Melbourne designer Tom Farrah founded Farrah – Life Equipment in 2005, with a single product. 10 years later his leather accessories range has expanded to include wallets, belts, cufflinks, notebook covers and duffle bags, with more exciting product development on the way.
Tell us about your interest in design. When did you know that you wanted to be a designer?
Design has always been there in a way. My family is quite creative with my brother, father and uncle all studying industrial design, and cousins involved in art, graphic design and architecture. Design was always the conversation at the dinner table and was something I always wanted to follow. However I have held a number of jobs in different industries prior to starting Farrah, ranging from ski instructing to being an art auctioneer and even working on exploration drill rigs in the Queensland mining industry.
After studying you hit the road, travelling across the globe to learn your craft, and in search of inspiration and ideas. What were your three most significant discoveries, and in what ways have these insights steered your career?
I think the people and culture in different countries are just as influential on design as seeing the architecture or physical design sense. There is a lot to be said about the need for design in different cultures and seeing the way different people utilise and engage with design.
- I would say that Japan for me was inspirational for minimal and clean design, ensuring you only put into a design what is needed.
- America in my opinion is currently at the forefront of a product quality revival and they are doing it on a big scale – taking pride in good quality craftsmanship but also making it accessible to an international audience.
- I also loved the innovation and clever design in Europe to accommodate for high density living, whether it be an extruded aluminium window frame or a folding chair, they just have a fantastic way of solving these design problems with simple style. I find this especially so with Germany where they are really pushing to further their technologies and processes to keep manufacturing and materials at their most efficient.
You started Farrah Design in 2005, with a single product: the hand-stitched leather Farrah wallet, which has since been nominated for several design awards. What were the principles behind this first creation, and how have they been carried forward into your expanded range?
Basically the idea behind the range of products is to make something that is not only very long lasting but also relevant in its function and aesthetic for a long time as well. I try to achieve this by solving more of the design problem with my base material as I find we tend to overlook the potential that lies within materials and quickly resort to rivets and stitching or machining materials when it may not be necessary.
An example of this can be found in the wallet where the money clip is woven through the spine of the wallet then moulded into place, meaning I don’t need to stitch a sleeve to accommodate the money clip but rather I change the shape of the wire to be sympathetic to the material it is working with. The same principal is behind the belt where there are no rivets or stitching, just the leather strap itself that is both anchoring the stainless steel buckle and moulded to become its own keeper loops.
I was fortunate enough to receive gold medals in the Sydney and Melbourne design awards for the category of maker design- method for the belt this year and I am thrilled with the recognition after the long phase of development.
In addition to Farrah – Life Equipment, you also design for The Field Equipment Company, which you co-founded with your brother in-law. Tell us about the synergies between the two businesses.
Definitely a focus on old world quality and materials. Trying to solve problems with a modern design perspective but doing it with hardwearing and long lasting materials.
I love camping and have a lot of respect for the Australian bush – it’s harsh, frightening and beautiful all at the same time. The challenge to design and make gear for that kind of environment is a big yet rewarding one, constantly thinking about reducing seams and areas of potential break down flow through both businesses.
I guess the major synergy would be considered, minimal designs that deliver extraordinary life span.
You and your brother in law now conjointly manage a retail operation – The Farrah Flagship Store in Prahan, Melbourne. Tell us about the store – the space itself, how you’ve fitted it out, the feel that you were after. How do you manage the day to day running of the shop and keep this in balance with your design work?
It’s been a great experience. The Farrah store is a concept store on Greville St in Prahran. It’s a beautiful old retail space with high ceilings and wooden floorboards. I have set up a small workspace instore to be able to custom-fit belts and also make the most of my time in store by hand-stitching wallets etc. There are some cracking vintage Australian tourism posters adorning the walls to give it an old world feel without being too contrived.
We set the shop up with three other brands, The Field Equipment Company, Unique and Vintage Eyewear and Fortis Green Apparel. The space is basically a “manporium” where you can get anything from a hand-forged axe to a pair of socks, some vintage sunglasses, a traditional swag, or a pair of Farrah cufflinks. The idea is to cover an Australian male from head to toe, town to country with Australian based design brands.
The shop is open seven days a week, which can be a real challenge in terms of time management however each of the brands spread the hours out in the shop. We have the space until the end of the calendar year and by that time we would have been there for around four and a half months. It has been a great experience and brand building exercise for everyone involved.
This is your second time at Bowebird. What do you like to do during your spare minutes in Adelaide?
I was actually born in Adelaide and so there is a lot of nostalgia and family here. Typically when I visit we try and organise a picnic in Hazelwood Park with some old family friends from the Old Collegians Rugby Club. I also love the Adelaide pubs and having a few pints of Tim Coopers finest where ever the dark ale is on tap.
What will we find on the Farrah stall?
Well I am back with my most popular products and a couple of new ones. The Farrah wallet and the Kimberly belt will be making an appearance, but this time they in some new English Bridle hide which is just beautiful. Bowerbird will also be the first time that I will be displaying my roll top duffle bag, and I have a really fun piece to help with some Christmas cheer, with an RM Williams boot inspired beer sleeve with custom initials being done at the stall.