LOVING SMALL TOWN LIFE: Fashion designer Mimi Holvast at her studio in Bangalow.
LOVING SMALL TOWN LIFE: Fashion designer Mimi Holvast at her studio in Bangalow. Marc Stapelberg

Is moving to a small town the new Australian Dream?

IN AN increasingly digital and global economy, talented and ambitious people have a choice.

They no longer need to move to one of a few centres of power to pursue their life's work.

Bangalow is a beautiful rural town, known for its boutique shopping and relaxed lifestyle.

At the last census, the town had just over 2000 residents - although this number swells by the thousands during the summer holiday period.

The Northern Rivers has a long history of being a hotspot for treechanging retirees and families, and it's no different in Bangalow. The town's median age is 43.

However, the Northern Rivers continues to ride a tourism boom and young people are taking advantage of lower rental prices compared to big cities.

Bangalow saw the biggest sole trader growth in the 2017-18 financial year, up 12 per cent.

 

Mimi Holvast: Fashion Designer & Garment Maker

Moved from Sydney to Byron Shire but "still have so much of the world at my fingertips".

Mimi Holvast, 27, fell in love with the Northern Rivers and the lifestyle it offered, and saw the opportunity to move from Sydney to grow her business in a "quieter, less-competitive" landscape.

After finishing school and growing up in small coastal town of Bonny Hills, near Port Macquarie she made the move to Sydney to study.

"I wanted to escape small town Bonnies, and was ready to explore and grow up. I was accepted into university for a Bachelor of Fine Art, and moved down to do that too, even though I dropped out a few weeks into the course."

Mimi attended Tafe full time, working retail in her spare time.

"It was great having accessibility to such valuable learning resources, a reasonably good public transport system, and the ability for me to ride my bike between home, TAFE and work.

"But ultimately I left Sydney because I wanted a lifestyle change."

Sydney rent prices also pushed her out of the market with a work studio to also pay for.

"I was working two jobs at one time to ensure all rent and bills could be paid, and then end up having no time to actually go to the studio to work and start my business.

"So knowing that I could have far cheaper rent up here, as well as a quieter lifestyle with less distractions we decided to move up here! I also was lucky enough to be a part of the NEIS program, which ultimately gave me the opportunity to start my business, with funding and a small business course.

"The Byron Bay region is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It has a really chilled out, relaxed vibe, which resonates with my ethos of how I was brought up, and how I envision myself to live for years to come. It maintains a really good level of culture, and things are happening which a lot of other smaller towns lack.

"That said, living in Bangalow is extra special, and I do prefer the hinterland and Lismore areas, as places to be rather than being in Byron, unless going to the beach.

"I chose the Byron Bay region to grow my business because of the place that it is, and due to the cheaper rent that can be found.

"There is also a really strong community up here, which I find very encouraging, rather than how competitive it is in Sydney - there seems to be so many people who are genuinely interested in helping each other people out, with small businesses for example up here."

Mimi said the Byron Bay tag helps for marketing but sourcing items for her business has presented new challenges.

"Sourcing fabrics and threads can be a slower process, but lots of places can post fabric swatches and make visits, and it means that I go to Sydney, or Brisbane every now and then to have a first hand access to these sort of places that don't exist in Byron.

"I also would love to see more warehouse type artist run studios, which would be a wonderful addition to the region, to nurture the community of entrepreneurs.

"Another major asset of the location of Byron is the close proximity to both Ballina airport, as well as Coolangatta airport. I find it so amazing that you can actually travel to most major cities relatively cheap, and it's must more cost effective and faster than driving. It's also great that Coolangatta has overseas flights regularly too, or even Brisbane airport, which makes me feel like I do still have so much of the world at my fingertips.

"Because of the internet, and technology, that I could run my business from anywhere. Most of my customers are from Sydney and Melbourne, so I don't think I am missing out on any markets by being here. If not, I'm gaining access to a different market."

 

SUnroom Studio owner Brad Cain at his studio in the Northern Rivers.
WORK CHOICES: Thanks to a decent internet connection, Sunroom Studio owner Brad Cain is able to run his graphic design business from his home on a farm near Bangalow. Marc Stapelberg

Brad Cain: Graphic Designer

"The lifestyle, the people and the overall vibe of the place that was the real attraction to the region. The business grew naturally, along with my veggie garden and board quiver."

Brad Cain, 27, moved from Port Macquarie to study full-time at college on the Gold Coast after winning a scholarship.

Futures - Young entrepreneurs: Sunroom Studio owner Brad Cain at his studio in the Northern Rivers.
Futures - Young entrepreneurs: Sunroom Studio owner Brad Cain at his studio in the Northern Rivers.

He studied at college until 12 each day, then drove 30 minutes down the highway to Burleigh Heads to work as a junior at a design studio, before driving back up to his tiny apartment to work on assignments or working on a side hustle helping mates with a logo.

After almost five years of a busy routine he took to the road, and travelled through South and Central America. And after a year of "slow living" he wasn't ready to slip back into old routines.

Brad now runs his own graphic design business, and thanks to the internet, he can do a lot of that work from his home on a farm in Bangalow.

"Realising I could work anywhere that had a decent spot of Wi-Fi, I gradually built up a decent client base, bought my first home on wheels and made the move south of the border.

"The lifestyle, the people and the overall vibe of the place, that was the real attraction to the region. The business grew naturally, along with my veggie garden and board quiver."

He said the biggest challenge from working regionally and remotely was missing those day-to-day interactions that come with working in a brick and mortar studio with a team of designers.

But, it's not a bad trade-off for the lifestyle that comes with living in the Northern Rivers, he said.

"I still manage clients that are Gold Coast-based, the majority would be from up there. With it only being an hour or so up the highway, it's quite easy to make the odd trip up for client meetings."