I’ve been compiling my Christmas presents cupboard recently (yes I’m very organised when it comes to gift-giving) when I came across the Skipping Girl mug and tea-towel I bought from Make Me Iconic Iconic back at the Magnolia Square Market back in August. A business about Melbourne, based in Melbourne – perfect for the blog don’t you think? So today’s HOT Chat is with Natasha Skunca of Make Me Iconic. Thanks Natasha!

Natasha, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to start your business Make Me Iconic?

My background is marketing and branding. I worked in London as a marketing communications manager and brand manager for 10 years, after which we returned home to Melbourne at the end of 2008. We immediately we fell in love with the city again – Melbourne has so much to offer that is unique, stylish and contemporary and we wanted something in our home that brought those elements to life. Sadly, there was nothing to be found.

We knew we weren’t the only ones that love this city and guessed that we weren’t the only ones that wanted to take a part of it home. So the seed was sown. We decided to find the best young, local designers to help us represent some of the unsung icons of the city. We also decided to educate ourselves and our customers about the history of each icon and give them facts about what makes the icons unique.

So with unsung icons and urban education in mind – Make Me Iconic was born, launching our first range of products in December 2009.

What do you think is unique about Make Me Iconic compared to other designer homewares and souvenir companies?

For sure it’s a saturated designer homewears market out there and I guess because of my marketing background I knew if I was going to produce something it had to have a unique selling point.

When I first came home and I was buying homewares myself, I noticed that everything had European inspired designs. Which is great but I had just come back from London with my own European homewares and I wanted something with Melbourne on it. There was nothing on the market and there was nothing which suited my sense of style so I immediately saw a gap in the marketplace.

Our products are designed for locals and tourists alike – our range of products capture the essence of the city and give it the style and sophistication it deserves.  We think they’re great for gifts, homesick expats or just a treat for yourself  as our products offer something truly unique and, of course, iconic.

You have chosen to work with young, local designers when producing your range. Where do you find these designers and how do you choose them?

We wanted to give talented, young designers a chance to get their first break, so we recruit all of our designers from local universities and feature them on our website and marketing information to give them exposure.

Basically I posted adverts up on student websites such as RMIT and Swinburne and asked them to send in their CV and a pdf of their folio, and then had an informal chat over coffee to see whether they’d fit our business. We now have a great team of designers who have edge and skill, rather than experience.

Where do you turn for art inspiration?

Basically the city of Melbourne keeps me inspired. It feels so good to be home and it’s like discovering a whole new city all over again. I love all the quirky shops and the hidden alleyways. When I get time I love just walking around the city and taking photos. I also keep a scrap book of idea from things I have seen in magazines or photos.

What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced in starting up your own business? What advice would you give to a small business owner?

The hardest thing is actually just starting and putting a “stake-in-the-ground”. Sometimes you get so caught up in the developing of the idea and how you are going to do it – and just need to press the button and go for it.

The best advice I can give someone is to just make sure you product is differentiated from your competitors, always deliver great customer service no matter who they are and get to know who your customers actually are.

What are your next plans for Make Me Iconic?

Make Me Iconic is transforming the unsung icons of the city into stylish and contemporary home wears and souvenirs.  Of course we chose Melboune first (because we live there) but it’s only natural for me to then do Sydney range which I hope will be out by the end of the year. We are also launching into kids traditional wood toys which is also pretty exciting.

Finally, where are your HOT places to visit or things to do in Melbourne?

Melbourne Museum – the kids explore and play area is amazing and the Bugs exhibition is fantastic to view creepy crawlies not to mention the dinosaurs!

Bernards Magic Shop (211 Elizabeth St, Melbourne +61 3 9670 9270) This old-fashioned magic shop has not changed since I was little girl and is great for fake vomit and exploding peanut cans!

Seamstress Restaurant and Bar (1st/113 Lonsdale St, Melbourne +61 3 9663 6363) Great food, great service and great atmosphere. I think Joost Bakker may have done the downstairs bar area and I am a big fan of his work.

Der Raum (438 Church St, Richmond +61 3 9428 0055) The most interesting cocktails in town.

T2 on Brunswick Street (340 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 1300 832 866‎) I get all my tea supplies from T2. I am a bit of tea junkie.