By Narelle Coulter
A Pakenham manufacturing business is creating work for 100 employees in its partner factory in Fiji.
In a busy warehouse in Pakenham’s Embrey Court, music blares as orders for stubbie holders, can quivers, oil skin jackets and hats, swags and barbecue covers are packaged up for customers all over Australia and overseas.
Eagle Outdoors, the umbrella company for Didgeridoonas Australia, Blue Water Campers and Quickcover, is owned by Cardinia businessman David Rodgers.
Stock arrives regularly from the company’s partner factory in Fiji.
David’s father fostered the family’s Fiji connection when he sent sewing machines to the Pacific island nation as part of his church’s missionary work.
More sewing machines followed and eventually there were enough to start a small factory.
Today work and staff flow between the two countries in a partnership that also produces other quality outdoor and camping equipment such as wallets, travel bags, pet accessories and insulated cooler bags.
The company’s Pakenham manager David Stephenson said materials were sourced in Australia including the pure wool used in the insulated products, and the goods are stitched in Fiji.
“All our materials are, basically, Australian. We like the idea of giving something back to Australia even though we are supporting Fiji,” David said.
Products under the Didgeridoona label are sold around Australia as well as exported to the United States and Europe.
David said American customers liked the memorable label for its ‘Australiana’ quality.
“It’s sold under the fact that this is Australian and this is what Australians wear. We also give a free kangaroo to ride to school with each order,” he joked.
At just the age of 22, David has bold plans for the company.
He is designing a new website and ramping up the company’s social media was well as designing a new range of canvas shirts and bags.
“I really believe it’s going to be a couple of big years ahead for us.
“This is just the start, there is a lot we want to do.”
David joined the company nearly two years ago after bumping into David Rodgers in a cinema.
The two got talking and David Rodgers discovered the Hillcrest Christian College graduate was looking for a job.
“He asked me to come in for an interview and I started later that day,” David said.
He started rolling swags and quickly made his way up to manager.
“The thing I love about this business is that it’s a product you can believe in. You know it is good quality and you know it will last and that it will actually fulfil its function.
“I don’t think I could ever sell something I know is going to fall apart in six months’ time.”
David goes to the Didgeridoonas website to highlight a photo of a 16-year-old can cooler. The worn, faded state of the leather suggests it has held many a cold beverage.
“Just look at that,” David said excitedly.
“See how it gets that leathered look. It just does not fail. Unlike other businesses, we are proud of our old products. That’s what sets us apart.
“The only time customers come back to us is when they want to buy something for someone else because they’ve already got one. It’s not like fidget spinners.”
David is planning an online competition to encourage customers to send in photographs of their well-worn and well-loved Didgeridoona products. He wants a visual display of the durability of the product.
As he said: “We don’t do built-in obsolescence.”
A growing part of the Didgeridoona business is customising products for corporate gifts.
Companies can order custom-made labels to be attached to a range of the Didgeridoona products with their logo or catch phrase displayed.
The labels are dye cast and printed in Fiji.
David has made one trip to Suva to inspect the factory and meet the staff.
He was taken by the laid-back, friendly approach of the locals.
“Fiji is a very community orientated place. Everyone comes in, does their work but then they hang about afterwards having chats and a drink. It’s an awesome place. Everyone is very chilled.”
In turn, some of the Fijian staff are brought to Pakenham for training, staff like receptionist Miri who was manning the front desk at the Embry Court warehouse when Grow visited in May.
When asked her impressions of Australia, Miri replied “awesome” but then added “it’s just the cold”.
“I am trying to run away before winter,” she said, laughing.
David said he was excited about the future of Didgeridoonas and its sister company Eagle Outdoor.
“I love the fact there is so much to be done, there are so many areas to be explored. It definitely hasn’t expanded to the point where it can just be maintained. There are so many areas that can be worked on. I love that.
“In terms of the future I would like to see Didgeridoonas become a household name because it is a great product and it is something everyday Australians should enjoy.
“I think this business is really awesome to be part of.”