Just Between Us

STORAGE TO MAKE YOU SMILE – THE COLOUR-LOVING SISTERS OF MUSTARD MADE


We thought the best place for a school locker stood in the name. But Becca Stern (right) saw potential in her selection of rusted, antique homewares and believed that with a splash of colour and some TLC they would be a great addition to any home or office. She was right. 

Always wanting to work together, Becca’s sister – Jess (left) – quickly jumped on board. After many hours of “researching, reading, drawing, dreaming, meetings, writing endless lists”, Mustard Made launched in 2017. They started with two designs – “The Shorty” and “The Skinny” – in 6 signature colours at a Sydney trade show. From there, Jess quit her job and took the helm of launching in the UK. The range and popularity has steadily grown since, and their enthusiasm for Mustard Made (and life in general) knows no bounds.

We caught up with the sisters to talk business and babies (plus the hard-to-ignore pandemic), and learned how they juggle time differences and family business to great success.

BECCA STERN

Mustard Made is a colour-loving homewares brand known for our love of vintage-inspired, metal lockers for your home, workspace and kids’ room. At the heart of it, we create beautiful, functional homewares to help you tidy up your stuff and make it look good.

My sister Jess and I founded Mustard together. Jess is in London and I now live in Newcastle, Australia. We’d dreamed about starting a business together for years, and then when Jess was in Australia for a visit we really started seriously talking about it. Fast forward six months and we were in China meeting our manufacturing partner for the first time, and another six months later we launched Mustard Made.

One of the best things about starting Mustard Made from the ground up is that we’ve both done every role within the business at one time or another. It’s given us both a real appreciation for all the moving parts that contribute to making Mustard work!

Prior to launching Mustard, Jess spent over 10 years as a fashion buyer for large retail brands like Primark and BHS, so her expertise in buying and procurement really provided the foundation for Mustard’s supply chain. My background is in design, which has been a huge influence in the development of Mustard’s visual ethos as a brand.

As we’ve grown – as a business and as a team – Jess now manages the day-to-day production and logistics side of things, and I look after the design and visuals of the brand. But we still collectively oversee all aspects of our business.

Jess is a lot braver when it comes to taking risks and committing to decisions, which has really pushed me to move outside my comfort zone and has helped Mustard scale really quickly. We didn’t start mustard with the vision of staying small or a side hustle. We launched with the vision of it being something big – by nature our products are so big it kind of came with the territory – but the large scale of the business and its operations is something that has always excited Jess. It’s something she thrives on and it really inspires me.

Being so far away from each other and not being able to travel right now has been really tough. One of the things I love most about Mustard is that it’s given us so many more opportunities to see each other, and while we still talk and Facetime multiple times a day, we haven’t seen each other face-to-face for over 18 months. Being in lockdown has been a personal challenge as well as a business one. We usually travel to our manufacturer a couple of times per year. We were planning trips to multiple international locations for different opportunities for the business pre-COVID and all of that has had to be done remotely now or put on the to-do list for later.

One of my favourite memories was when Jess was hiring her first team member in the UK and she had two incredible applicants. Rather than just choosing one she hired both of them. She trusted that the business was growing fast enough that we would soon need them both. She was right, and both of those team members have been amazing hires who are still with us today. Seeing Jess’ belief in our business at that moment, and seeing her become such an inspiring leader in the way she has built the UK team has been a huge ‘A-ha’ for me.

In business growth news, we’ve recently launched in America! Moving into the traditional home of the high school locker is something we’ve been dreaming about, and I have a feeling it’s going to be huge for our brand. The launch was in August so it’s early days but we’ve had some amazing feedback so far.

We launched in Australia in February 2018, followed closely by the UK, with just the two of us and two products. Now, we have a team of 15 (soon to be even more!), located across three continents, serving customers right across the globe. Bringing Mustard to the USA is only going to amplify the growth we’ve seen and we can’t wait to see what happens. My main piece of advice to family businesses is to remember why you started. We like to joke that launching Mustard was just an elaborate way for Jess and I to spend more time together, but it’s more than that. Family is at the heart of our business, and we want Mustard to succeed for each other, even more than for ourselves. Keeping that front and centre in everything we do is the secret sauce behind Mustard Made.

