Bush shirts provide extra income

Steve and Alice Noble from Gippsland, pictured with their son Tim, have started their own apparel business currently selling 100% wool flannel bush shirts. (PHOTO Megan Lee)

Young couple Steve and Alice Noble set up their own clothing brand Hugh Charles during the drought as a source of extra income. Sales have been so good that they hope the enterprise could provide enough funds for them to become full-time farmers.

Just before the drought hit, Gippsland couple Steve and Alice borrowed $800,000 to purchase 105 hectares of land and stock at Briagolong. But after three years of record dry conditions, it was time for them to diversify or give up. However, this young couple weren’t giving up.

They are both from the land. Steve was brought up on the family farm, also at Briagolong, which at the time comprised Merino sheep, commercial cattle and small acre cropping. The property continues to be run by his father Barry, with Steve and Alice helping out. Alice grew up on a farm south of Tamworth that was a combination of Hillcrest Hereford Stud and a Merino sheep enterprise.

Steve also works as a travelling fertiliser salesman and agronomist while Alice is at home looking after their young son Tim.

“We set up Hugh Charles for many reasons,” Steve said.

“It was partly as another source of income to help while times were tight during the drought. The research and setting up of the company were a good distraction from the grind.

“Our mission is to provide quality clothing, made from natural fibres, particularly wool, that last for many years. We have a commitment to not use polyester in our products where possible. We go as far as using metal buttons to avoid plastic.

“We also want to prove that it’s still possible to run a successful company from a small rural area.”

The company is named Hugh Charles after Alice’s late father William ‘Hugh’ Tanner who died in a farming accident, and Steve’s father Barry ‘Charles’ Noble.

“Both men represent what our clothing label is all about: tough, dependable, and genuine,” Steve said.

The Hugh Charles range is relatively small at the moment as Steve and Alice are mindful of not expanding too quickly, especially in the current economic climate. All items are designed by the couple.

“Sales are fantastic. It has been very promising, especially as we have been selling winter wool products in February and March.”

– Steve Noble, Hugh Charles

Their main product is a 100% wool flannel bush shirt which they say has the warmth of a wool jumper with the style and flexibility of a flannel shirt. It has a long tail, is available in a red check or navy, and comes in sizes XXS to 3XL. A 100% Merino wool beanie, in navy or black, is also available.

“All items are 100% new designs by us that are manufactured in China. We spent a great deal of time trying to find local manufacturers, but it just wasn’t viable. We are still looking now and hope to make limited edition runs of Australian made and sourced products,” Steve said.

“There are plans for more wool products, which include variations of our beanies and wool flannels. Vests, gloves and scarves have all been put forward as possible new lines. Wool products will always be the premium items in our range.”

The business was launched at the end of January and the couple are very pleased with how things are going.

“Sales are fantastic. It has been very promising, especially as we have been selling winter wool products in February and March,” Steve said.

“Our story has really hit a chord with people and we actually had to slow a lot of our marketing just to be sure there would be enough supply for everyone. The reviews from sales have been encouraging too.

“When you purchase our products, the money is going into a small community in East Gippsland, not a multinational conglomerate.”

Their products are currently only available online, but Steve says they have had some initial discussions with stores that might look at selling their products.

“It is likely that at some stage next year we will expand into some local independent stores and build from there.”

Steve says their end goal changes a lot, but at this stage it’s to establish themselves as full-time farmers one day and to carry on the legacy of both their families.

“We hope that our story can also inspire others in rural areas to create their own businesses,” Steve added.

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