Creative Women: Lockdown 2.0

Creative Women: Lockdown 2.0

We asked five Melbourne women, who own their own creative businesses, how they're coping (or not!) with the return to isolation life, and, in general, how they tackle the inevitable challenges of running a business.

 
If you're looking for a healthy dose of solidarity + a refreshingly honest take on the return to lockdown-life, you've come to the right place.

Get to know these 5 x amazing women as I ask them 5 x not-as-amazing-as-themselves questions.



#1 Vy Costen - Designer + Maker, Stay Hungry Studio


*The first time I met Vy was actually at an open for inspection where she came up to me, having recognized me from SxC. It was only later I realised she lived in my dream house and I had been *caught* by her husband years earlier stalking it one day. I probably looked like I was casing the joint! Vy and I ended up being in a book club together, where my initial humiliation at realising who she was, was quickly put to rest thanks to Vy’s humble + welcoming personality...!

#2 Natasha Dumais - Creative Director + Co-Founder, Ubabub + Design Kids


*Tash and her co-founder + husband, Daniel. This powerhouse duo have been designing, producing + importing the bees-knees in baby + kids furniture for over 10 years. And, Heidi is currently lucky enough to be bunking down in one of their 'Pod' cots - lucky gal!
Photo credit: Veronika Sanderson  

#3 Fiona Killackey - Founder, My Daily Business Coach


*One of the very real benefits of living in the community I do is having the chance to meet other like-minded + lovely souls like Fiona. I'm pretty sure she was the instigator of the local book club I'm in, which is full of many talented women, a few of whom feature in this Journal.

#4 Bonnie Robin - Founder, Parlor Tea


*A woman with a tea business + a mutual love of books? Bonnie from Parlor Tea provides yet another reason for me to humbly revel in the creative community I'm fortunate to live within which has enabled me to meet women like her.

#5 Kate Stokes - Founder, Coco Flip.

*I met Kate through my local book club, but truth be told, I admired her lighting + furniture products long before I actually *met* her. Now I've gotten to know her? It's safe to say her lighting and furniture have shifted to a solid + worthy second place...
Photo credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

1) Howdy! Can you each tell us a bit about yourself, your business and maybe what we'd normally find you doing on a Friday night (pre-'Rona!)?

Vy: My name is Vy Costen and I'm the designer and maker behind a new venture called Stay Hungry Studio. I'm also a mum to three boys aged, 7yo, 5yo and 2yo, so life is pretty hectic at the moment!

Pre-'Rona our family Friday nights would include freezing at the local oval for footy practice followed by takeaway Indian or pizza for dinner. 

If the boys are persistent enough then this is followed up with a movie night in with lots of popcorn. I'm currently introducing them to the movies of my childhood: Back to the Future blew their minds!

Tash: Hey there, I’m Tash Dumais, Creative Director and Co-founder of local modern nursery furniture brands Ubabub and Design Kids. I founded our business with my husband Daniel in 2007. We are also the distributor of the popular US based kids furniture brands Babyletto, Nurseryworks and DaVinci Baby. We specialise in beautiful designer furniture for babies and children.We’re also parents to Bianca (13), Sabine (11), Uma (9) and Arlo (8 months)

A typical Pre-Rona Friday night involved a small military operation of drop-offs and pick-ups from high school, primary school and daycare. Then onto three lots of girls’ footy training and one U9s netball game. Followed by dinner prep, baby bath, general kid wrangling etc etc… Actually, I’m exhausted just thinking about it!! 

I do know there was always a very welcome Friday night gin, lime and soda to the rescue – and loads of hanging out with local families and friends. Wow, on reflection, our days were a hustle.

Fiona: I am a mum to two little ones, Elio (1) and Levi (7) who I live with alongside my amazing husband, Jerome. I am also an author, podcaster, speaker, business coach and the founder of My Daily Business Coach (which runs, surprise surprise, 1:1 business coaching and group coaching, as well as workshops, online courses and consulting).

As for Friday nights, I would pretty much be doing the same as I’m doing now in lockdown (hahaha #SahSad) which is either watching something on Netflix with my husband or reading in bed. I tend to go to bed early, 9:30-10 pm-ish most nights. (I spent most of my 20s out all night on Fridays, so I’m good to chill now…).

