If you were looking for an activity to get some sanity, adding your own business to an existing career, alongside a family, isn’t exactly where you’d expect to start. But for Australian entrepreneurs Rowena Campbell and Peta Purcell, already having jobs as well as being busy mothers to five children between them wasn’t a roadblock: it was a reason.
“I needed an outlet to be creative with my hands after having children and becoming a mother,” begins Peta, cofounder of Australian fashion label Mother + Joey. “This is my avenue for exploration, growth and sanity.”
As a registered nurse, fellow cofounder Rowena also found her job, while rewarding, a little too “regimented and focused”.
“I have always been interested in arts and design, but felt stuck within health,” she explains. “When this idea became more and more a reality, I found an avenue to be able to release myself into the world of fashion and design. I am able to actually use my creative mind, learn and grow with our label.”
Their pooled creative efforts resulted in Mother + Joey, a family-focused fashion label launched in 2016 that offers both mini and maxi-sized versions of the same pieces for matching mother and child outfits. It’s decidedly less Brady Bunch and much more boho cute. While fashion experience for the pair was limited to a childhood hobby, both founders were able to leverage their respective skills to successfully build Mother + Joey.
“Nursing has given me skills such as time management, teamwork, communication and a lot of life experience,” explained Rowena. “All of that I’m sure benefits the business.”
“My background is marketing, public relations and events in higher education and the sport and tourism industries. This has been invaluable to the promotional side of this startup,” Peta explains. “I can’t stress enough how the power of existing networks and contacts has been critical to launching anything like this.”
Originally meeting as neighbours in the NSW country town of Morpeth, Peta and Rowena have managed to mobilise a close-quartered community, keeping their label local. All pattern designers, pattern graders, fabric suppliers and tailors are within two hours of Mother + Joey’s Hunter Valley-based design studio. It was this local lean that caught the attention of our Lexus Start-up Competition judges, taking out a winning spot along with seven other Australian businesses.
“We have self-funded the business with help from family,” Peta tells us. “However, it goes without saying, winning the Lexus X Collective Hub Start Up package has given us a huge boost. The generosity of this partnership has allowed us and the other winners to cover so much more ground in such a short period of time.”
What took a little longer, however, was getting their initial products to launch stage.
“[We had to have] patience with product development and realising everything takes more time. Wow, haven’t we learned that!” Rowena says. “The first year or so has been completely invested in research, testing and perseverance to get it right.”
But the lessons the women have learnt extend to more than just their business savvy.
“Juggling responsibilities, such as motherhood with five kids aged five and under between us, and keeping part-time jobs in other industries has surely tested our gumption and proven what determination is needed to find the extra time to do this and keep digging deep,” Peta tells us.
“The fact we are both new to the fashion industry means we will always be on a learning curve,” Peta says, adding that dealing with competitors, scaling, and growing while meeting demand is an ongoing struggle for the burgeoning business. “But I think it’s encouraging to anyone that we have managed to use our skillsets from other jobs, our life knowledge, and basically our passion and drive to figure it out.”
A bit of formal (and informal) mentoring doesn’t go astray either.
“Mentoring from someone like Lisa Messenger from an entrepreneurial background is gold right now to help us move our business forward,” adds Peta. “Reading stories from Collective Hub has been a godsend for encouragement, inspiration, and ideas from like-minded entrepreneurs. Other mums in business have also been amazing for support and knowledge.”
Now working on refining their business model and developing confidence with marketing and partnership opportunities, the pair are, as Rowena puts it, hoping to “rule the world with ‘slow’ family fashion.”
And while their managing three spinning plates on the way to world domination seems like the opposite of liberating, Rowena insists it’s just that.
“[Running your own business means] being able to determine and experience your own self-worth and importance, setting your own working conditions and knowing you are working for something you have created,” Rowena explains. “Hopefully, our business will be passed down to our children – that would make all the hard work worthwhile. It is because of them we started it after all.”