I grew up in the ‘burbs of south east Melbourne. I was born in a hospital in Mt Waverley, went to school in Mt Waverley and got my first job at McDonalds in Mt Waverley! My first venture out of the area was to go to Uni at Swinburne in Hawthorn before going to Deakin in Burwood (which is only the next suburb from Mt Waverley!) to finish my degree in Applied Science in Human Movement, which is essentially exercise science. I always really enjoyed nutrition, health and science at school, I was very maths driven but I also enjoyed tennis and sports in general. So I followed my passion when it came to study rather than following a career path. I wasn’t quite sure where it would take me, and it was interesting where it all led.
After finishing my studies my now husband (who I met when I was 19) and I moved to the UK for a year. He was working in product design at that time, and I got a job with Nike which was amazing. I started in retail and then got trained up in visual merchandising at what was the biggest Nike store in the world (in Oxford Circus). It was a pretty surreal experience working for a brand that did more sales in terms of dollars out of one store than most surf brands do globally. It was a hard and fast education in full on retail. We would close the store for celebrities like Eminem, we would have a lot of the sports stars come through the store – just to be dealing with that level of sales was amazing. I went from quite an analytical background with maths and science at school, to exploring my creative side. It was fascinating discovering how to turn intuition into an effective design. Being able to identify what isn’t working in a design and then make that change to get the balance right is really interesting. At Nike the visual merchandising was all directed from head office, so the work was all about execution – dealing with a global company with the European head office in the Netherlands. They would guide the look. Detailing was vital, everything presented to the customer was picture perfect. Those skills have served me well, I can’t help myself when it comes to making everything in the Oishi-M shop look perfect!
We moved back to Australia, and my husband is a big fan of surfing so we decided to leave the city behind and move to Torquay. I got a job as the National Visual Merchandising Manager for Rip Curl, their head office is in Torquay. It was really interesting - it was more of a role of creating point of sale, pretty much designing anything that went into a Rip Curl store, or any Rip Curl surf retailers – anything that helped communicate the brand to the end customer, from window concepts to floor mats. It was fascinating dealing with the Rip Curl brand and how to produce point of sale for 1000 wholesale accounts, each with their own set of store layouts. I was with them for about three years, and it was wonderful to become a part of the community (working in the same area that I live in), growing and developing life-long friendships, including Fiona who became my partner in Oishi-M.
Fiona was always a creative person, customising denim and tinkering in making and designing clothes. She is quirky and creative with an amazing sense of style, and she didn’t really feel the vibes going on the marketplace when she was looking for clothes for her young daughter. Making her own clothes for her daughter grew into her taking orders for clothes from her mother’s group to stocking her clothes in some local stores – growing slowly for the first three years. I was at Rip Curl at the time and decided to go back to Uni to do a Masters in Marketing, during which time I did a case study on Oishi-M. After doing some work on the business I really saw the potential, and how it could grow with the right business strategy. I had already left Rip Curl, so Fiona and I decided to form a partnership. We redeveloped the website, grew to having 100 stockists in Australia and internationally, and expanded our team.
The success of the Oishi-M brand is product. The product is compelling enough for people to want to keep coming back to buy. It’s comfortable, it washes well, it wears well – and it’s the sort of product where people will stop you in the street to ask where you bought your child’s outfit. This reaction created a viral network of Oishi-M fans. We are surprised, in awe, so inspired by the organic growth of the Oishi-M community. It is very special – there’s something really interesting and unique about our community. There’s a lot of respect, and a fair bit of love and integrity in the way they all communicate with each other. There’s a wholesome and genuine vibe and desire for positivity. We have our own community that we developed through official channels like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram pages and our blog, but then there’s a whole bunch of groups dedicated to Oishi-M – buy,swap, sell groups, pre-loved clothing groups and second hand clothing groups that created their own communities. They don’t need our approval as such but we are involved with these groups – importantly we want them to have their own life and to be self-moderated where they can communicate openly.
I have been with Oishi-M for about seven years. I was pregnant with Mali who is now 6, and then I had Jala who is now 4. It was fascinating being a mum with a baby and running a business. I used to respond to a whole lot of wholesale account enquiries whilst I was feeding Mali, and then when she was two weeks old a friend offered to give me a little break and I took the opportunity to do a stocktake! When Jala came along, the timing was so perfect. I was about six months pregnant with her when we exhibited at an August trade show in Melbourne. I sat on a couch and our wholesale accounts did all their own showings - our customers felt like they were a part of my journey. And then by the time the February trade fair came about at Life Instyle in Sydney, Jala was about three months old and she was there with me – and it was amazing how much a part of it all our wholesale accounts felt. They were wonderful. Mali was looked after by my Mum while we were away so it all went pretty smoothly, apart from an ‘amazing’ haircut that my Mum happened to give her – be careful of grandparents and haircuts!
A growing business is a hungry baby monster. Progressively over the years the vision for the business evolved, as did the direction we’ve taken, the business strategy, our capabilities and even our appetite for the business. Earlier this year Fiona stepped away from Oishi-M and I decided to run it on my own, with our team. We have an amazing team of about 15 – from production and design to buying, the website to social media and the retail staff in our store.
It was the end of an era. We had reached a 10 year milestone, and it was a good time to reflect on how far we had come. You get so immersed in cash flow, product releases and the daily grind that it’s not until you step back and take time away that can get some perspective. We decided to stop wholesaling – it was a big decision. With managing the wholesale accounts, the retail shop and the online shop we were essentially operating three different businesses. It got to a point where we felt we had grown to a fairly substantial level in the Australian marketplace, so to grow we needed to expand internationally – and keep on growing to make the efficiencies work. So much time was going in to photo shoots, wholesale catalogues and infrastructure for these accounts. When we looked really closely at the margins we were making we had to question whether it was the right way forward for the business. It was of course worthwhile to get the brand out there, and because of the amazing relationships we had with our retailers, but once the US dollar tanked we couldn’t sustain the margins and the growth. A lot of it came down to a strategic business decision about what margins we could sustain as a growing business, and we felt we could probably increase the scale of our online store. We kept all of our staff but changed the focus of their roles.
A big realisation was that ‘more is not more’. More doesn’t necessarily give you more happiness or satisfaction with life, or more profit. It was a telling time and a big turning point for me when I was so stressed and working all day on Xmas Day to set up for a Boxing Day sale that we needed to do to maintain cash flow – and I realised I didn’t have time for Christmas because I was too busy working on the business. It was crazy – and the whole point of having young children is to spend time with them and to enjoy life. I was letting the business run my life, and the stress and pressure of running a business was dictating whether I enjoyed Christmas. We had a good, long hard look at ourselves, and decided that more didn’t equal success. Work life balance has been a really big driver for the last two years.
One of the things that I love about having my own business is that we have been able to shape it into what we want it to be. We encourage all of our staff to have a good work/life balance. Being able to prioritise the here and the now without compromising the future projects you’re working on is a big thing. I really don’t want to squash other women’s visions for running the own business, but in all honesty I really didn’t have any idea how much work and heartache and money would be involved. If you are thinking of having your own business, compare it to doing a Masters degree. Are you prepared to work for a few years, not getting paid, pay out a lot of money without a return and learn a whole lot from it? If you are prepared for something like that then give it a go. At worst you will come out of it having learnt a whole lot. It will give you experience and hands-on knowledge a whole lot more valuable than a Masters degree.
Running your own business does take a lot of time and a lot of head space, and you have to manage the guilt of not working on the business or not spending time with your children. On the other hand it is amazing to look at the accomplishments, at the community you have created, and to experience the satisfaction of having your product stocked in a store. I was at a shopping centre last year and there was a little indoor playground outside the Apple store where the girls were playing. A lady sat down next to me and said ‘Oh! Are they wearing Oishi-M? It’s great isn’t it?’ And I just said ‘yes, it’s amazing isn’t it?’ She had no idea who I was and that it was my business. It’s moments like that that make it all worthwhile.
Oishi-m is designed for playing, jumping and exploring the world. Their garments splash amazing fabrics together to create funky unique garments for children 3 months to 6 years old. Little people can vary in size, shape and growth rates so their Torquay designed products accommodate these variances catering for both Skinny Mini's and the Chubba Bubba’s. Oishi-m garments are designed for functionality and comfort, to endure hand-me-downs, and to give each wearer a lasting, positive experience.
Running your own business and raising a young family is a constant juggle. Business Mamas understands the demands of being a mother in business, and provides the support, coaching and encouragement you need to get through it all, and can help you find the perfect work/life balance for you.
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
To find out how you can get get your business started and become the next Business Mama head to www.businessmamas.com.au