KICK ASS BIZ MAMA #19 – BRONWYN HOWELL, RETROBUB

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Dear Ladies,

Today’s amazing business woman is so modest about her achievements, it makes me cry out in pain! For over 20 years she has been designing and producing a range of the cutest baby wear clothing, when most other people in the fashion industry have chosen to get someone else to do it for them, or have gone off-shore.

My hat goes off to you Bronwyn – it is so rare to find someone else ‘crazy’ enough to make all their own designs – you are massive inspiration to me. Thank you!

Collette

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Tell us about your business – when did you start it and what is it all about?

I started 20 years ago – can you believe it ! I make childrens wear with a focus on baby wear – under the label Retrobub.

What inspired you to start your business?

I was inspired after the birth of my daughter. I had a background in fashion design and was appaulled by how boring childrens wear, and babywear in particular, was. So I set out to produce a range of babywear that was fun and fashionable. I quickly found that people where looking for baby clothes that where cute enough to give as a gift to people expecting, but they didn’t know the gender of the baby, so I started with a range of gender-neutral babywear to fulfill this need.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

It wasn’t when I was just starting off, but a few years in, my accountant gave me a talking to about paying myself properly. It is very easy to not include every hour you work into your pricing, but in the end you are just exploiting yourself. If something is too expensive, then you have to find a way to make it cheaper (less detail, cheaper materials, made in a more time efficent way) – you can’t just make the price lower and rip yourself off. And if you can’t get the price down, then its not a profitable product and maybe you should scrap it and concentrate on an item you can make more profit on.

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What was the most difficult part about starting your business?

All the business stuff. I am a designer and creative and I find that side is my strength, but all the things that make up the other aspects of running a business are very difficult.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your business?

To listen to customers, but to take their comments with a grain of salt. Customers and people are always giving you advice, but they do so very flippantly. I have learnt the hard way that customers that like your product just buy it, they don’t need to talk about it. But people who give you lots of advice, saying “you should make this…”, don’t actually share your vision, and are not the best people to listen too. Listen to your sales, and work on the things that are selling.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business? 

Time and weekends !! Always working weekends selling at markets has affected my social life, and people think I am crazy when I ask if they want to do something on a Monday which is my day off.

Also business can be good but it can be slow at times too and cash flow can be a real problem.

What is one thing you wish you had of known before you started your business?

How hard it is, but if i did I never would of started! As I said before, my strength is the design and creative aspects, and in hindsight, I would of tried to find a partner for the business that had strengths in the other areas of admistration.

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What has been your biggest success so far?

I don’t think I have had any success (Collette’s note: Bronwyn is WAY too modest, go and check out the quality of her work every third Sunday of the month, at the Shirt & Skirt Market at the Abbotsford Convent)  – it is a work in process.

After a long day/night/week what do you do to unwind?

I like to spend time with friends and family, at the beach and dining out.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I would like to see the online store to grow.

BUMP STYLE: 3 WINTER ESSENTIALS

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Dear Ladies,

It can be a pretty overwhelming thing, shopping for clothes when you are pregnant and when your body is growing in all sorts of weird ways. And if you don’t know what to look for, it can end up costing you a lot of money! But just to make it easy, we have narrowed it down to three easy, wear-with-anything pieces you can be sure will last with you over the winter months and beyond!

Collette

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  1. The Draped Cardigan – great for softening your curves, hiding those extra bits bits and keeping you warm! Choose cardigans that have cascade fronts or interesting details to steer peoples eyes away from your bump.

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  1. The Ruched Top – tuck it in or leave it out, this stretchy staple should allow you to keep growing, with its rushed sides. These little wrinkles across your body will also provide a flattering distraction that will help prevent the fully-inflated ‘basketball’ bump affect.

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  1. The Stretchy Legging – our top seller, with good reason! You can dress them up, down or just wear them to bed. They will replace every other pair of pants, shorts or skirt in your wardrobe, so make sure they have at least 10% stretch so they can grown with you. And look for natural fibres like our modal, bamboo or tencel.

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Bump Style: 4 Ways To Wear Your Leggings

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Dear Ladies,

I am so excited to finally share this post with you! It was such a fun photo shoot to do, with a very patient and very pregnant model Sam, and the help of my super-intern staff, photographer Simone Delponte and some amazing other Melbourne makers and designers. While they may not be your pre-pregnant pant of choice, leggings are definitely your best friend when it comes to dressing your bump.

Just make sure you buy a comfortable pair – like our soft-as-clouds Black Modal ones!

Collette

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Look One: casual lunch with friends, wearing AYLA Maternity Black Modal Leggings, Zapas Shoes, Truso Tote Bag, Uimi Lulu Shrug, Limedrop bangle & necklace.
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Look Two: brunch with friends wearing AYLA Maternity Black Modal Leggings, AYLA Maternity Floral Bamboo Singlet, Truso clutch, Post Sole Studio wedges, Limedrop necklace.
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Look Three: keeping warm in winter wearing AYLA Maternity Black Modal Leggings, AYLA Maternity Vanilla Bamboo Ruched Top, Post Sole Studio patent brogues, Uimi hat & shrug, Kitty Kat clutch, Kisah necklace.
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Look Four: date night wearing AYLA Maternity Black Modal Leggings, Uimi dress, Zapas shoes, Truso clutch, Kisah necklace.

