They say that timing is everything, something my husband and I have completely shunned with our latest career moves! As we approach 40 and many of our peers are starting to feel pretty comfortable with where they’re at in life and are doing things like kitchen renovations or taking ski trips, we are experiencing the direct opposite. Eighteen months ago we both walked away from what we’d done for the last twenty years! I am no longer ‘a teacher’ now and he isn’t ‘a geophysicist’ anymore either; meaning we have no reliable income at all. It sounds crazy, but we chose to do this, so it has not taken us by surprise. We made the call to each take on something totally new, totally terrifying and totally challenging financially at the same time.
How did we get here? My philosophy is that you get just one shot at life, so live it how you want to. So when my husband took the leap to go back to university and retrain as a doctor (becoming a poor student AND time poor too) I decided not to go back into teaching English which would have made perfect sense, but to set up a children’s swimwear company instead! Meaning we are both embarking on new and exciting paths.
Mermaids and Astronauts launched in October 2017. My youngest child was five months old, that wonderful age where they’re starting to sleep a whole lot less in the daytime and yet seem to still require about as much feeding and as many night get ups as a newborn (I’m sure some of you can relate!) My oldest was a terrible two. My husband, supportive on paper, was just realizing the enormity of what he’d undertaken. He was snowed in under anatomy textbooks and surgical gloves….me? Sudocrem and Duplo. There wasn’t a whole lot of time left to try to create and sell swimwear. Add to the general chaos of life that there was the very real worry that the money we’d been saving so he could stop making rich people richer and start making sick people better might not last the four years he wouldn’t be paid for unless I went back to work to supplement it, and in many ways, the choice I made to change careers too may well have been total madness! But for both of us, change had been a long time coming. Held at bay by the practicalities of waiting for a redundancy that never came (him) and ‘one last teaching contract before I focus on what I really want to do’ over and over (me). Then two things happened that broke our holding patterns and we couldn’t not do the things we dreamed of doing anymore. One, I fell pregnant, and two, my mum passed away unexpectedly…
I had been working on swimwear design for a few years. Ever since mum had bought me a beautiful bikini one Christmas, the first I’d ever owned that I LOVED with a passion. Ten years ago, if you were above a DD cup, there wasn’t much out there that was both stylish and flattering. They largely featured hideous patterns and shoulder straps as wide as a dual carriageway. But then, I was given this gorgeous red and white creation with frills and I adored it. I wanted other people with boobs to be able to feel fabulous in their swimmers too and so I began designing the fabrics and the styles I’d want to make it happen for them. Aside from this gem of a find, they just didn’t exist and it occurred to me each time I put that red bikini on, that they really should. Luckily as I have zero background in design, mum was a dress designer and pattern maker from way back and she helped me on this quest. We spent many a Skype call perfecting patterns and discussing body shapes. We created mood boards and pestered my brother to teach us the basics of Adobe Illustrator. We had samples made, unfortunately they were not up to scratch so we ordered more fabric and tried again with another company. Progress was slow because in between I was working as a teacher and growing a baby and mum was unwell. By the end of 2013 she’d been diagnosed with amyloidosis (a rare blood disorder) and multiple myeloma. By the end of 2014 we had welcomed our newborn.
Throughout all the night get ups and mum’s treatments though, we continued to talk about swimwear. For both of us, it was fun. It was a thing outside of being a ‘mum’ and a ‘patient’. A place where we could let ourselves dream about the kind of life, the kind of jobs, we’d really, really love to do. Ones that allowed us to create, design, learn, grow and experiment. When I went back to the UK in 2015 for mum to meet my son Abe, we happened to make him a rash vest and swim nappy out of some of the fabric I’d designed. Then for fun, we sketched out how we’d adapt the fabric to work for kids wear. It turned out that I quite liked designing things for kids. So, coupled with the fact we couldn’t buy underwires for DD+ in quantities of less than roughly three billion, we changed direction. After all, things by then had started to improve in the DD+ swimwear market thanks the likes of companies like Curvy Kate and Freya realizing there were people with breasts under the age of 68 and they were bored with ‘ugly’ as their only swimwear choice. But kids, particularly babies and toddlers, were still condemned to cheap tacky swimwear emblazoned with plastic fish on the front that peeled off after the first swim, or muted and pastel and boring old spots.
