We talk to Emma Bäcklund about falling in love with Australia, starting a new business, living in a bus and raising a family with a sustainable focus. A real inspiration.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Emma Bäcklund, I’m born and raised in the north of Sweden and moved to Australia 10 years ago to study Art Direction in Melbourne. I was already a keen surfer living in Norway surfing through the cold winters and I had read about Torquay and The Great Ocean Road where the surf industry took off, the tall ochre cliffs, world class waves and I thought that sounded pretty cool! I didn’t realise I’d fall in-love with to me the “tropical” coastline, scoring my dream job, starting a business and falling in-love with a boy that I’d end up renovating a school bus and have a son with… During the day our tiny house ’The Sandy Bus’ turns into my working studio where I work on my business, U&I Label as well as my freelance photography and graphic design and in the evenings the space transforms back to our family home!
You’re a business owner, a mum of a two year old, a surfer, and you live the bus-life! How do you set realistic expectations on yourself for managing time?
To be honest, I’m not great at setting realistic goals, I’m a forever time optimist and really good at taking on projects. But in combination with that, I am a pretty focused person, a “doer” and really good at multitasking. + I love what I do, so I don’t mind staying up late after my family has gone to bed to sit and have me-time and work.
Is there one non-negotiable you do each day for you-time?
I touch base with the ocean everyday, whether it’s when I have my morning coffee replying to emails, going for a play with my son or going for a surf. I’ve got to see or touch the sea.
How do you find living in a bus with your little one?
Our son is now 2,5 years old and we’ve been living in the bus since day one, we’ve been blessed with a good sleeper so that’s been very helpful and as far as I can tell he loves the bus life! We’re on a 10 acre bush block, so he wakes up seeing and counting how many kangaroos and rabbits are outside. We purely use our outdoor shower and bath summer/winter and all love how fresh and alive it makes us feel. We’ve got a big deck and garden hugging the bus, so the outdoor space to hang and play helps and makes the space feel much bigger. Hendrix has barely ever had his day naps inside, in true Scandinavian style, he’s been sleeping in his pram through rain and wind and is a very healthy kid! The main challenge living in a small space is when the weather really isn’t inviting and he starts to climb the walls, but we’ve got our local pool to escape to where we spend a lot of time!
How does sustainability play a role in your day-to-day life and business?
It’s a massive part of our life and was one of the main motivators for our bus conversion. We used mainly recycled materials and up-cycled furniture + we’re on solar and rainwater. We grow a fair bit of veggies and try to cut down on our meat. I volunteer for a non-for-profit called Surfers For Climate and I’m pretty active in my local community when it comes to enviro-initiatives. The dream job I mentioned earlier was for Patagonia where I worked as the in-house Graphic Designer for five years and it was an amazing life education on how to be and live as the best version of myself I could have had. It also taught me how to run a circular business that gives back, activates its community and how to set up healthy and sustainable manufacturing. My women’s swim & apparel business is called U&I Label, where we’ve made our swimwear in Australia since day one, seven years ago, all made out of recycled Nylon. We also recently launched our very first apparel collection dedicated to like-minded women taking our community of Ocean Dwellers from sea to land. The line has been consciously created & ethically handmade entirely from deadstock fabric - rescued and recycled before it ever got the chance to make it to landfill. True deadstock (also known as ‘end of roll’) comes leftover from brands with large scale production. Although sourcing this way does provide limitations around colourways and amounts available, on the flip side it means that each garment is truly limited run. Ultimately we hope to create a brand that coexists with nature and contribute to a slow and circular model of business. Our goal is to design timeless collections and help building our customers sustainable wardrobes.
How did you find your style changed and evolved during pregnancy and postpartum?
I have a pretty funny story from my first maternity shopping experience together with a good girlfriend of mine whiles six-month pregnant. Instead of picking up breastfeeding bras, pregnancy denim and tights I came home with a golden sequence mini skirt, a black silk one-piece and a gorgeous ‘Great Gatsby’ velvet sequence dress 🤣 I don’t think I was in denial, but I had this massive urge of feeling gorgeous knowing I was gaining weight and feeling a bit plum.
Since after having Hendrix, I wouldn’t say my style has changed drastically, although I don’t think I ever put my tight denim back on, it’s just not that comfortable and friendly for playing with the kids. I love linen and soft cotton apparel!
Sometimes we all second guess ourselves and have moments of hesitancy. Do you ever second guess yourself and if so, how do you overcome this barrier?
Yeah absolutely, I do invest a tremendous amount of un-payed time into my label and have done so for seven years now, and every now and then I run out of steam, but luckily I have an amazing business-partner, also a mamma, and we support each other through the ups and downs. The small and sometimes bigger wins with the business and seeing how the community of female ocean dwellers comes together keeps us ticking away.
Lastly, what‘s the best thing about being a mum?
I actually found the first year of mother-hood extremely challenging, it was such a big change to my life, not longer feeling independent and able to exercise the way I was used to, but we got through the first year and I slowly started to enjoy being a mother more and more. Ones I got my balance right with working a couple of days a week and carrying for Hednrix the other days I started to really enjoy it. And now with him being 2,5years old I can honestly say that I LOVE hanging out with him and taking him on special adventures on our ‘mamma & Henny days’. It’s all just about finding the balance that works for you and not to get caught up in the mum guilt! 😉