‘Provenance is our hero story’

Enterprise: Naturally Northern Rivers

What they offer: Locally grown produce and uniquely crafted products from the fertile soil of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest caldera.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, it had a huge impact on the business Lilly Choi-Lee and her husband, Trevor, had built up. That business, TravConsult, specialises in aviation, tourism and travel retail – three of the sectors that fundamentally ground to a halt with most of the world’s population confined to their homes for long periods of time.

Determined not to just sit around and feel sorry for themselves, Lilly and Trevor saw the growing cry by Australians to support local producers, brought on by COVID-19, as a catalyst for a brand new enterprise. They set about showcasing locally grown and uniquely crafted products from the fertile soil of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest caldera.

“Provenance is our hero story: a volcano erupting 23 million years ago leaving a footprint of verdant valleys, rainforests, and lush red earth,” Lilly explains. “And that environment inspires the creation of beautiful products by passionate artisans.”

“Everything has a story behind it, which is perfect for those searching for unique, natural and organic products.”

The couple swapped their corporate attire for casual shirts, jeans and boots and searched the shires from Tweed Heads, Byron Bay and Ballina, to Lismore, Kyogle, Clarence and Richmond valleys for artisanal produce, launching their business – Naturally Northern Rivers Australia – to showcase what they found.

Their product range is diverse, reflecting the fertility of the region’s soil and the creativity of its artisans. It includes: macadamia nut skincare products; boutique gins capturing the flavours of native botanicals sourced from regenerated rainforest; hand-distilled certified organic tea tree oil; bioactive manuka honey; chef-baked pecan pies; organic coffee grown in the hinterland; and kombucha-soaked activated nuts. “Our natural fibre artist weaves bespoke baskets for gift hampers and we also sell her online basket-making tutorial,” Lilly says. “Everything has a story behind it, which is perfect for those searching for unique, natural and organic products.”

Despite the quality of the produce they sourced and the growing demand for locally made products, Lilly and Trevor had to work hard to build their customer base. “Our collections are locally sourced and handmade by micro-businesses, so the price point can be higher than mainstream competitors,” Lilly explains. “We anticipated people saying, ‘Your products are too expensive’, so we focus on quality and the value of conscious business, highlighting commitment to sustainability and passion in each jar of artisan granola, every crumb of pecan pie made by farmers aiming for carbon positive, and every drop of boutique gin with native botanicals from regenerated rainforests.”

At the micro-level, Lilly and Trevor go the extra mile with customer service to create what they described as “raving fans”, one at a time. On a wider scale, they have broadened their reach through social media collaborations and a PR campaign to build brand awareness.

Setting out to support Australian-owned, local businesses, the couple are creating a tribe that wants a better future for themselves and future generations by backing enterprises devoted to sustainable practices – being kind to the earth and each other. “Our 10 artisan partners actively live and practise these core values – ethically creating amazing products with passion, care and love,” Lilly avers.

The couple’s initial aim at this early stage of the business is to develop a reputation as the go-to, one-stop platform renowned for beautiful collections of unique artisan products sourced from the Northern Rivers. Their longer-term vision is to help put Northern Rivers, NSW, on the world stage. They aim to accentuate the uniqueness and beauty of the region in the hope that customers will be curious to learn more and interested enough to visit them to experience firsthand the Northern Rivers’ positive energy.

“We are essentially flipping a typical tourism model on its head, ideally building the brand of our destination organically through our collection of beautiful artisan products,” Lilly says. “This takes investment, time, effort and belief.”

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine