Interestingly, Nicola and Carl Mason both arrived in Australia on the very same ship. As toddlers emigrating from the UK back in the 60s, neither could have predicted the journey that lay ahead. Both families settled in Perth, raising happy children with a common interest in the great outdoors.

“We headed to Tassie for a holiday when our two girls were only little,” smiles Nicola. “It was the classic story I guess…we fell in love with the place and just never went back. Carl has always been an adventurer, he loves walking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking…Tassie was instantly a paradise for him.” She reminisces about the Tasmania she discovered twenty years ago, “I fell in love with this beautiful green island too…it was just bursting with fabulousness.”

With a warm and open personality, Nicola is happy to share the early days with others. “We spent a little while trying to work out exactly what we would do here…what kind of business would suit us. We could see many opportunities here in Tassie, so it was just about putting our finger on the right one for us,” she recalls. “In Perth we’d run a recycled furniture business. We’d always had a focus on handcrafted work and whilst we were looking for something new, those same elements – handmade, boutique, recycled and sustainable – were always going to remain at the core of whatever we did.”

Nicola Mason from Smitten standing near a mirror

“I was pregnant with our son when we moved here,” Nicola smiles. It’s clear this is a close-knit family and her three adult children are a justifiable source of pride and joy. “I remember being cold and often dressing in Carl’s thermals just to keep warm. But I wanted more feminine items to wear and to create something with more shape. Carl was also keen on producing thermal wear under a Tassie label. So I guess we both saw potential for two different markets…I was keen on designing for women and Carl was keen on supplying the local adventure market with a Tasmanian made option.”

The Mason’s hatched a plan to create a Tasmanian wool label. “We wanted to create quality garments from Tassie wool that were also good for the island. They had to be as environmentally sound, sustainable and biodegradable as possible.” Nicola sighs as she recalls the barriers in those earliest of days, “So many people said we couldn’t do it, and that we wouldn’t be able to source what we needed in Australia, let alone in Tassie. But that only made us even more determined.”

Reaching to pat Billie-Jean, the chocolate labradoodle sprawled on the couch beside her, Nicola describes how the Smitten Merino brand was born. “Like most businesses, we agonised for ages over the name. I wanted something to reflect warmth and comfort…and also the total and complete level of effort and energy that we pour into it. I still love the name, and it seems to resonate with many of our customers.”

Nicola Mason and her dog on the sofa

Her green eyes sparkle as the challenges of the early years come flooding back. “It was exhausting to get off the ground and I often wondered if we should just give up,” Nicola recalls. “Initially I sewed in the small hours of the night and worked around my day job. The kids were little and it was hard, really hard.”

“We’d try and sell a few things to friends and that was difficult. I hate trying to convince my friends to buy things. I’m not a salesperson at all. By 2006 we went into a party plan model and I found that really awkward too. I’d be at someone’s house and everyone would be having a wine and enjoying getting together but not necessarily wanting to buy anything. I found it difficult, but we pushed through just to keep things afloat. There were many times I really thought we should just give up and do something else. I often wondered exactly where that line was…was it worth it or was I flogging a dead horse?”

“Those early days held lots of pressure for me to make and sell. I’m grateful that Carl had a lot of the energy to keep us going. He’s always been enthusiastic, determined and is a great salesman…something I’m definitely not,” she laughs freely.

Carl Mason in the smitten store arranging clothes

“I love working with the natural fibre of merino wool…it’s so soft and light…and what is produced here in Tasmania is second to none. As a designer I’ve really embraced that and combined it with my understanding of our climate. Here in Tassie the weather changes rapidly, making the need for base layers very real and practical.” Nicola continues, “All our products are extensively tested and thoughtfully made for those who want beautiful but classic wardrobe items.”

Speaking of the philosophy that’s stood the test of time at Smitten, Nicola explains, “We only use premium merino wool fleece, the world’s best natural fibre. It wicks, breathes, dries fast and fits to your body. As a bonus it’s flame retardant and has a high UV sun protection factor. I can go on…machine washable, great for travel…and thoroughly tested right here in the wild Tasmanian landscape.”

girl wearing a smitten dress

“I think women see our garments as a little bit of affordable luxury,” says Nicola. “The range has really grown over time from tops and bottoms to tailored dresses and jackets, as well as scarves and wraps and much more. We’re also serious about aiming for zero waste and our garment cutters are always using up any spare merino as beanies or headbands…that’s a good feeling too.”

“Everyone in the family has had a hand in it. Our daughters were always modelling the clothing and our eldest still does a great job with our marketing. It’s been a team effort and I love looking back on early photos of the kids in their Smitten thermals. We still have some of them so I know they go the distance!”

A turning point arrived in 2009 with the advent of an online store. “That quickly started to tick things along,” recalls Nicola. “It gave us the means to reach a wider audience, increased sales and improved our presence. A little later we also started trading at Salamanca Market…that’s been fantastic. These steps combined translated to some local boutiques also wanting to stock our product, something which we’d always struggled to get traction with in the past.”

