Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview - Jodie Fried of Bholu

Jodie Fried

Bholu products - hand embroidery in India, and the finished product on display.

Kid's drawings inspire Bholu's gorgeous plush toys.

You know, after more than 2 years of interviewing some of Australia's most talented and inspiring creative people, I have to say, I don't think I've ever been quite as inspired as I am by today's interview! Jodie Fried is just one truly, seriously amazing woman!

Jodie started her career as a costume designer in the film industry. After working on numerous Australian feature films, theatre productions and TV commercials, Jodie found herself working in India during the devastasting Gujarat earthquake in January 2001. She travelled to Gujarat to volunteer her time helping the villagers rebuild.... and whilst she was there, she was inspired to help create a sustainable income for women in this area.

Today, Bholu employs up to 360 traditional artisans in India, giving these women an income, independence and an opportunity to keep their traditional crafts alive. Part proceeds from the collections also go back to the Bholu Anganwadi Project which has now built a total of 8 Bholu pre-schools in underprivileged communities with Architects Without Frontiers Australia.

Jodie has won many accolades for her incredible achievements with Bholu over the last 9 years - Bholu won the Australian Telstra Business Award for Social Responsibility in 2008, and more recently was included in TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential Green Designs of 2009.

Jodie has recently moved to LA with her cinematographer husband - so Bholu now has an office in LA, whilst of course also maintaining offices with fulltime staff in Sydney, Adelaide and India. I have NO IDEA how Jodie manages the day-to-day running of Bholu across three continents, plus her incredible work with the Anganwadi Project, AND her sister business Armadillo&Co....! Seriously, is this not completely amazing?

I am so inspired by Jodie's many achievements and incredible drive to build a business that is not only profitable, but also socially and ethically responsible. PERHAPS if we all pay really close attention to her responses below, we will learn some of her secrets...!

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to founding Bholu?

I grew up in Adelaide and moved to Sydney to study production and costume design at NIDA. My “other” career is as a costume designer for film and theatre ( films such as Candy, Romulus My Father and others). I was destined to be creative and a costume designer as I would dress up my young brother and family pets. I was very bossy. My father told me to “get a real job” and to do something sensible.

I worked in theatre and film for years when I ended up in India working in Bollywood and happened to be there when the devastating earthquake of January 2001 flattened most of Gujarat. I went to help rebuild the villages of some of these communities and fell in love with the people there and their craft. Bholu was born as an idea to create a sustainable income for these women who otherwise would only use their craft in traditional ways. It teaches them to save, to be independent and gives them opportunity and choice.

Jodie works with local Indian artisans

Bholu is such an inspiring business – what were your initial goals for the company when you first started, how on earth did you know where to start in the early planning stages? It must have been a steep learning curve!

Bholu was a happy accident and came from a place of wanting to assist these traditional women in India after the devastating earthquake in 2001, rather than setting out to create a “business” for the sake of it. The passion behind the belief in the product and the reasons for creating it were the fuel to make it happen. I had to learn very quickly what running a business was all about. It’s one thing being an artist, it’s another thing being an entrepreneur. I was lucky enough to have some really great people around me in the early days who offered me advice on how to get everything set up.

I knew nothing about the financials behind running a business nor what it would take. I just had an idea and followed through with it. I think the biggest thing was pushing through those times where it was unnerving. You have to commit to an idea, have a plan, listen to the advice of professionals and then follow your instinct.

How is your business structured – how many people do you employ these days, and do you still play a very hands-on role in the design and direction for the company?

We have an office in Sydney where we have 2 full time girls, Lucy and Lisa. We also run my second company Armadillo&Co from there as well. We have several part time peeps which include sales consultants, warehouse helpers in Sydney and Adelaide. We have 12 reps here in the US and a creative studio for our US Headquarters in LA. In India, we have 2 production managers for the rugs and homewares, and up to 360 people working at any one time in production. It’s quite a handful with all the different global and national components.

The reality is, we are still a very small company. Everyone in our team loves and understands working in a small business and really believes in the philosophy and process behind our companies. We couldn’t have it any other way as running a business like this isn’t easy!

I have a very hands-on role and wear many hats - designing the collections, social media (facebook and twitter), marketing, export sales as well as keeping my Director’s hat on and making sure we are all working towards the same goals. As the company gets bigger, this gets harder to juggle.

I couldn’t do it without my amazing team who really support my visions as though they were their own.

*PS - Jodie and her team are currently looking for a new sales consultant to join their Melbourne team! Do get in touch ( for more information about the position, they would love to meet you! - Lucy x

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Now that I am based in LA, my days are quieter early on (until the Australia office opens) and I have much more time to myself to concentrate on design and be creative which is great. I start with a chai and normally have meetings with India (end of their day) then wade through a night of emails from Australia and then I get stuck into designing in my studio. I also have to deal with the US enquiries/customers during the day. At 3.00pm the Australia office opens. I try not to work too late but it is hard with the time differences!

Inspiring images on Jodie's noticeboard

How would you describe your own personal sense of style in your home? Does the Bholu design aesthetic reflect the look and feel of your own space?

My style is very eclectic. For a long time the interior of my home has been very monochromatic, simple and clean. I think the overload of working with such bright colours and designs on a daily basis was too much to also go home too.

