Royal connection drives demand for Queensland teddies and jobs for refugees

Posted March 22, 2019 17:59:49

An association with the Royal Family has been driving demand for a famous Queensland teddy bear, and it’s creating new job opportunities for refugees.

Tambo Teddies shot to fame in 2018 after the one of the toys was chosen as Queensland’s official gift to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their tour of Australia.

Since then, the business in the small town of Tambo, 860 kilometres north-west of Brisbane has struggled to keep up with orders.

Nearly 47,000 teddies, made from Australian sheep-skin, have been sold in the past 25 years.

Owners Alison Shaw and Tammy Johnson, who took over the business five years ago, said in order to secure the Tambo Teddies’ future, a new innovative solution was needed.

“You can’t get out and promote products to sell if you can’t deliver and if you can’t supply,” Ms Shaw said.

“We do want to grow and expand, so supply has always been the biggest challenge, we’ve had to look at all different ways of fixing that challenge.

“We’ve investigated all different ways, changing the business model and things.”

Established in the 1990s to help support the district of Tambo through drought and promote the use of Australian wool, for the first time the business is now expanding.

A workshop has been set up in Toowoomba in Queensland’s south east and three refugees have been hired to make the teddies.

Ms Shaw said it was a logical choice to set up in Toowoomba and to hire recent migrants.

“They’ve been tailors and [makers] in their countries before they migrated to Australia,” she said.

“They’re quite used to sitting in that environment and sewing; they’re just sewing teddy bears now instead of clothing.

“They’re fantastic, really dedicated, have put their heads down, have an amazing work ethic, they’re grateful for the job, really thrilled to have the job and the opportunity.”

Dilo Maho, a Syrian refugee, is one of the people working at the new workshop. It’s his first job since he and his family arrived in Australia in mid-2018.

Despite previous experience as a tailor, he said it was not easy learning how to sew the teddies.

“At first it was really hard because I wasn’t familiar with these old machines, wasn’t familiar with these old products, it was all different for me,” he said.

“Now I’m becoming more used it and it’s becoming more easy.

“I’m really happy and comfortable to have a job like this.”

Refugee settlement service provider Multicultural Development Australia said it hoped the partnership would encourage other businesses to consider hiring refugees.

“We’re a multicultural society; diverse workplaces make sense. It’s good business,” spokeswoman Kelly Buckingham said.

Ms Buckingham said the jobs being provided by Tambo Teddies would make a big difference to the life of refugees employed there.

“Economic participation and employment means so much to all the people who are working at Tambo Teddies; they’re able to provide for their families,” she said.

“They are providing for the community as well, they’re role models for the community. But not only that, they’re developing independence, it really cements community participation, and they feel that [sense of] belonging.”

Co-owner Alison Shaw said the new operations in Toowoomba would help address problems in finding staff in outback Queensland.

“We’ve had a lot of people start in our five years and not many keep going,” she said.

“We identified in this small community of 400 people, there’s not enough people to supply our needs.”

Even after a recent training workshop in Tambo, where six people attended, only one person continued.

“That’s not a model that’s really efficient for a business either, if we ended up with sewers all across the countryside, we’ve got to get supplies to them … there are too many layers of inefficiencies involved in that,” Ms Shaw said.

Co-owner Tammy Johnson says the hub in south-east Queensland would now be vital to the business’s future, with teddies being made both in Tambo and Toowoomba.

“Without Toowoomba, we won’t have a product, we won’t have Tambo Teddies,” she said.

With supply of its teddies now secure, Alison Shaw said Tambo Teddies was now looking to expand overseas and would target the United Kingdom first.

“We thought we’d be a lot further down the track than we are after five years of the business,” she said.

“We’d like to have done renovations to the shop, have more stockists, but we have been constricted by supply.

“Now we’ve secured supply, the world is our oyster.”

Topics: refugees, manufacturing, regional, regional-development, wool, drought, tambo-4478, toowoomba-4350

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