Bonnie: My name is Bonnie Robin and I'm originally from a small coastal town in the North Island of New Zealand.  My husband jokes that I'm now Australian because I've been here 12 years but I'll never relent, I'm a proud kiwi through and through! 

We run two family businesses - both from home at the moment; an architecture practice, Field Office Architecture and Parlor Tea. Although my husband and I are both intertwined in each business, I mostly manage Parlor Tea as he does FOA. I originally trained as a landscape architect and worked in this field for almost 15 years before my segway into Parlor Tea. It's great being able to keep a foot in the door with design and architecture, a world that constantly inspires my journey with Parlor Tea.

Pre'-Rona? What was that even like?! We're a family of 5: That's two grown-ups, one almost-teenager a toddler and a miniature cavoodleSo my Friday nights are either spent hanging with the family, trying to claim my spot on the couch whilst avoiding another repeat screening of Meet the Fockers, or if I've negotiated a night off, I'll be sitting with one of my close friends eating a delicious home-cooked meal in deep conversation about some obscure topic like the energetics of plants or the influence of Zen on modern art.  

 Kate:  I'm the founder of design brand Coco Flip and mum to two little people, Kiko and Juni. Our business is built around an ethos of quality, patience and community. We design furniture and lighting pieces with personality, that are made locally in Melbourne by talented craftspeople and manufacturers.

Our little family live in leafy Eltham in Melbourne’s North East. Lockdown or not, we’ve developed a little Friday night tradition of having a backyard bonfire, a nice drink and a hot outdoor bath to welcome in the weekend.

*We were fortunate to use some of Coco Flip's stylish lighting on our recent Tigre shoot. Pictured here is their Mayu 01 pendant


2) For many of us, our careers as adults end up being aligned to something we were interested in as children. Was this the case for you? As a child, what did you hope to be 'when you grew up'?

Vy: I haven't thought about this for the longest time but my childhood dream was to become a fashion designer. My mum is quite crafty and can also sew; she taught me how to design and cut a pattern for pyjama pants for my Cabbage Patch doll when I was about 6yo. 

My dad worked in wool grading and manufacturing and can tell you all about wool quality. It's quite funny that I'm currently working with wool and designing knitwear.


*The 'Phoebe' cardigan by Vy @Stay Hungry Studio
Photo credit: Sam Wong


*Here I am wearing my namesake, 'Phoebe' cardigan, which Vy lovingly created + knitted: a precious item I will treasure for many years to come. 

Tash: 
As a child, I was only ever interested in being creative in every way – drawing, painting, crafting, making and imagining. I was always driven by new intelligent ideas that were practical and useful – I could easily have become a crazy inventor. At heart, I’m a humanitarian, interested in people of all sorts, so I guess Ubabub allowed me to combine these three original loves: creativity, design ideas and purpose, and babies!!


Fiona: 
I wanted to be a writer. I wrote stories as soon as I could hold a pencil and I was constantly looking for ways to share these.

When I was about nine, I started a “newspaper” which was called The Killackey Toilet Times and it was all the goss about my three elder siblings along with stories on our pets and anything mum or dad wanted to be highlighted (such as cleaning challenges!). I illustrated it and circulated it in the bathrooms of my parents home. I even think I may have made a copy for the neighbours.

I was also quite into processes as a kid. I had a pretend cooking show I’d do (to no one but the pets as my “audience”) and I was always looking at how to set things up so the cooking could happen seamlessly.

That’s basically a lot of what my job is now - helping small biz owners systemise their business to get time back and also helping them market themselves and build their brand, which is all connected with storytelling.

Bonnie: My childhood was largely spent immersed in nature; forests, beaches, rivers and mountains. We never went camping as some families do, I guess because we had incredibly beautiful natural landscapes on our doorstep. I was a highly creative kid, always making things, drawing and painting whenever I could. In my last year at high school, the teachers made a special art class just for me because I told them there was nothing else I wanted to study - I still can't believe they let me do it! 

I never really appreciated our country-life and pined for a life in the city with bright lights and glitzy shopping malls. When I eventually moved away to study design and my city life became a reality, I took that connection with nature with me and have always found a way to work with it in everything I do; whether it be a human relationship to nature through design or storytelling and nature advocacy through Parlor Tea.