But recently, my style has shifted. I am embracing colour at home a lot more (and also in my clothes) and the style is not so clean cut. We have a bit of Bholu at home, but our home really reflects our travel with pieces from people we have met and the places we have been. It’s so great to have things around you that tell a story. I think it is important to have things that are meaningful.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – books, international magazines, the internet, your environment, travel, nature, family or friends… etc?

I have my daily fix of blogs which always lead to “meeting” someone new who is creating something amazing. But I think my core inspiration comes from daily life and travel.

I draw mine from everyday life. Inspiration and ideas are everywhere, you just need the space to see them. I love colour and shape and the tiny details in ordinary things that you might often miss. Ideas come to me best when I am least prepared and when I least expect it.

Which other designers, artists or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

I am loving colour right now. I have 2 favourite artists. Richard Gorman, and I am always inspired by my dear friend and artist Marnie Wark. I am not sure if it the Hispanic influence that goes here where I live and the impending northern hemisphere Summer, but I am really loving bright Spanish colours at the moment.

Artwork by Richard Gorman - Flip Flyer, 2006, oil on linen, 50 x 50 cm

What are you most proud of professionally?

Getting Bholu off the ground and running as a sustainable business as well as founding the Anganwadi Project and having built 8 Bholu Schools with 2 more under construction.

Jodie outside one of her pre-schools!

What would be your dream project?

I would love to collaborate with John Galliano, his sense of imagination, colour and shape is incredible. His creations have no boundaries and no rules and always have a wonderful element of theatricality and character.

What are you looking forward to?

Finding balance in my life.

LA Questions –

Your favourite LA neighbourhood and why?

I love Venice where we live. It is eclectic and full of create people. It has a lovely community feel and there is always something going in the neighbourhood with film, design, markets, restaurants and everything is all accessible by bike.

What shops would you recommend in the US for beautiful homewares and/or soft furnishing?

In New York, a favourite is tiny little store called Bloodline in Soho, gorgeous lighting an old worldy things as well as an old favourite ABC Home.

I am a big fan of Velocity Art & Design which is based in Seattle, which of course has Bholu in there!

And also at the end of the day you can’t really go past Anthropologie, they always have gorgeous things.

Where /what was the last great meal you ate in LA?

Definitely at Axe - never disappointed. Seared fish with roasted beets, carrots, braised greens and watercress. Oh and a crème brulee for desert. Yum.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

A long bike ride with my husband on our beach cruisers along Venice Beach and Santa Monica, then a late breakfast at Gjelina’s on Abbot Kinney, can’t go past the baked eggs with paprika and basil.

LA’s best kept secret?

A little 1920’s pistachio coloured neoclassical house in the Hollywood hills which is a shop/ gallery called House on Genesee , Gabrielle the girl who runs it says: “Genesee is a collective environment for artists, designers, architects, writers, and thinkers who seek to understand what it means to produce in these times.” A great place to be inspired - and it is only open by appointment or on days of exhibitions.

Huge thanks to Jodie for her time with this interview, and for all the glorious photos! Be sure to pop over to the Bholu website to learn more about the amazing work Bholu does! x


  1. Fabulous interview Lucy and great pics. I'm with you - I think Jodie is one of the most inspiring, warm and generous business women I know.

  2. Great interview, and really interesting story. Employing 360 people in India, no doubt feeds a lot of their families. Nice work. Inspiring to say the least.

  3. What an amazing person. I have enjoyed given Bholu gifts to friends and family for years now (Marjorie duck is still my favourite :) and every time I explain the beautiful story behind them, I get a WOW, OOOH, AHHH! I think what Jodie has created is so special and so beautiful. Great interview Lucy and Jodie, you're truly inspiring. x

  4. Wow, I'm truly inspired. I have a network for women in business and have shared this with them as there is so much to learn here xx

  5. Amazing! Thanks so much. Jodie is an inspiration.

  6. Jodie is an absolute superstar! "Inspiring" just doesn't do her justice. And such a lovely gal to boot! S x

  7. Here here to all the above. I adore using Bholu products in my design work but most of all I am so inspired by Jodie's greater vision. Her significant contribution to our world leaves me wondering how I can do the same in my business. It takes guts Jodes to do what you have done in such a short amount of time. You inspire me constantly!

  8. Jodi
    I knew my Elizabeth Bay friend was warm and talented but this is amazing. Makes me feel totally slack..

  9. Awesome... I love hearing stories like this behind the products I like. Thank you Lucy and Jodie!

  10. Thanks for posting this interview Lucy, Jodie is one of my heroes!

  11. Thanks for this great interview. I didn't know her before now but I'm so inspired by her and her work.

  12. This interview realy good complated by this amazing photo good work!

  13. What a fabulous interview. I love so many things about Jodie and Bholu's story, from how the company started to using children's drawings in the design of products. Very inspiring in so many ways.

    I'm so glad Bholu now has a Los Angeles presence. Thank you both for the hard work that clearly went into this post.

  14. How roussing! So good that corporate and social responsibility is not just idylic theories, but are being put into practice through companies like this.

    Thanks for posting the interview.

  15. Loved to read about Bholu, truly inspiring!

  16. I am truly inspired by her story and project. I didn't know about this company so i am off to check more about their ethics and products.

  17. ah I feel so shallow. room for improvement Rebecca.