Carol Dadds sees perfection in the imperfect – which is why every leather accessory she makes is beautifully unique.
“I just think leather has so much natural beauty, with all its scars and markings. It’s the imperfection I love, because it makes every piece individual,” says the founder of Sunshine Barossa, a 2016 start-up that has found a niche in the market.
A creative soul with an eye for design, Carol’s watershed moment came when she discovered a trunk belonging to her mother, filled with beautiful hides.
“I always knew this was something I would love to do but i didn't think it was possible. Now I see it is possible, and that anything's possible if you're willing to do the hard work.”
- carol dadds
Teaming up with a skilled dressmaker and upholsterer, Carol knew she was onto something special when an exquisite satchel materialised “exactly” as she’d designed it. Today, it remains one of her signature pieces.
“I’m a very spiritual person and I do believe it was meant to be,” says the mother-of-two. “When a door opens you have to take that step.
“I always knew this was something I would love to do but I didn’t think it was possible. Now I see it is possible, and that anything’s possible if you’re willing to do the hard work.”
Initially designing for clients and friends, Carol quickly recognised the potential of the business and the market’s appetite for bespoke handbags and accessories produced in limited quantities.
“Everything happened organically, to be totally honest,” says Carol. “I didn’t go and find a single sale. Even to this day, every stockist has come to me. That’s how I knew it was the right thing I was doing.”
Carol embarked on a quest to find the highest-grade leather from around the globe.
She sourced buffalo from India, soft leather hides from Indonesia, vintage leather from New Zealand and interesting leather from Germany.
Carol also found tailors who would honour her philosophy of handmade, artisanal products of superior quality and craftsmanship.
Carol also understood the importance of giving customers what they want.
“I listen to people. I listen to what they can’t find in a bag or a clutch; what sort of tassels they like; why a satchel hurts their shoulder. I take all that on board and design what I think is the perfect solution,” Carol says.
“Anyone could probably make a handbag, but it’s understanding business to make it happen.”
However the 48-year-old is the first to acknowledge not every day of her Sunshine Barossa journey has been sun-kissed. With searing honesty, she describes almost debilitating challenges.
“I’ve had a few dark moments, because it’s at a certain point in business that so many people give up,” Carol says.
“I reached a point where my dream was to expand, but I couldn’t keep all the hats on.
“It’s hard to grow financially, to design in larger quantities, but still be true to myself and my philosophy. Some days it would be easier to work for someone else.”
Carol found a lifeline in Regional Development Australia Barossa, who helped her identify her weaknesses and impediments to growing her business.
“I think I’m ready now to take the business to the next level,” she says. “With the support of family, friends and customers, I’ve realised that what I’m doing is really worthy of continuing. No success comes easily, and it’s important to remind yourself of that.”
Philanthropy is another antidote to tough times; Carol supports a number of local social justice and humanitarian causes such as Hand in Hand Family Centre, giving back to a community that has given her so many opportunities. It’s a philosophy she has instilled in her teenage twin boys, Owen and Theo.
“One of my beliefs is that what you give, you get back,” Carol says. “I feel very lucky and there’s no reason I can’t share that with someone else.
“When you have those dark places, you need to stay grounded; when you look beyond yourself to others, life starts looking bright again.”
The future of Sunshine Barossa is just that as Carol expands into shoes and natural fabrics such as hemp linen and waxed canvas, taking her cues from the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York.
“In the fashion industry you have to look in advance at what’s on the catwalks and in high-end fashion shops,” she says.
“This season there’s lots of yellow, mustard, pale pink, dusty pink and green – and lots of leopard print and white. I’ve never worn white personally but I’ve found a white leather that’s vintage and warm and works so well with leopard.”
With more than a dozen offerings now available in her Nuriootpa studio, ranging from eco-friendly (non-paper) leather shopping bags and wine bottle carriers, to knife roll holders and corporate co-branding, the question is how far her horizon can expand.
“I don’t truly know the answer to that, because I’m still evolving,” says Carol.
“I do know I will always design and make sure the quality of leather and craftsmanship is perfect.
“If you can find something that makes you happy, you’ll always enjoy what you do – I wish everyone could find a piece of that in life.