Mary Sutherland was one of the three ladies who founded the Tambo Teddies business and brand. Her partners, Helen Sargood and Charm Ryrie left the business after several years, and Mary’s passion drove its success for twenty-one years until she decided it was time to retire . Mary passed the baton on by selling it to another group of local ladies.
Whilst Mary undertook every aspect of the business her main role in the early days was the sewing, Mary created the first ever Tambo Teddy, a beautiful bear that is still on display in store today in 2018. Kim Davidson, who was peripherally involved in the start-up days considers, ‘the business would never have got off the ground if Mary hadn’t been prepared to take on the task of the sewing.’
Reflecting on the early days Mary remembers the challenges, ‘We had to learn to use the machines, they were very temperamental, we had to find and adapt patterns to make it work with the sheep skin. We looked at many different teddies and patterns and had to work out how to adapt to suit the material of sheep skin.’
Once Mary had refined the patterns and the sewing process she went on to make thousands of Tambo Teddies, continuing to create bears when she was running the business on her own for nearly fourteen years. Mary designed the seven limited edition series bears; adapting a pattern for a jointed teddy, the first limited edition bear was created, the Biddulph Bears. There were only 100 of each limited edition bear ever made, inspired by the families that settled the Tambo area, they were called the settlers series. There were seven different limited-edition series created, and to make each one unique, Mary adapted different patterns to give them an individual look .
When asked to reflect on the highs and lows of Tambo Teddies, Mary remembers the key concerns being the remote location of the business, the huge numbers of teddies that were already on the market and sourcing the raw materials such as skins and stuffing as well as the distances to transport supplies. However, all these challenges were overcome and after twenty-five years the business is still going strong.
One memory that stands out for Mary was the trip to Japan, taking teddies to the trade fair. Mary recalls the journey as a wonderful experience where she ‘met many people’. Meeting people was one of the main highlights of her involvement in the business, Mary remarked, ‘meeting people was one of the best things that came out of the teddies, there are so many people that I still keep in touch with.’
Mary retired in March 2014 when she sold the business to Kiralee, Tammy & Alison, but not one to sit still she soon took on a part-time job in Home and Community care so is really only semi-retired. Mary says, ‘I love my new job, it is totally low stress and very enjoyable.’
Mary maintains a high level of involvement within the community, holding positions in both the golf and race clubs, and can be regularly found out on the Tambo Golf Course having a match.