The Growth in Fashion’s Ethics

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Dear Ladies,

It is no secret that I am very passionate about ethical and sustainable production in fashion. Essentially, my clothing label, AYLA Maternity was set up to prove that it is still possible to balance the needs of people, the planet and others – that we don’t need to exploit any of these elements just to turn a profit.

At first, this was a very unfamiliar concept, but probably not for the reasons you might assume. Only a year and a half ago, it was uncommon to find open criticism of the fashion industry and its dirty underbelly. But this wasn’t because people didn’t agree. When I spoke to people about just how bad things were, most had no idea what I was talking about. They hadn’t ever stopped to consider how and where all their cheap t-shirts were actually made, and the impact that it was having on the world.

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But then things started to happen. Screenings of The True Cost began popping up. Fashion Revolution‘s ‘Who Made My Clothes‘ campaign gained traction, and it became common knowledge that workers were being drastically underpaid and overworked, while millions of tonnes of clothing were being thrown into landfill and their fibres polluting our oceans.

Ethics in fashion has proven, since then, to be more than just a buzz word, with brands and consumers alike finally starting to question how the fashion industry operates. Initiatives like Slavery Footprint now allow you to track the numbers of slaves who might work for you. Campaigners like Livia Firth have challenged celebrities to a Green Carpet Challenge, and asked everyone to wear their clothes more than 30 times. Designers like Tom Cridland have proudly made claims that their clothing will last more than 30 years.

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So where does that leave us now? Will the fashion industry actually be able to change its dirty ways? I like to think so – I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if I didn’t – but it is going to take a lot of work, and consumers will need to drive this change. It is no longer acceptable to claim ignorance – it is up to us to use our wallets to support those who are fighting hard to make positive change.

Collette

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Kick Ass Biz Mama #14 – Kristy Chong, Modibodi

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Dear Ladies,

Today’s amazing business woman has a very special product that addresses many issues we all face as women and mothers, and also aims to help others who can’t afford such choices. Her determination and drive has seen her innovative underwear line grow in a serious leaps and bounds this past year, and her support for Days For Girls and Share the Dignity is inspirational.

Thanks for sharing Kristy – we love what you do!

Collette

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Tell us about your business – when did you start it and what is it all about?

Modibodi is the next evolution in women’s underwear. Modibodi combines great fits, with superior fabrics for a great feel, and we use our super slim, patent-pending fibre technology within the gusset/lining to keep women dry, fresh and protected no matter how crazy or unexpected her day is.

What inspired you to start your business?

It was after the birth of my second child, and I was living in Seattle, USA doing lots of travelling and running. On one my runs I had one of those embarrassing mishaps, a little bladder weakness, and it got me thinking about all the times as a woman my underwear had failed me. Whether it was working out, a hot Summer day, bladder weakness (thanks to 3 babies), my periods or just not feeling fresh after a long haul flight, on so many occasions regular underwear had failed me.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

To think big, and so from day one I have tried my best (even with limited resources) to position the brand in the market as a big and serious player. I look for those opportunities that will allow us to become that big brand one day as well.

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What was the most difficult part about starting your business?

Not coming from a textile background it was tough having to not only learn the design skills, but to converse with the manufacturers and then to source our technical fabrics in small quantities so as not to spend all my cash flow on product.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your business?

I am always in a hurry, and I am somewhat impatient. While this impatience is what has driven the business success up until today, it has also caught me out on a couple of occasions when I have not spent long enough double checking supplier’s credentials. But I can now confidently say sometimes you need to learn the hard way to change, and so after being burnt a few times, I now take alot more time when it comes to supplier contracts and decisions. I clearly lay out my expectations and ensure I am presented with defined strategies, timelines as well as suggested KPIs for the dollar investment.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Giving up a well paid corporate career, but otherwise I feel the gains I have made personally and professionally have surpassed what I imagined.

What is one thing you wish you had of known before you started your business?

I wish I had known alot more about investment and the endless business networks that exist for female entrepreneurs, as I would have accessed them sooner.

What has been your biggest success so far?

Last year we sold over 10,000 garments from just our online sales and grew the business by over 13 fold in just one year. But I don’t necessarily just define success by my sales results. My greatest success is knowing that our garments actually empower the lives of women by giving them peace of mind, increased comfort, they feel more attractive and confident and they can feel better about the world knowing that they do not need to use disposable hygiene and they are also helping other women in need, through our partnerships with Days For Girls and Share the Dignity.

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After a long day/night/week what do you do to unwind?

I have three children, so I love to spend time with my husband and them and we are quite an active family who love bike riding, walks and swims. My husband and I are also very social, so love having get-togethers at our house and just being able to have a drink and chat with great friends and family. My downtime usually involves running, pilates or watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In five years we would like to be stocked in major department stores in Australia and internationally ,and to be a well known brand within the underwear industry. We truly believe every woman deserves better underwear, and our longer term goal is for every woman to own some Modibodi’s in her drawer.