Kate: I wasn’t the sort of kid that knew exactly what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’. I always found it strange when adults asked me what I wanted to ‘be’ as a pre-teen, and usually just responded with ‘happy’.

I developed an interest in art, design and architecture throughout high-school and ended up travelling quite extensively for a few years after school. This was such an important time for me to figure out my passions and what direction I wanted to take in my career. I fell in love with the idea of designing furniture and lighting whilst in Europe and enrolled in a Product Design degree when I returned to Australia. 


*Coco Flip's bang-on Northcote showroom. Can I move in? Please?
Photo credit: Kristoffer Paulsen



*Business is a family affair for the Dumais', here they are pictured hanging out in their Melbourne warehouse
Photo credit: Veronika Sanderson


*Vy from Stay Hungry Studio is not only a master-knitter-designer, but she's also a damn fine cook. A less than successful start to sourdough during lockdown v1.0 has seen her turn her hand to shortcrust pastry during lockdown 2.0.


3) Many in the Sage x Clare community are business owners themselves or aspire to own their own biz one day. What inspired you to start your business and what keeps you inspired to keep going?


Vy: I've always needed a creative outlet of some sort and have always been making and crafting in some form. There has always been an inner voice wanting to pursue a venture I could truly claim as my own but I never pursued any ideas due to lack of self-belief.

Starting a family amplified the inner voice as I think you're kind of reborn after having children. I realised how short life is and didn't want to keep wondering 'what if?'. My husband also got tired of all my crazy ideas and said, "please just pick one and do it!".

Having a bunch of creative friends and acquaintances around is also very inspiring. Stay Hungry Studio is still very new and it's all a process of honing in all the crazy ideas and dedicating very limited time and energy to bring some of them to life.


Tash: 
Daniel and I are one of those rare couples who spend all day, every day working together. And we actually enjoy it. I know, I know, sickening. Sorry. We are a formidable partnership, each with different and complementary skills. Knowing he has my back, in everything that I do, both within and outside our business, inspires me greatly.

Our eldest daughter was the initial inspiration for Ubabub, but now all four of our children drive us every day. All of our kids are so different and with so much energy around, it’s hard not to be fueled by them. Our products are something I’m truly passionate about so it motivates and enthuses me without much thought.


The Dumais clan: Natasha & Daniel, Bianca (13), Sabine (11), Uma (9) and Arlo (8 months)
*Photo credit:Veronika Sanderson
 


*Our new baby, Heidi, is lucky enough to be nestled up in our room in one of Ubabub's 'Pod' cots


Fiona: 
Oh gosh, so many things. I had a business back in 2008 - 2010 and always wanted to go back to that lifestyle; controlling my time, working on things I chose, always meeting new people, going for a walk in the middle of the day, having quality time with family. Instead, for a long time, I opted for security, a good pay packet etc.

In 2015 I woke up one day and realised that my life wasn’t going to change unless I took control to change it. I had a 2yo son at home that I only saw early mornings, evenings and weekends due to my work schedule and it occurred to me I didn’t have long before he would start primary school so it was now or never. He was my inspiration.

So I spent some time pulling together my idea of what I could do, how I’d price things, how my business would be different etc. I met with loads of people to validate these ideas, got some clients lined up and then resigned. I wrote my resignation letter four months before I used it.  Every time I’d worry I wouldn’t be able to make my business work, I re-read that letter and it helped motivate me.

What keeps me going now, five years on, are the people I get to work with. Genuinely, I somehow attract the most incredible clients and I learn just as much from each of them as they do from me. I LOVE what I do and when I get feedback on how something I’ve done has helped someone, say, have a family holiday for the first time in ages or land some massive media they’d only dreamed about, it makes any struggle worth it. I also like that majority of the time I can crank whatever music I like and wear slippers to work, haha!



Bonnie: 
I had been wanting to start a business of my own for many years before launching Parlor Tea.

I was working as a Landscape Architect and reached a point where I realised the day-to-day work had become more of a slog for me than a fulfilling career. I worked with a coach who guided me through a process to find what Japanese people call your 'Ikigai' or 'reason for being', and help me piece together a business plan based off these ideas.

