think more and more we want to connect. I think there’s a real appetite to connect with the story behind the product or the story behind the business.
To begin with, you were a one-woman wonder but very quickly you needed to scale the business. Who are the incredible people in your team?
From day one, I went to lunch with a friend Millie and told her I had this idea, do you want to help me? And she began helping from the very start. In the early days, she was called The Chief of Hustle because she would have awkward conversations that I would shy away from.
I also got a call from a stranger at the time, Georgie Robertson, who runs the Regional PR Co, and she said ‘I think I can help you with this.’ We were already getting an enormous amount of interest from the media and she took that on and started to be a bit of a filter for me, and a great advisor, guide and sought out all sorts of opportunities for us.
Then, eventually, after about a year of doing it just as a volunteer and working nonstop, we partnered with PayPal and got some funding to build an online platform, an online marketplace, which allowed us to generate revenue.
What was your career background before you launched BFTB?
It’s an eclectic background! I fell in love with this farmer when I was quite young. He was in high school and it was young love, but I kind of knew that I’d probably end up living in the bush. So I subconsciously probably shaped my career around what I might be able to do in a rural community. I left university and went into community development, which randomly led to working for a tech startup.
It’s been three years since BFTB launched and since then, on top of COVID, we’ve had so many different climate catastrophes. And right now the floods are wreaking havoc on rural communities. How has BFTB evolved and is it hard to stay on the radar?
We were born of drought and then not very long after the bushfires happened. And I really thought it almost feel inappropriate to keep banging on about drought and then COVID happened and there was this really strong appetite for supporting locally and investing in Australia.
With each crisis came a slightly new angle to the story. We were quite deliberate in the way we shaped that and often kind of checking in with customers saying, ‘do you want us to keep going? Is this appropriate? Do you need us to back off?’ But we built this community that was very interested and very engaged. That battle to remain relevant is probably harder now than it’s ever been. I think people have crisis fatigue so we’ve got to somehow stay interesting.
You’ve got this hugely successful business, you’re also a mother of four and you help run a busy farm. Do you have any clever productivity hacks that you can share with our community of parents?
I believe in investing in relationships. So that means sometimes getting less done, but having more fun.
The other thing I’ve learned in this process is that often, I think what I did beforehand was to separate my work life and my private life. I didn’t like to be a mum or a wife in my work life. Early on, I went to this event, Meta [Facebook] invited us to. And they had this great workshop where somebody got up and said that it was actually the ethos at Meta to bring your whole self to work. And that meant bringing the baggage, or the other commitments, or the other kind of deadlines, all of it. I’ve heard that before but there’s something about it that really resonated.
Working on Buy From The Bush, I didn’t have to be some expert, I didn’t have to be anything other than a mother living on a farm, observing her local community, understanding what people’s needs are, trying to communicate that to others and inviting them to help. And all of those things that I think women mothers do very naturally and instinctively. And that was a real strength. So I started to let more and more of that into my work life.
Your kids are 10, nine, seven and two-and-a-half. Do you find that age gap with your youngest quite special because the older children can tap into their nurturing side?
It’s been beautiful! My youngest is a little girl called August and there’s just is no part of me wishing away like I did. I was in such a state when I had three back-to-back and I was just a zombie!
With August, I just know how fleeting these stages are so it’s been beautiful and the kids help me so much. It’s actually a really different challenge to sit down and play with August than I would have with my first. It feels almost impossible to me these days to stop, sit down and just give her my time. Whereas the first time around, you were challenged by the nighttime wake-ups.
In the spirit of being honest, she’s in childcare a lot. And that’s how I get things done!
We can get so bombarded with so much parenting advice. Do you have a parenting mantra that you like to hold onto?
All a child really wants is for your face to light up when they walk in the room. And when I heard that the first time, like, forget all the other needs, that one is so critical, and so overlooked. Sometimes I’m so busy and you don’t even look at them when they walk in.
It’s probably an aspirational position, I want to get to a point where they feel that every time they walk in the room, I’m thrilled to see them and they get more smiles from me than they do stern words.
And the other idea is co-parenting. So I believe that the partnership with my husband is probably as important as anything else I do in terms of how I parent the kids and making sure that that home is a lovely place to be is really important to me.
Finally, what does success look like to you?
In the context of Buy From The Bush, success looks like robust communities with diverse opportunities and thriving small businesses with empowered founders. What we’re really trying to do through Buy From The Bush is to crisis-proof these rural communities so that they’re not so reliant. And in a personal sense, I think it’s about having positive relationships with people I work with, with my friends, with my partner and with my family. That’s all-encompassing, isn’t it?
Grace’s top Buy From The Bush Christmas picks
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