Can you talk a little about your Latin American heritage and how the seed for Origen was planted? 

I was born in Uruguay, where I lived until I was 8 years old, then we moved to Scotland. My father is an academic and was furthering his studies in Town Planning at the University of Edinburgh.

Imagine the adventure of arriving in Scotland, which is such a different country to ours, as a young family, without a word of English. But it was a carefree time, surrounded by my parent’s University friends from all over the world, all completely different cultural backgrounds to ours and each other’s but we formed long-life bonds.

It was during this time that the seed was planted inside me that cultural difference is wonderful and I am very drawn to those differences.

Travelling and getting to know people from diverse cultures from such a young age gave me an early taste for how interesting the unknown is, and my memories were always warm and rich. 

Origen is now 25+ years old. That is a long time for any business, particularly a small business. What has contributed to its amazing longevity and success? 

Being passionate about what you do, being different and doing it with authenticity. This, I believe, has always been Origen’s unique point of difference.

Since Origen started, the world has changed a lot, particularly in retail. How has Origen navigated these huge shifts in consumer attitudes and technology?

Having strong, loyal partnerships with the people we work with overseas and at home has always been part of our success, through thick and thin. Being able to constantly adapt our offer to meet customer demand has also been instrumental to our survival. As has being able to adapt to the changes in our world and embracing the positive aspects of technology.

This last year has been very challenging. COVID has shut down travel, retail, restaurants etc. From great challenges comes learning, what have you discovered about yourself and your business during this time?

One of the things that has helped me navigate these challenging times has been that I am small and can respond and adapt very quickly, without having the weight of bureaucracy that large corporations with investors and CEOs have. Having embraced technology earlier on in my business was also very beneficial to surviving lockdown.

I also get a lot of joy and energy from the people who help me run every aspect of Origen. Carol, Ami and Valeria are the team who support everything I love about Origen and bring it to life. We are a small team and we have come together from completely different life experiences and cultural backgrounds, but we have clicked beautifully. It is wonderful to be surrounded by people you genuinely love and respect and who compliment your vision. 

You recently renovated your home. What does home mean for you? What inspired the interior design process?

Home is where my family is and I wanted an environment that reflects who I am and what I value. My life inspiration and passion has revolved around travel and working or living in different countries. My home has always needed to reflect this. It’s a canvas for memories and treasures that you have come across in life. I am surrounded by all these things that I love and they all bring stories. 

Then there were the practicalities of a home for two teenagers who need their space to bring friends home and a partner with very diverse interests to mine but just as passionate. We are surrounded by instruments, books, surfboards, and bikes and so forth.

How did you navigate WFH, home schooling etc? 

I am lucky to share an office with my partner who has a great sense of humour, so it was always animated and comical. But on a serious note, Zoom, Facetime and WhatsApp have been transformative and enabled me to connect with colleagues whether it's Melbourne, other cities in Australia or in faraway parts of the world.

Given travel is near impossible right now I use my contact and friendships from across the world to put collections together from my desk. It’s not as exotic but it’s a necessary solution in these surreal times.

I have also loved having my kids’ study at home, to be able to spend so much time together. They grow up so quickly, so it’s been lovely to have them so close, as they prepare to take the next steps towards adulthood. It happens so fast and I’m holding on to each moment.

What are your plans for Origen's future?

Origen has always been about a beautiful community of customers that are like friends. I have been lucky to work with designers and artisan partners who appreciate traditional craft and the value of cultural diversity in design. This remains at the core of what makes Origen so unique and authentic.

It is part of our DNA that we embrace and it is what gives us a living, beating heart that can’t be replicated.

I will continue to make this my priority while still evolving and surprising our customers with beautiful treasures. 

Once we can travel again, where will you head to first?

I would like to travel back to Uruguay to visit my country and my family. Other destinations like Mexico, Guatemala, India, Thailand and Bali always beckon. It has been a long time…

Author: Ami Birla


Origen Team