Making this career transition wasn't easy, but it was incredibly empowering. I had to do a lot of self-work to reprogram how I defined myself and my future life. I'm sure most business owners would agree, running your own business is not for the faint-hearted. There have been many occasions when I have felt overwhelmed and unsure about what to do.

Raising a young child adds another dimension to the mix and life can be a bit of a juggle sometimes. Coming back to my WHY is always what keeps me going, and having supportive friends and family who believe in me.


KateIt’s been such an interesting journey! We’re now in our tenth year of business but it still feels like I’m learning new things every day.

I always imagined that I’d start my own business as I couldn’t really see I clear career path designing for other companies in Australia. When I first launched the business in 2010, I didn’t have a clear plan – I was young and pretty naïve, so I just started it very organically and thought I’d see where things ended up.

Fortunately, Coco Flip had some early success and I’ve just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I really love taking an idea from a sketch on paper through to the real, physical thing and I get so much joy working with our talented local makers and having the reward of seeing our products enjoyed in people’s homes. I think the most important ingredients in small business are persistence and passion.

I’m also really grateful for the flexibility it allows me with a young family, and for the supportive community that we’ve developed over the years.

4) We all have challenging times in business (we're living through one right now in fact), tell us about some difficult times you've encountered during your time owning your business, and also what you took away from going through that experience?

Vy: I'm so new to this and don't have a lot of authority to speak about navigating through difficult times. I can say though that I'm well aware of launching a new venture during a pandemic might sound like a ludicrous idea.

The actual designing and making of the knitwear was my response to the terrible news on our screens as the pandemic broke out and then took hold.

Once the garments were made, finding a photographer during lockdown was a challenge and having a photoshoot with social distancing measures in place meant thinking creatively.

We pared everything back and literally went back to nature for the shoot. The other take-outs I'm learning quickly is that things rarely go to plan and there will always be delays.

This is life and you just have to adapt and keep your sense of humour.


Tash: 
Running a small business is just one big rollercoaster ride. Really! We’ve definitely had our fair share of ups and downs, where do I even begin?

One business challenge we didn’t anticipate in the beginning was the incredible headache of maintaining quality control and learning through the initial pitfalls of receiving a bad shipment of goods. It was hard to accept on all levels: emotionally, financially and physically (we spent months going through one shipment to ensure the products met our standards). Our learning from that particular challenging experience was that we needed to enable strict quality control procedures with every shipment.

We also then committed visiting the factory regularly ourselves to improve and strengthen the quality – a tough ask whilst raising a young family but I’m proud to say we now have a great relationship with our producers and our quality is top-notch!


Fiona: 
I guess one of the biggest and most profound was losing my mum. She died suddenly in April 2017.

The day before I had actually been thinking about how amazing everything was going in work, my personal life etc. Mum wasn’t sick, she felt unwell, called an ambulance and 40 mins later was gone. I never got to say goodbye. It was a complete shock and it splintered every part of my existence. She was my best friend and biggest cheerleader and was the first person I called for all sorts of business and life advice.

I had a huge volume of work and clients lined up at the time and I had to tell them all not only what had happened, but that I just didn’t have a clue when I might be back to “normal”. I took 5-6 weeks off entirely. I lost a ton of followers, I had people tell me I was “overreacting” and I had others say I should just throw myself back into the business.

To their credit, every single client waited and they all shared with me their own stories of grief. It’s such a natural part of life and yet death is still soooo unspoken about. It really connected me with some of my clients who had gone through the same thing. I found it hard to find one place to source books and people to turn to, so I made oneWhen Your Mother Dies is a free website that has some great podcasts and books to help with grief, as well as letters written by those who have lost their mum to someone who is just going through it. Reading those letters helped me immensely and I hope it helps others.

What I took away from that is that life is short, so incredibly short and also that sometimes you just need to hit pause and look after yourself. Work will always be there, but you need to sometimes stop and deal with your own headspace before you can help anyone else.

So, I guess it wasn't directly a “business” challenge but it has forever changed me and changed the way I run my business. I’m so conscious now not to overload my schedule and to prioritise time with family. You never know when you will run out of that time.