Moving Onwards & Upwards

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Dear Ladies,

As a creative person who spends most of her time doing some of the more mundane tasks in business – reporting, planning, scheduling, organising – I was so excited by the chance to move studios, and be part of a great artist community at River Studios. I have only been waiting about 30 years for this moment to happen, so it definitely didn’t come too soon!

Run by Creative Spaces and the City of Melbourne, the West Melbourne ex-factory building  has 57 studios over 3 floors, and comes complete with the non-stop lulling truck soundtrack, from the nearby docks, and lot of friendly faces.

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My studio of choice – lucky number 16 – is in a sunny spot on the second floor, directly below the bank of windows of the saw-tooth ceiling, to give me optimum designing and sewing light. Yes, I still do the occasional all-nighter.

So what does this new found space mean to me and how has it affected my outlook? Well, firstly, I am actually starting to call myself a fashion designer. It may sound funny, but although I have been doing this for almost a year now, and many more in my head, having a real stand-alone studio makes it all feel real. I am really here, this is really my studio and I am really living my dream.

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Perhaps it is the rent I am now paying (which is fortunately very low),  or maybe it is seeing all my clothing arranged neatly on the racks in front of me…but there is nothing that can replace the feeling of seeing your inner thoughts become reality. Which is why this print by Kyle Hughes-Odgers sits on pride of place on my shelf.

Originally from Perth, like me, his work is not only a beautiful depiction of a mother carrying her children, but also a great reminder of where I come from. Kyle’s work now dots the Perth landscape – greeting me at the airport when I arrive, on the walls of my old university and also on the main freeway I travel on to see friends when I am there – and reminds me that like this mother, everything you need, you already have in you.

Collette

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Kick Ass Biz Mama #12 – Kim & Kath, The Possibility Project

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Dear Ladies,

I met today’s Kick Ass Biz Mamas by chance, after I posted on an ethical clothing group on Facebook asking if anyone had products they would like to feature alongside my clothing. And boy was I happy I did! A remarkable couple of women who are so full of energy, passion and belief for helping others and making a difference. They are an inspiration to us all, using their privilege in Australia to make a difference overseas.

I have a lot to learn from such amazing women!

Collette

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AYLA Maternity Blog Kick Ass Biz Mamas The Possibility Project Clothing Range

Tell us about your business – when did you start it and what is it all about?

Kath and I have created a social enterprise called The Possibility Project, through which we collaborate with slum communities in India and together we are building projects that deliver dignified living through socially conscious work. We have a product range called slumwear108 – these reflect three things that we want to nurture in all communities – contribution of a persons skills, the creative spirit and a sense of community.

What inspired you to start your business?

The business is a natural extension of our passions, mixed with the life-cycle we are in. I have four children, and Kath has three – ranging from 18 to nice. As all of us get older, we have much more time to dedicate to what has wider purpose and joy in our lives. I loved being a high school business teacher, and Kath is a designer, so we put these gifts together to create a social enterprise delivering greater social justice – it just made sense on every level.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

I wouldn’t say our husbands were skeptical but they were ‘realistic’ and every bit of advice was helpful in terms of strengthening our own belief in ourselves. They didn’t get us or what we were doing – so we knew we were on the right track – because essentially we are peaceful rebels!

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What was the most difficult part about starting your business?

Honestly – there was no difficulty. It has never been easier to start something – Google is our best friend! The trick is to sustain your business, but if you hear one of our presentations you will understand how we are able to sustain ourselves and our families simply from the attitudes we hold. At the end of the day, your attitude is the only thing you have to make things not difficult.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your business?

Yes! Have faith in what expands your heart. I am more mental approach than Kath – I would go down the conventional ways of doing business, and it was neither effective nor efficient, and it was usually  joyless – but every time we have followed our hearts, the impacts have been far greater than we ever thought of.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

None – what is needed is ‘surrender’ not sacrifice! Think of giving over stuff rather than giving up – this way you are usually letting go of all the negative emotions that do arise. Of course as mums we could feel guilty about missing school things when we travel – but what purpose would that truly hold? If you look at what we do, our kids are so proud and are so supportive because it brings such joy to so many (especially ourselves).

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What is one thing you wish you had of known before you started your business?

Having taught business and economics for over 20 years I probably ‘knew’ too much and that sometimes stifled inspiration and creativity. The process has been all about un-learning actually, and just doing. If you are comfortable with the idea of failure – then there is nothing you need to learn!

What has been your biggest success so far?

The establishment of Sparrow Sanitation, which is our project that makes compostable sanitary pads for slum communities and building the vocational education program that goes along with that. It is still in early stages and we need all the support we can get, but we absolutely believe in what we are doing.

After a long day/night/week what do you do to unwind?

Simple. Kath likes a beer and I like a Pepsi! Being with our teenage kids and their friends is wonderful too, they have a beautiful energy that reminds you of both the strengths and fragilities of what it means to be human – it is humbling.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

We have no idea – we just know that if it feels divine – we will be doing it.