They met in art school – Deakin University in Warrnambool, Victoria, to be precise – on the windswept tail end of the Great Ocean Road. He was a champion skateboarder from regional Victoria who specialised in graphic design and photography, with a particular interest in tribal tattoo designs. She was originally from Chile, and majored in fine art and sculpture.
That was 26 years ago. Today, Byron McCormack and Soledad Carrasco, partners in life and business, own Noosa-based Chapter Five, an original online gift and homewares brand that is inspired by nature and dedicated to environmental sustainability.
Chapter Five, formerly known as Red Elk, was established 12 years ago, and specialises in handcrafted gift ideas that are all designed and handcrafted by Byron and Soledad themselves. The range includes aromatic wax melts and natural soy products, featuring enchanting seashell candles and all-natural solid perfume, and quirky gift ideas. The products reflect the couple’s positivity and love of the natural environment.
“Our focus has always been on creating completely unique and original gift and decor concepts, with efforts to maintain ethical and eco-friendly standards,” says Byron.
Those standards are high indeed – the business operates on 100 per cent renewable energy, with the couple’s home, office, studio and warehouse all solar-powered. Products are packed in recycled materials, and the boxes used for shipping orders are recycled and gathered from other local businesses. Seashells are ethically and sustainably farmed, sourced from registered suppliers. The colognes and perfumes are all free from alcohol, chemicals, palm oil, cruelty, plastic and water.
“We value our environment, and we are committed to sourcing eco-friendly, organic, sustainable components,” says Byron.
Behind the success of Chapter Five is an impressive entrepreneurial spirit, matched in strength by fierce determination and a huge dash of creative talent.
After finishing their degrees, Byron established a street-wear label called Wildcard, while Soledad furthered her studies and became an art teacher. In 2003, the couple travelled to Europe, where Byron competed in pro-skateboarding events in Denmark, France and England, to name a few.
A successful eBay business dealing in antiques and collectibles followed on their return to Australia, before their daughter Anika was born in 2005. In the same year, they established a nationwide courier business catering for eBay purchases and online sales. It was enormously successful, until the fallout of the global financial crisis left them with no home, no car and no money.
Not to be disheartened, they came up with their first gift concept – a message in a bottle. The bottle carried a range of greeting messages, and souvenir location scrolls for popular coastal towns. They scraped together $3000, bought a “clapped-out Hyundai with a dodgy clutch”, and headed north.
“We set out with our little bottle and drove with our five-year-old daughter from Port Fairy [in Victoria] to Port Douglas [in North Queensland], selling our new Message in a Bottle,” says Byron.
“We also had a couple of dozen driftwood wall art pieces that we sold along the way. Each day we woke up broke, but by nightfall we would have another few hundred Ks behind us, and enough sales to cover accommodation, food and fuel. Each time we made a sale, we had to make the bottles in a park or on a beach, while Anika played in a tree or a playground, then we’d deliver the freshly made orders.”
That trip built awareness of a new product to the market. The couple saved enough to move to Noosa later that year, and their Message in a Bottle won the best new product award at their first gift trade fair in 2011. Their Happiness Kit won the award the following year.
A new phenomenon had been born, culminating in Chapter Five’s Little Box of Happiness, which is now a much-loved range of 26 greeting titles in a matchbox. Each matchbox contains an assortment of hand-selected quirky, fun objects, that all carry a special and sentimental meaning.
The philosophy behind the success is deceptively simple.
“Necessity is the mother of all invention,” says Byron. “There are companies that scour the trade fairs, searching for the ‘next big thing’. Sol and I are sort of the opposite. We don’t look around for ‘what’s hot’, but actually ‘what’s not’ out there yet. We create little niches for new ideas.”
Luckily, both Byron and Sol still find time to paint, with Byron describing Soledad’s style as having a “very organic flow”, while his own signwriting and tattoo design background translates into a more geometric form. Unsurprisingly, Anika, now 17, is also a talented artist, with a combination of her parents’ creative gifts at play in her intricate Anime-style works.
While Chapter Five goes from strength to strength, there’s a strong sense that there are many more chapters to be written in this family’s creative story.
“We have embarked on countless journeys, with not a whole lot of money to our name,” says Byron.
“You don’t need a lot of money to see the world, to truly experience it, and enjoy life. What you do need is a big pile of confidence, a positive attitude, a dash of skill, faith, determination and the ability to smile in the face of adversity.”