When do you feel the most alive and wild?
We grew up in the UK in a town called Bournemouth, which has just enough waves to get you hooked on surfing, but not enough to fill your appetite. So buying a van and travelling to find waves became an all-consuming pastime of ours. The freedom of having a full tank of petrol and a van packed with boards is hard to beat.
We moved to Australia six years ago with no more than the backpacks on our backs. Our first purchase was an old Toyota HiAce with a pop top to get out and explore the incredible east coast of Australia. We traded our beloved van for a family car when we had our first child Flynn (there were tears), and now with three young kids we get our freedom from days at the beach, playing in the ocean and teaching the little ones to surf.
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Talk us through the moment you decided to create your beautiful playmats and launch Warren Hill.
To be honest we never imagined ourselves getting into a business selling playmats, but we had always wanted to start our own business and were (and still are) constantly bombarding our friends with business ideas, gauging their reactions and usually figuring out they were too complex to get going. So when this simple idea hit us, one that filled a genuine need in the market and that we were strangely passionate about, we committed 100 per cent to it.
Warren Hill started as a casual conversation with our good friends Matt and Lara. We were on the floor playing with our kids and the conversation turned to playmats and how it was impossible to find a high-quality playmat that wasn’t covered in rainbow colours and cartoons. We wanted a playmat that looked like it was part of our home decor rather than jar horribly against it — you wouldn’t buy a couch with a massive cartoon frog on it, so why should a playmat be any different?
A lot of baby products at the time were things that, if you were having guests over, you’d hide away in a cupboard. We wanted a playmat that you were proud to have out in your living room. I can still remember sitting on Lara’s floor as she said, “You guys should make one.”
So with a little bit of money that we were saving up for a trip back to England to see the grandparents, we committed to getting some samples made and from that point on the wheels were in motion and it was too late to stop!
How do you get your linen so soft and luxurious?
Our linen is really some of the softest we’ve come across. It’s a high-quality 100 per cent flax linen grown in the fields of France. Before being sewn into the playmats, it’s stone-washed (literally washed with stones), which gives it a soft, worn texture rather than the coarse texture linen can sometimes be known for. One of the best things about linen is that it gets softer the more it’s used and washed, so instead of degrading in quality, it actually gets better.
Tell us what influences your designs and colours.
One thing that definitely doesn’t influence our colours is gender. It was another reason we wanted to create our own playmats — to have colours that were gender neutral. The idea of blue for boys and pink for girls is something we try to completely distance ourselves from. The colours are really inspired firstly by nature — they’re all soft, neutral tones that wouldn’t look out of place anywhere outdoors — and secondly by interior design. We love clean, minimal, open spaces (difficult with three kids!) and we always try to imagine our mats in those spaces as a statement piece.
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What are you doing to minimise the environmental impact of your brand?
We are very aware that running a business and creating a product has an impact on the earth. It’s something we think about a lot and it drives us to do business in the most responsible way we can. One of the first things we did as a business was partner with Trees for the Future to plant 10 trees for every playmat we sell. Trees for the Future is a brilliant charity that works with some of the poorest people in the world to help them plant trees, which provides a livelihood for them through their forest garden program.
We are also very wary of any excess packaging and when you buy a playmat from us, it comes packaged in a linen dust bag and posted in a compostable mailer. The thank you card is recycled and compostable so there is zero waste delivered to your door.
Another big thing for us is that our playmats are not disposable baby items with a short lifespan. As babies change and grow so fast, there are very few baby items you will continue to use for years after your baby is born. Our youngest (Lily) is now 18 months old and our playmats are still a staple part of our living room, not just to sit on, but to get cosy under on the sofa or to lay out in the garden.
Talk us through your partnership with Trees for the Future.
Being a business that gives back is a value we regard very highly. We try to make sure our customers are treated as we would want to be treated and are buying from a business that we would want to buy from. This means putting others before profit and this was the reason we wanted to partner with a charity to make sure the impact we have as a business is a positive one, not just for our customers, but for the planet we all live on.
Trees for the Future plants trees in a way that doesn’t just improve the environment, but also helps end hunger and poverty for some of the poorest people in the world. The charity works with families to plant “forest gardens” that bring nutrients back to the soil, helping them grow a variety of fruits and vegetables that can be sold as well as eaten to give communities increased income and food security, all while improving the environment. We’ve worked with them to plant just under 50,000 trees so far and we can’t wait to plant a lot more.
What is your top advice for:
A soon-to-be-mum: Wow, this is hard! I feel uncomfortable giving advice as it’s so different for every mum and it’s a lot of figuring out as you go. I would say to not stress about all the things you think they need. Really all they need is cuddles. Sure, some things can make everything easier, but it’s nothing you can’t get once the baby is born. Just buy the basics and work from there.
Also, I didn’t research breastfeeding enough. I thought it would come naturally, but it certainly didn’t and the one thing I would do differently if I were to be a new parent again is to ask questions and read more about it. It’s good for dads to understand about it too so they can help support you if breastfeeding is the route you want to take.
A soon-to-be dad: You’re about to go on the wildest ride you’ve ever experienced… hold on!
A new mum: Listen to your intuition — nobody knows your baby like you do.
A new dad: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Rightly so, most of the attention is given to new mums, but I think sometimes people forget to ask how the dads are doing. It’s one of the biggest changes that will ever happen in your life and people will bend over backwards to help if you ask.
What’s next for Warren Hill?
Last year we had some really exciting new products lined up that got put on hold due to crazy COVID times. This year we want to build the trust we have with our customers and bring them some new products that are practical, high quality and look great. We can’t say too much just yet!