The other day my mum was visiting and as we reflected on the new year, she said something about how far I have come. Funny, that I am usually so focussed on my out of control inbox and the mammoth projects that are happening at the moment, that I rarely stop and look back. Here I am in my early 20's, graduating from Fashion College, I was selected to represent my college at the Australian Fashion Awards, and then I was selected as a finalist... one of top 3 students in Australia. My graduation collection was telecast LIVE across Australia, it was kinda a BIG DEAL... Have a look at the video, I guess its safe to say I have always had a thing for COLOR. Click here to watch the video.
Design was always secondary at that stage, I didn't think I was a good designer, and I really wanted to focus on behind the scenes, the production methods of the industry. One of my earliest jobs was working for YAKKA, a company that is synonymous with Australian workwear. At that stage they were still manufacturing in Australia. I was their computer pattern maker, in the Ipswich QLD factory, where we made uniforms for BIG Australian companies like Australia Post. Not all that glamorous, but I loved it, especially the computerized pattern making... look how ancient the computer system looks now!
I used this job to save all my money to go traveling. I also did freelance patternmaking on my bedroom floor at night, save, save, save. All I wanted to do was to go traveling for 1-5 years, hoping to work in the clothing industry in other countries along the way.
I eventually saved up the $2000 to fly to London, and spending money to live very frugally for about 6 months. My sister came with me and we cycled around Britain in the rain.
Eventually I got a job in a computerized pattern-making house in London, but winter was coming and I couldn't handle the cold. I got a job out in Egypt for a massive factory that was making clothing for British High Street stores like Top Shop. Here I am in Egypt, such an incredible country.
My travels took me to lots of different countries, but I eventually found myself as Head Designer for Billabong South Africa. I went there to fill in for their Billabong Ladies Designer for 6 months, and ended up staying for 5 years as Head Designer. My job took me to more amazing countries, here I am visiting factories in China. This job was definitely the highlight of my career. I loved it.
I worked very hard at Billabong, long 80 hour weeks, doing HUGE collections. I was burning out towards the end, and had met my surfer boy (future husband) who was looking for an adventure. When he said "let's buy a boat and sail to the Caribbean" I was straight off to the newsagent to find a boating magazine, to find out how much boats cost. SAVE SAVE SAVE and 2 years later we were off on our way. Here I am in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
I had grown up in a sailing family so it was another dream come true. Eventually we had a baby girl on the boat with us, and I couldn't get a job as I wanted to be at home with her, so I started to think about starting my own business. Here is a photo of me unpacking my first ever shipment....in my bikini in the driveway of the house we were house sitting in St.Maarten for the summer.
That gives you an idea of how small a start it was! We loaded these goodies onto our boat, and after that hurricane season ended, we went off sailing through the islands again, selling my new line. Here I am with the sailing guide book on my lap, figuring out where we are going next.
Back in 2006 we supplied 10 stores....
Even now we are still supplying some of these stores, and I am still friends with most of them. I found this old Order Form.... wow, 4 styles of Beach Cotton and each comes in 4 color ways. My 2 tone palm leaf that many of you will remember... and I started off with "chocolate" as my dark color.
Our early photo shoots involved our little family of 3 going to the beach and taking photos. This one came up as a FB memory for me this week.... funny it reminded me of one Surf Expo show, when a buyer flicked through my new season catalog and looked at me with a straight face and said "You need to fire your photographer".... I was SHOCKED! All I could say in response was, "I can't, it's my husband!"
In 2009 we had moved the warehouse to the USA, as we had started selling to stateside boutiques, and trying to import individual orders from the Caribbean was a nightmare. I had to learn about US customs law, and how to use fabrics and do descriptions that made US customs happy.
In 2010 our stores started to ask for the garments to have UPC tags on them. Barcodes, I don't know anything about barcodes.... but I figured it out, and that year the clothing was all tagged with West Indies Wear's own individual UPC codes. Over the years, I have had to figure things like this out... step by step.
In 2010 my sister Amy moved to the Caribbean, and then we started doing the photos of each other. I love this photo I took of her in front of the graffiti in an abandoned beach bar.
Nowdays, things are a little bit different but also a whole lot the same. We have 7 awesome sales reps on the team now, and I have a fantastic accounts lady & assistant to take some of the invoicing and accounting off me. The warehouse is pretty small 1000 square feet, and its just Lauren & Rachel in there for a few hours most days of the week. Click here to watch a 2 minute video of my last trip to Florida, including previews of the new line at Surf Expo and a tour of the warehouse.
I work with a fabulous little family factory in India. My contact person is the grandson of the founder. Three generations of this family are involved. He is in his late 20's, and grew up in a household where clothing manufacturing was discussed at the family dinner table every day. He is smart and knowledgeable and doesn't flinch when I ask crazy questions "can you get me certified Australian cotton fabric in India".... They have amazing ethics and are committed to my quality standards. Here is a photo of them laying up the fabric to cut our Bird of Paradise Tunic in Aqua.
Last year we shipped our collection out to 250 stores around the world, we have grown a LOT since that first year with only 10 little Caribbean boutiques, but its still just "little old me" trying to figure things out. When we needed a website, I learnt how to build websites. When we outgrew trying to keep track of inventory on an excel spreadsheet, I had to find inventory software that was not so expensive, that only the big corporates could afford it. Next I needed software that synced the website, inventory and accounting all together.... google it, shop around, figure it out.
Each season, I just keep designing pure cottons in my favorite bright island colors, and hope that you guys are still there to support me.... and how grateful I am that you are! Thanks so much for following along on this journey with me!
One love island friends x