Nicola Mason looking at the smitten online store on her desktop computer

Moving off the sewing machine was a welcome change for Nicola. “We now have an amazing manufacturing team in Spreyton in the north of the state. We’re really positive about the future of manufacturing here in Tasmania and believe more activity will return to Tassie in coming years. I think people are looking for genuine Tasmanian products and really want to support local industry.”

Speaking of the superfine merino which is the brand’s hallmark, Nicola explains, “Smitten uses world-class, non-mulesed, sustainably grown wool from Tasmania and Victoria. As our business grows we hope to simply use 100% Tasmanian wool in the future when we can command sufficient volumes to be dyed and knitted specifically for our brand. Most of our wool jersey fabric is currently knitted for us in Victoria, however our wool coats, ponchos, and the cape coming in winter 2019, actually use Melton wool specially knitted for us in Launceston at the oldest wool mill in Australia.”

Nicola reiterates the importance she sees in supporting local. “Tasmanian merino is such a beautiful wool. Our climate is perfect for producing quality with the moderate temperatures giving rise to uniform fibres, and the clean pastures providing a rich source of food for the sheep.”

The evolution of the brand is typical of many Tasmanian enterprises. “We’ve always been mindful of maintaining affordability for the local market. However it became clear that ours was a real tourism product. Going online really opened things up, and before we knew it we had tourists arriving on our doorstep direct from Hobart airport. It wasn’t unusual to open the door and be greeted with someone holding an empty suitcase, saying they’d seen us online and just had to pick up some things while in Hobart.” Nicola remains touched by this show of support for her products, “It was, and still is, humbling that people from across the globe recognise the value in what we do and hold Tasmanian brands in such high regard.”

Smitten Merino is certainly not an overnight success story. “It’s been small steps all the way, with one win slowly leading to another,” Nicola says. “Those early years working from home were a real challenge. The kids were young, we ended up with a couple of staff working from our house too…a few times I very nearly threw it all in…it was so hard to juggle it all.”

The Smitten range continues to be ever evolving. “I still design everything myself and it continues to be trial and error,” Nicola laughs. “What I think is my best design ever, is sometimes not that well received by the market. It’s really interesting.” She describes how a continued love for the design process has kept her motivated, “I love creating and am always sketching. Sometimes I’ll do my own sample, but what I really love now is just designing and then having a great local team behind me who can bring my design to life. I can sew ok, but my team are amazing, so I tend to stick with the design aspect.”

Nicola Mason sketching designs in her notebook

“It’s interesting how my designs have evolved…I can trace how they have changed as I have aged,” Nicola laughs. “Whilst we have smart, tailored items, they are primarily about comfort, so many women still tell me they struggle to source quality garments that they feel comfortable in. I think we fill a real niche in that respect. The fashion industry still isn’t delivering for all age groups and body shapes and that creates real opportunities for small business.”

Nicola describes how she first wondered if delving into the fashion industry would provide the stimulation and sense of satisfaction she was looking for. “I’ve had what I would have called more ‘meaningful’ jobs in the past and I was worried I’d find this somewhat trivial and that I’d lose a sense of purpose. What I discovered is that it’s so much more than fashion,” she says enthusiastically. “Women share their stories with me all the time and I get so much out of that. People derive comfort from clothing…so whether I’m helping fit someone who’s had a mastectomy or designing a unique wedding dress…it’s been pretty special to be involved in some amazing personal stories.”

“I often have customers describe our garments as ‘more than clothes’ which is a real honour. Women are pretty good at empowering each other. I love being a part of that and helping others feel comfortable and confident within themselves.”
“The little things never change, really…I still get a real kick out of being out and about and seeing someone decked out in a Smitten outfit. I don’t think that will ever go away. I know that person had a choice of what they put on today, and they chose our product. That’s pretty special.”

“We both still hold that original sense of excitement about the future that we had twenty years ago,” babbles Nicola. “I have lots of plans for new garments and we’re excited to be part of Virgin Australia Fashion Week in March. We love educating people about sustainable fashion and that yes, you can wear wool in summer! We’ll always keep supporting Tasmanian producers and giving back to our island.”

Nicola walking through a doorway in silhouette

Speaking of the business community around her, Nicola says, “I think it’s unique here in Tassie. So many other businesses have embraced us and there’s a real community feel that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Once we had a dream to have a flagship store in every capital city across the country but now I’m not so sure. We’ve embraced our points of difference, and having customers seek us out in Hobart is really rewarding. It adds to our unique brand too.”

“We’re in a great space right now. The kids have grown up and are happy chasing their own dreams. I’m loving designing, and we have a great team behind us. Tasmania’s really on the rise at the moment and it’s an exciting place to be. Tassie is definitely where we want to stay. We’re about remaining true to our brand and what makes us different.”

Carl and Nicola from Smitten standing outside their Hobart store

You can visit the Smitten Merino boutique at 47 Sandy Bay Road, Battery Point or check them out online at