FOR many young artists, the transition to commercialise that creativity is often the toughest. Aged just 22, Kelly Nyssen (pictured) stumbled into retail manufacturing. Fifteen years on, the managing director of three designer giftware brands is still learning as her Kelly Lane Design Art company continues to paint more than just a pretty picture.

It never occurred to Kelly Nyssen (nee Lane), that an arts project she started with a close friend – making photo frames to give away as Christmas presents – would see her break into the Surfers Paradise souvenir retail marketplace.

But after selling leftover products in small shops on consignment, she was contacted by retailers who couldn’t get enough of the Kelly Lane designs.

“Business was not on the agenda when I was in my early 20s but being creative was,” says Nyssen.

“Designing the photo frames started out as a hobby, but after approaching various shops to sell them I quickly needed to find the right balance between creativity and business.”

Seeing the vast potential, Nyssen embarked on a marketing strategy that basically entailed knocking on retailers doors ‘from the Gold Coast to Noosa’.

Demand for the products meant the balance was too difficult to maintain as a one-woman band, so she brought in a partner and later husband Chris to handle the accounting.

“I was doing it all and chasing all the accounts and invoicing details was particularly difficult,” says Nyssen.

“I had retailers calling me and saying they had sold out and needed to make another order, yet hadn’t paid for the supply they just sold – that’s where I needed help.

“Initially there was some conflict and it was a little hard. Chris has an accounting personality and I have a creative one, so we had to meet in the middle.”

Following the acquisitions of an additional two brands and now employing 15 permanent staff, the company is turning over annual revenues of $3 million. KLDA Pty Ltd (Kelly Lane Design Art) now incorporates designer brands Kelly Lane, Artie Fartie and A Tad Trendi.

Nyssen explains how the acquisitions of Artie Fartie and A Tad Trendi in 2005 and 2006 respectively, was part of a diversification strategy.

“Five years ago when the Artie Fartie brand was up for sale, we decided we needed to diversify and move into slightly different markets,” she says.

“Kelly Lane designs still set the pace and are all about Australian beach culture – strongly influenced by Queensland and feature a lot of frangipanis while Artie Fartie involves more modern, minimalist and crisp designs.

“A Tad Trendi is very different again – visioned towards being cultural and more of a deep meaning through artistic realism.”

While locally Nyssen plans to continue stocking all three brands in independent giftware and souvenir retailers, export is the highest priority for growth.

“We’ve had great success in the Asia-Pacific region through exporting to Fiji and New Zealand over the past three to five years. We also established three customers in England a short time ago however the severity of the economic downturn in Europe has forced us to halt our operations in that market,” says Nyssen.

“I’ve just returned from China where we had a good look around. We expect to be able to create some opportunities out of the downturn, and are ready to innovate into the future with China when we see the first signs from the Australian economy improving early next year.

“We’d also like to further the opportunities found in internet sales and new categories. The role online retailing will play in the future is something Australian companies need to embrace more and we intend to do just that.”

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