Learn more about Mustard Made.

JESSICA STERN

Running this business brings me so much joy. It’s allowed me to build and manage my own team, to work alongside my sister – even though she lives on the other side of the world – and to build a life for myself that I never thought I would have.

I call Becca my little-big sister, because she’s the oldest, but also the smallest! Working together has definitely evolved our relationship with each other; it’s really helped us figure out our different strengths, as well as connecting us to each other even more, despite the fact that I’m in England and she’s in Australia.

Building Mustard has allowed us to play to both our strengths. Becca is the creative side of Mustard Made. She’s the one who’s had the vision for the look of the brand and our products right from the start. Our brand is bright, colourful and happy, and Becca is the one bringing that to life.

I focus more on the production and logistics side of things, working closely with our manufacturing partner in China which is something I love. I manage the global distribution of our products and look after the UK, EU and soon to be US team.

Mustard is even more of a family business now as both our partners also work in the business. Between the four of us we have a really broad range of experience and expertise that complements each other and has given us a strong leadership team as well as giving Becca and I the support we needed.

Something I love about Becca is her vision for the brand and what it has (and will) become. The consistency of everything you see, read, touch, feel of Mustard – that’s Becca. She has really deliberately grown our product line to be seasonless and timeless, and has simultaneously built Mustard to be a brand that has infinite potential and possibilities.

Living so far away from each other is a big challenge. Being on opposite sides of the world has allowed Mustard to immediately become a global brand, but it also means we can’t just pop over to see each other anytime. Plus the time difference makes things tricky at times. Someone is always having to stay up late for meetings and calls; although having a little one I seem to be up at all hours anyway!

Starting a locker brand was Becca’s idea. We’d spoken about starting a business together for years, but it was Becca’s love of vintage lockers that inspired Mustard. For me it wasn’t so much about what the business made, it was about going into this together.

I was ready for a change in my career, after a decade in the corporate world I couldn’t see what I wanted my next step to be. Then my sister had an idea and I trusted her. She also promised me that one day, before too long, Mustard would allow me to do the renovation I had been dreaming about for my flat.

Within six months I was able to leave my corporate job and go all-in on Mustard, now we’re now in the final stages of finishing our renovations.

Motherhood is what’s in-store for me next, with the arrival of our first bub earlier this year! I’m currently working out how to juggle parenting and Mustard. I know Becca – who has three boys – will be there to answer all my parenting questions. (It’s one instance where the time difference will probably work in our favour, she’ll be up and about for all those late night/early morning calls!)

We’ve also recently launched into the US, which is very exciting, but I had to take a bit of a backseat and watch from within my baby bubble. It’s always the way that everything seems to happen at once.

My top family business advice is to make sure family is still first, even when business is busy. We sometimes call each other for ‘sister chats’ where we just get to chat like sisters and ignore the work stuff! 

Words: Sophie Coldham
Photography: Mustard Made

OTHER STORIES

Things We Love

THINGS WE LOVE: RATTAN PALM

Learn how a home-decor design studio became the furnishing business of choice for international hotels and homes alike; made with love in Costa Rica.

read more
The Inside Story

OLLI ELLA – TWO SISTERS WHO NEVER QUITE GREW OUT OF BEING KIDS

Spend time with Chloe and Olivia Brookman – the two founders of Olli Ella. These sisters combine their nomadic lifestyle, playful, carefree aesthetic and quest for functionality in their sustainably made homewares, apparel, children’s products and toy collection.

read more
The Inside Story

FROM DENTISTRY TO DESIGN – THE BROTHERS OF MAISON DE SABRÉ

Learn how Omar and Zane Sabré turned a side-project into a multi-million dollar luxury leather goods business.

read more