Two years since its launch, The Inventory has evolved from a humble side hustle into what it is today - an eponymous label whose pieces are not only recognisable but occupy some of the most unique and elevated homes, globally.
With her discerning and inimitable eye, Rachel Donath has turned passion into expression, moving from a thoughtfully curated inventory to the production of her own ethically made collection, within a breathtaking 7 month period.
At its core, each piece articulates her ethos: that objects can, and should be, ‘art’ whose beauty is retained through time and imperfection; that the hallmarks of the handmade and the craftsman add sentiment, personality and story - qualities to be embraced.
To celebrate this milestone, founder Rachel Donath answers your most pressing (and candid) questions, giving extraordinary insight and revealing some of the stumbling blocks, in the undeniable success of her self-made, heart-led business.
Any tips for someone who wants to get into the industry? How did you make your start?
I knew I had something to offer and saw a place in the Australian (and international) market for fabulous pieces that are a bit left-of-centre. I was discovered very early on by one of the most iconic Australian designers who adored my finds and would buy me out week after week. This gave me a lot of confidence in my design identity and aesthetic and I am very grateful to this person for that initial support and encouragement. I took the plunge and the rest is history.
My advice to those wanting to get into the industry is simple: start now. To wait for what you consider to be the right timing or for everything to line up is counterproductive, there is no ideal time to start a business. Close your eyes and jump, let it grow and build organically but you need to first start. Be open to things going badly sometimes, learn and move on.
Some of the very first vintage pieces, sourced in 2020 by Rachel Donath
Do you have any formal training in design? If so, please share?
No, I don’t! Having an ‘eye’ for design is not something that can be taught, in my opinion - you’ve either got it or you don’t. There’s a lot to be said for intuitive design (intuition), resourcefulness and passion. If you have these three traits, I think you are very likely to succeed in design and in business in general.
A pair of vintage French flower form metal side tables, from Rachel Donath's Inventory, dating back to 2020
What did you do before your current business and was it related or did it help at all?
I ran my own marketing and PR firm. I worked for clients from various industries, helping them grow their businesses. I lean on my marketing and business background daily and so yes, having this background is, I would say, a fundamental factor in my success so far.
The very first piece designed by Rachel Donath - The 'Ballini' coffee table, 2021
What kind of capital do you need to start a small business like yours?
In all honesty, you can start with a $50 note in your pocket at a flea market. When I started out, I was very conservative with any outlay, keeping a diary of margins and profits on every single piece. I reinvested the money I was earning and slowly built from there.
Certainly don’t take out a business loan or borrow money. Test your market with the amount you are prepared to lose and learn from the wins and mistakes to decide which avenues are more profitable to invest in.
A first image of the Grace dining chair, from Rachel Donath first ever collection, now a best seller.
Do you put it all down to hard work or generational wealth lending a hand?
Thank you for asking a brave question others may be thinking. It’s an important question because I agree that it’s easy to be cynical of someone’s success when there’s a presumption that they are a beneficiary of significant wealth or have a financial safety net.
I am proud to say that I have never received any handouts and I do not have a financial safety net apart from the one I have built for myself, from scratch. There is a real sense of purpose in hard work and I feel a lot of pride in being able to say that 'I built this myself, from scratch'.
A collection of vintage and antique items from the Inventory, 2021
What are the major things that have shaped your unique eye, voice, design perspective?
This is a hard one to pin down. I would say a large part of one’s creativity is already within them when they are born. Even as a child, I had a vivid imagination, an inclination towards all things creative, visually interesting or unusual.
A large influence would also have to be homes and spaces I was exposed to growing up and equally so, the personalities and perspectives of the people that lived in them.
Finally I would say, architecture, travel, nature, fashion, craft and people. I absorb it all.
A vintage mid century velvet chaise lounge sourced from Rachel Donath, at home with acclaimed interior designer Tamsin Johnson, photographed for Vogue Living
How did you come about finding the right artisans to make your designs and where are they made?
Some trial and error but ultimately a relationship built on good communication, a shared understanding of the quality requirements, a shared ethos surrounding sustainable manufacturing processes and a lot of trust and respect for the makers themselves.
All pieces are made in Australia, where possible! I also work with an incredible team of artisans in Indonesia who create some of the collection there. I’m very invested in ethical manufacturing and am really proud to support artisan communities both locally and globally.
The Rachel Donath Wave bar stool features in this Beverly Hills home by globally celebrated interior designer Ryan Saghian
What are your key tips when it comes to bringing a final design concept to production?
It’s a collaborative process. My strength is in visualisation - the concept. I lean on professionals who are great at creating technical drawings and who understand fabrication better than I do in order to bring design concepts to life.
From here comes sampling. This can be a drawn out process but I’m learning that if you are working alongside artisan with a genuine love of their craft, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience of experimentation, learning and ultimately, the joy of seeing your vision come to life.
The Rachel Donath Wave Firescreen in all its curvy glory in this Sydney home by Madeleine Blanchfield Architects, photographed for Vogue Living
What’s the hardest part about running a solo small business and how do you protect your headspace?
I think it would have to be the mental load. Making big decisions on my own, treading new and uncharted territory, taking on financial risks without a business partner’s weigh in or stake.. Protecting my head space and emotional well-being is critical for me to keep functioning at such a pace and high level. I keep my inner circle small and close and know what I need in my physical and emotional environment to function at my optimum.
The very first 'home' of the Rachel Donath brand, a double garage in a suburban street (with a leaky roof!)
What would you do differently if you could start all over again?
Oh this is a hard one. I am amazed by the courage I had at the start to take such giant risks and that they paid off! So, I would never change the courage factor.
The only thing I would change is not being so trusting of everyone. I assume the best in people and wear my heart on my sleeve which has bitten me in the bum!
I have experienced so many positive things, though, which outweighs the negative a million fold. The only think I'd change is to listen without judgement to my gut feel, and go with it.
Can you tell us about your ‘how’ and ‘why’?
Great questions! My ‘Why’ would have to come down to the fire in my belly. My Dad calls me his ‘lioness’ because I am a fighter and protector of (those I love) and I won’t let people tell me I can’t do something. I am determined as ever to create a good life for my family and to create a legacy I can be proud of.
My How is with enormous grit and determination. I surround myself only with people who want to see me succeed and I work my arse off, every single day.
A growing global brand: New York stockist The 1818 Collective
Norwegian stockist Alabaster Store, Oslo
Closer to home, Sydney stockist Manyara Home
View the Inventory here