As well as being a really good - and funny - egg, Fi has SO much value to offer small businesses; whether that's through her Sunday email, FB 'Good Business' group or her podcast (which I was also recently interviewed for - eep!).
Photo credit: Lee Sandwith


*Oh, and did I mention she did this thing and wrote a book ( myself - and many other (more!) inspirational people - are featured in the book. #humbled! ) and got it published and that she is just a bit awesome!!!
'Passion. Purpose. Profit' is available now for pre-order, officially released early September. Go Fi!!
Photo credit: Hardie Grant


Bonnie: 
For me, the transition to being a Mum and a business owner was really challenging. I was new to both motherhood and entrepreneurship and I didn't really have many friends or acquaintances that were doing the same thing so I felt quite alone at times.

Most of the parents in my parent group had taken a minimum of 6 months of maternity leave whilst I was making the most of every nap time to catch up on work. Reflecting back on it now I realise I put so much pressure on myself to achieve so much in the first year of business and motherhood and it really took its toll on my health both physical and mental. 

One of the big lessons I took away from this experience was the realisation that I couldn't do it all at once - I needed to be more patient with the development of my business and surrender into the joys of motherhood. I had been so hard on myself and had to learn to slow down and appreciate the beautiful moments in everyday life.

Kate: Absolutely – I think it’s really important to talk about the challenges as well as the highs. Running a small business is bloody hard work and it can be incredibly exhausting. I have really high expectations of myself and my business so there have been times where I’ve felt really burnt out by it.

When I had my babies, I found it really challenging to switch off from work and take the time I needed to focus on motherhood. We’re a tiny team and the business is so personal to me, so I need to really make an effort to switch off from it. I’m still learning, but I think it’s healthy to set boundaries and to ask for help.


*Like Kate, and many parents, the juggle between business + children is very real for her and her husband, Haslett. But, the ritual of a Friday night bath + family down-time helps them to mitigate *some* of the inevitable build-up of weekly stress.
Photo credit: Amy Rushbrook


5) You are all fellow Melburnians and us here in Melbourne are in the midst of our second lockdown, tell us a bit about what the first lockdown was like for you? What are you doing the same or what have you changed about how you're living through iso-life this time, having been through it once before?

Vy: First lockdown was a shock but I feel now that there was a sense of solidarity as Australia as a whole was "in it together".

We joined the mayhem of many families with hubby work from home and being on constant Zoom calls with two kids learning remotely, while our 2yo gate crashed the whole fragile set-up. 

I joined the national obsession with baking banana bread, growing my own veggies (only lettuce, parsley and coriander have survived), making my own sourdough (have killed three starters) and then I attempted to replicate all my mum's traditional family recipes. It was intense and then it was over!

Second lockdown does not feel so fun, but we are settling into it. There is no banana bread or sourdough this time around as I've turned my attention instead to kimchi-making and perfecting shortcrust pastry.

I'm also exploring plant-based eating and have my steak loving husband eating vegetarian meals five days a week. That's one win during lockdown 2.0!


Tash: 
At the announcement of the first lockdown, our darling baby boy Arlo was just three months old. I was just getting into a routine of juggling a newborn and the incredibly and increasingly busy lives of our very active, three school-age daughters, as well as getting back into work and the gym. I was just starting to feel a little human again!! 

So when the lockdown was announced, we muttered the collective ‘WTAF’ along with everyone else, before getting creative with a master plan. 

Temporary school desks were set up at the office (one in the tiny kitchen for good measure) and the baby cot for Arlo moved to behind my desk. Constant trips between all three girls, overseeing their remote learning, frequent newborn feeds and then big kid feeding and then my own actual work at my desk; for 12 long weeks! What a wild ride, so incredibly challenging yet somehow so deeply beautiful. 

We found a rhythm and bonded as a family, like we never have before. We created some incredible memories for life. We’d all traipse in together to the office and then head home for movies, games or ‘whatever’ nights. For the first time in our lives we gave into bribing our kids with pocket money so they would read for an hour each night – to give Daniel and I an hour of peace in the evenings to read, meditate or crawl onto the couch!!

The real silver lining of it all was that we were all able to deeply connect and engage daily with our baby Arlo, without the distraction of our very active lives. He has had our undivided attention for most of this year and we’ve all loved every minute of it!

