Over your 9-to-5, but afraid to take the jump?


Here are six women who have successfully traversed industries and never looked back

In life, rewards are rarely enjoyed without risk and no one knows this better than those who’ve taken the brave leap from one career path to another.

Proving that risk-taking can pay off, the journeys of these women show that bravery, intuition and sheer determination are the real building blocks of business success.


Accountant to Sass & Bide co-founder

As seriously stalwart figures in the Australian fashion industry, it’s tempting to imagine Sass & Bide founders Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton were always working towards the creation of their now ubiquitous brand. The pair’s past endeavours, however, tell a different story. In fact, the ‘Sass’ half of the internationally celebrated brand is a former graduate of Queensland University of Technology, where she studied and later worked as an accountant before joining forces with friend Heidi Middleton, a graphic designer at the time, and taking off to London to start spruiking customised jeans on Portobello Road. “Our parents were self-employed, so we were constantly around talk of how to run businesses,” Sarah-Jane explains of their decision to build their brand. “We weren’t daunted that we were going to go out on our own, generate our own business, make our own money.” Sarah-Jane’s decision to channel her number crunching into a creative venture is the ultimate business success story. Myer bought 65% of Sass & Bide’s shares in 2011 for a cool $42.5 million (AUD), and the remaining 35% in 2013 for $30million. 


A photo posted by kikki.K (@kikkik_loves) on


Directionless to kikki.K founder

Scandi-inspired stationery brand kikki.K has gained a reputation for sleek and simply designed products that help you get your life in order. Interesting then, that before Kristina Karlsson began her now-booming business, she was struggling to find her place in the working world. One morning, Swedish-born Kristina woke her husband up in the early hours in a panic about what to do with her life. He advised her to write down what was important to her and after recording her simple dreams, resolving to create a home office to help achieve them and fundamentally, noticing there was no beautiful stationery to build that home office with, kikki.K was soon born. Kristina had no business experience at all before she opened her first retail store in 2001, but that didn’t stop her giving it a red-hot go. She spoke to people on the street about how much they’d pay for stationery, borrowed $3000 from her husband and went to work.

“In my experience, if I had accepted ‘no’ every time it was said to me, I would have held my business back immeasurably,” she explains of her strategy. “Keep asking questions to discover why the person is saying ‘no’, which will often reveal a path around the ‘no’.”



Dental therapist to Lorna Jane founder

It’s difficult to imagine a different attitude to activewear considering many of us now spend our downtime in it. But when Lorna Jane Clarkson left her job as a dental therapist to pursue making exercise clothing full-time, she wasn’t expected to succeed. “Nobody believed in my concept,” she explains of the early days back in 1989. “At that point, Nike didn’t even own a concept store, no activewear brand did. There was no focus on stylish activewear. People questioned whether I should leave my government job to start this business.” She had only her instinct to go on: at the time she quit her steady gig in the dental field, she was also teaching fitness clients part-time and using them to test her clothing ideas on. Her gut feeling was right: the brand topped a worth of AU$48 million last year.  



Nurse to Gorman founder

You couldn’t get two more disparate industries than those Lisa Gorman has worked in. You’d never guess the colourful, whimsical fashion designer of sustainable fashion label Gorman was once a nurse in the renal transplant and intensive care units. “I guess my upbringing did have a sensibility whereby no one kind of did anything left-of-centre,” she explains of her initial decision to shy away from fashion. “There were no other designers in the family. They all worked in health or administration. So becoming a fashion designer always felt more like a great dream than a viable career option.”

Lisa finished her nursing studies and spent eight years working in hospitals before changing tack following a year overseas that revealed to her where her true passion lay. After applying for a retail sales position at a bridal couture label, Lisa managed to work her way from the counter to the design area of the business, proving that starting from the bottom really can be the best way in. She then juggled nursing and design simultaneously in order to create a foundation of knowledge, before quitting both to build the business full-time in 2003.

“I didn’t want a fashion business,” she insists. “I couldn’t think of anything worse than committing to rent, staff, overheads, calculators, margins…” Scary as it may have been, the risk has evidently paid off quite nicely.


A photo posted by Boost Juice (@boost_juice) on


Publicist to Boost Juice founder 

Despite popular advice to the contrary, being a ‘yes woman’ isn’t always detrimental to building a successful business. In fact, it was this attitude that transformed Boost Juice’s founder Janine Allis from a flexible, fun-loving employee to a fully-fledged entrepreneur. With a resume based on non-linear, experience-style roles, Janine never seemed like the type of woman who could settle on one career path, let alone build her own business. She had left school at 16 to pursue an adventurous career: she worked on a luxury yacht as head hostess to David Bowie’s wanderings, managed a cinema in Singapore and also acted as a camp counsellor in San Francisco. It was later, at 29, when she realised there were no healthy snack options for people while they shopped, that Janine decided to channel every nugget of business gold she had picked up in her wide range of jobs and put them all together to create Boost Juice. In 2000, Boost was born and Janine is now the proud owner of a retail business that has turned over more than AU$2 billion in sales since its inception.  


A photo posted by Green School (@greenschoolbali) on


Fashion design to Ibuku founder

Trading a successful fashion career in New York for a sustainable housing project in Bali seems like a surprising exchange, but for Elora Hardy it was about getting back to her roots – literally. After visiting The Green School, which her father John established – a fully-functioning school that incorporates sustainability and an appreciation for the environment within its curriculum – the former print designer for Donna Karan was so impressed with the bamboo structure that local craftsmen had created for the school, she decided to make a change. After quitting her job in New York and returning to Bali, she established Ibuku, a company that designs and constructs luxury bamboo structures utilising the skills of local architects and builders.

“Fashion felt as if it was quite set, whereas interiors always attracted me as something more flexible,” she says of her inspiration. “There is so much creativity in Bali that allowed me to go into the future… utilising a product that is not scarce and doing something [that] felt right.”

Aprivé Wellness

So inspiring for start ups like mine to see where these wonderful brands started. It’s harder than it looks, so great to see the ‘real’ story behind great entrepreneurs.

Skye Gilkeson - The Fit Traveller

Yes! Leading the charge for the rest of us who are doing the same. Amazing women!


I am currently a registered nurse in Victoria who is trying to transition out of nursing to a more creative field. I really resonate with Lisa Gorman and would love nothing more than to chat with her in person to gain some more insight into her experience. I have found it really difficult to find people who are also attempting this pathway and would really appreciate some guidance, suppport and words of wisdom.


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