Creative inspiration can strike anywhere. For Clare Collyer, founder of rope-craft homewares label Zillpa, the light bulb went off when she was wandering down the aisles of a hardware store and spied a 10-metre reel of cotton rope. A crochet enthusiast with a background in fashion design, Clare thought it might be fun to play around with rope instead of wool. She initially tried crocheting, braiding and weaving her new material – “Those first few attempts were rather interesting duds,” she says with a laugh. Yet once she began experimenting with a quilter’s sewing technique and pared it back to basics, she discovered the rope’s enormous design potential – and Zillpa was born.
Always a creative spirit, Clare grew up surrounded by craft and textiles, and studied graphic design at university as well as fashion at Metropolitan South Institute of TAFE in Brisbane. After completing college, Clare was working for a bridal label when the inspiration for Zillpa struck. She undertook a thorough testing process to find the best materials and a sewing machine that could handle the rigours of stitching rope, and eventually snapped up a second-hand Singer and started producing a small range of dishes and baskets to sell at nearby markets. The pieces struck a chord, with her new customers intrigued by how they were made. “I set up a video at my stall which showed me sewing the rope on an industrial machine,” she says. “Making each piece by hand is one of the most satisfying aspects of what I do.”
With continual requests for more variety, Clare’s range has expanded to include tableware, hanging planters, bowls, bags and super-sized storage tubs, all available in either neutral or vibrant cotton-stitched colourways. “It’s amazing to think I started out using a 10-metre reel of rope,” she says. “These days, the large storage tubs alone require 90 metres, which is quite heavy. Sewing them is definitely an arm workout!”
Soon, Clare was struggling to keep up with orders, with virtually every room in her house filled with baskets, bags and bowls, all awaiting delivery. “I realised I needed to set up a separate workspace,” she says. Now, Clare has moved into a large studio and retail outlet in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wynnum. The vast, light-filled space is decorated with hanging planters, a comfy couch and shelves brimming with colourful cotton reels and beautiful Japanese wools.
Clare’s cousin Alice recently joined her in her studio. Together, the pair sew more than a kilometre of rope each week, creating custom pieces and filling orders from stockists around Australia and New Zealand and as far afield as the UK.
Clare says the transition into working on Zillpa full-time has involved several steep learning curves and far more work than she ever imagined, yet she couldn’t be happier. “A creative business can be all consuming,” she says. “But fortunately, I love what I do.”