Like most families, we found the hardest part of the first lockdown was being disconnected from our parents. They help us with babysitting so much, but most importantly, the kids were missing the connection with their Grandparents.

'Rona Lockdown 2.0 has (so far) been much more palatable. *Note: these answers were given just before the announcement of stage 4 lockdowns!*. Almost normal! With our remote learning rhythm humming along and the added benefit of being able to have our parents care for baby Arlo this time round; we are all a little more grateful, a lot saner and a whole lot less uncertain about how it will all work. 

I have also been thinking a lot about the value and rarity of this true gift of time: time to think, time to listen to music, time to connect to self (through meditation, reading, breathing, exercise), time to slow down. I have never enjoyed my time reading by our open fire more. I am enjoying cooking for my family and appreciating the early morning exercise and solid time at the office to think through new ideas again. I’m hoping these are some of the beautiful changes we can continue when life returns to the ‘new normal’. Sans face mask. Whenever that will be.



Fiona: 
The first lockdown was sooo up and down.

It was initially really scary, I had clients asking to postpone or delay work, and I had to refund in-person workshops that had to be cancelled. I also felt a huge amount of pressure as I couldn’t rely on anyone else to mind my children (previously my mother-in-law helped as did a nanny a few hours a week) so it was suddenly the whole, how do I keep the business going while also homeschooling my eldest and having a baby with me 24/7?

And then it felt like every week things changed, so it was a lot of pressure trying to juggle it all (alongside my husband). Despite all of that, there was also a bit of “togetherness” I felt - lots of people sharing recipes or things that made them laugh, friends dropping over homemade sourdough and invites to House Party chats.

This time, round 2, just seems a bit more…I don’t know the best word for it, deflating? I feel like there’s a level of acceptance but also of exhaustion. That said, I also feel like we have been through it and we know we can get through it again.

Personally, my husband and I are not stressing so much about hitting every single thing on the homeschooling task list. We are doing what we can but if my son asks for a day off I’m going with it and it’s been nice to just have some lazy hours lying on the couch with him or reading books or playing outside.
 

Bonnie: The first lockdown for me was a bit of a juggle as we had kids at home, but there was a sense the situation would pass if we were all diligent as a community and life would probably go back to normal fairly soon.

The second lockdown I have found a lot harder emotionally not having a sense of the end in sight and really missing human connection with friends and family - as we all are.

Fortunately, I'm really used to working by myself at home so this wasn't much of a change, and having my husband around more working from home has been really lovely. I've found over the past few months I have had a lot more time to reflect on what's really important to me. I've been making much more effort to connect with friends I haven't spoken to in a long time and have been really committing to helping my mind and body build strength and resilience. 

One of the best things that has come out of iso for me is a renewed connection with my creative self. I've started painting again and reading a lot more. I feel much more connected to nature and the passing of time. I'm learning to ground myself in the present moment and not get too caught up in always worrying about the future.


*Those who know me, know I love my tea and Parlor Tea's green tea blends are no exception. They are sourced directly by Bonnie, ensuring the supply chain is as short and transparent as possible.


*Bonnie and her husband, Chris run two businesses between them: an Architecture practice, Field Office Architecture + Parlor Tea. Like many of us, that, and having 2 x children + a dog at home, has kept them on their toes during these lockdowns.

KateThis year has been so incredibly challenging for everyone and it’s been difficult for me to stay buoyant during this second lockdown. I think I got through the first lockdown on pure adrenaline – it was such a surreal new concept that there was an energy about it – an optimism that Australia would be okay if we just hunkered down. Despite the challenges, we managed to find a routine with the kids and work and we really quite enjoyed the slower pace. 

This time around I feel very weary and I’ve really struggled with the constant stream of bad news and high case numbers. I’m trying to accept that we just need to put some things on hold for the time being and focus on the here and now

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Thank you so much, Vy, Tash, Fiona, Bonnie + Kate for your time and your thoughtful + honest answers.

Reading your responses has provided me with a strong sense of camaraderie, along with some welcome rays of positivity + laughs; just what I (and most of us) need right now.

That said, my encouragement levels are still not *quite* reaching the lofty heights of me attempting Vy's kimchi + shortcrust pastry efforts......but you know where I live, right Vy!?

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