Mum patterned all the first rash vests and swim nappies for us and I reworked our fabric designs to make sure that not only were they cool and stylish, they’d be things that little people loved too. It was important to me that they incorporated stuff they themselves wanted to wear and that they’d be excited to put on their swimmers with the ‘Thunderbirds’ or the ‘Dinosaurs’ on. I wanted them to be more than just patterns and shapes too, so that when the kids had questions about them (because let’s face it, they have questions about everything!) they’d be things that we could really engage in conversation about with them. Things with inherent emotions and memories and feelings and symbols. By the end of 2015, we had a set of one pieces we were happy with and the rash vest and swim nappies were well on their way to finalized with just a few tweaks with frills and block colours and leg elastic to go. By 2016, things were getting exciting and we were about to go into production right here in Australia as soon as the factory we were keen to work with had a slot to accommodate us and our order. But then, on the 12th April that year, before that slot became available, my mum passed away. At the time, I don’t know if I had ever really planned on filling the order. My son was 15 months old and I’d been wondering when and if I should go back into teaching. It was safer and easy than starting my own business. The hours were ideal, plus I was good at it and for all the admin and the school politics I’d begun to hate about the job, I had always loved being in the classroom. A sensible choice that felt even more like the one I should make given that my husband was thinking seriously about going back to university.
In short, when it came to putting my money where my mouth – or my heart was – I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if I should. I wasn’t sure if I could. Or if what I’d made was good enough. Or if it was just a stupid idea. Or if, when mum passed, I could do it without her. For months, I did nothing. I spoke about swimwear to no one. In the end though, I didn’t have any choice but to make the call to go ahead and order our first run of products. After mum died, eventually, I became a braver person than I had been before. I cared less about what I should do and the sensible choice and more about what I wanted. About who I wanted to be and what I wanted to teach my children. I wanted the opportunities and the challenges running my own business could afford me and for that, I was willing to accept the sacrifices. I remember sitting amongst the boxes when that order arrived and crying as I unpacked them, because they were awesome. Because I loved them. Because I had actually done it!
Mum was undoubtedly the catalyst behind the business I have today, but the bravery to take the risk to make this my ‘job’, especially at such a crazy time in our family, was all mine – and I am so glad that I found it in myself. Regardless of what happens down the line, I get to actually show my kids that you can take risks. That you can chase your dreams. That you can aim to make the life you want – to make it look how you want. And that, especially as a woman and as a mother, your goals and your desires don’t have to take a back seat to anyone else’s. All we ever really have is right now. When my husband took the GAMSAT to get into medicine I was on the (metaphorical) sidelines cheering. When my boxes arrived, he popped the cork on the Moet (Passion Pop!). We might have terrible timing in many ways because right now we have to live small to accommodate a start up business and a student, but I think that we have pretty great philosophies that I’m proud to be living by.
So, if you’re waiting for the right time, or to know how, don’t. What losing someone so close has taught me is that all of the things we think matter really don’t. Success and failure and where we end up are meaningless. It really is all about the ride – be true to yourself. Do what you love. Do what you want to do and have fun working it out as you go. Trust yourself and be braver than you think you can be. At the end of the day, I’m much more excited by learning about the way they recycle ghost fishing nets and old carpets into the Lycra we use than I had become about making homework sheets on the past participle. And hopefully I’m teaching the two smallest people in my life that if you want to try something, or to learn how to do something just purely because it interests you and it lets your world look how you want it to, you can. You should! Perhaps I’m wrong about our timing being terrible too. Maybe it’s the best timing ever. My children are young enough not to know what they don’t have as we work through this phase of our journey, and they have more than enough. They don’t know that their gum boots are not Hunter but Home Bargains. And, if I can claw my way back out of Insta envy and stop focusing on Facebook but family, maybe I can teach them, and remind myself, it really, truly, doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is staying true to yourself and trusting yourself and believing in yourself. Being brave enough to just try. Their dad and I are not just telling them to do those things, but showing them every day. Living that example; walking that path. And we’re doing it right when they’re at their most impressionable.
No stranger to adventure, Niki arrived in Brisbane back in 2008 after 9 months overland from her home in the UK and then spent years working in various high schools to fund further travels in the (luckily plentiful) school holidays. She’s now turned her hand to swimwear design and is learning fast about what running a small business requires. She employs a ‘work it out as you go’ mentality to most things and tries not to look too far ahead - which she finds makes her braver. She loves beaches, red wine and chocolate buttons. Particularly when combined.
Thank you so much Niki for sharing your personal business story and for your honesty and realness around why you are truly passionate about being a woman in business. To shop the range, head to the website and for all the latest updates follow on Instagram.