My first business started in 2009 with a children’s headwear business. My daughter Ruby was my muse – she was a photogenic little girl who loved having things made for her and modelling them so I started recruiting people who could knit and they’d make the beanies and I’d make the detachable decorative headbands. My friends bought them and their friends bought them and the word spread. I loved being creative. It started off with me spending a few hundred dollars on fabric and whatever profit I made I would reinvest into materials for the next sale, but there was never a surplus of money - it was more of a hobby.
In 2010 I was googling Spring Fashion Week and I was captured by Richard Nylon. He is incredibly flamboyant and he’s quite intoxicating as a character, and he was teaching millinery at Melbourne Fashion Institute. I realised I wanted to make hats for women so I did his course, and in the September of that year I launched my label Murley & Co. I decided to make a hat a day for the month of September and sell them all, and that’s what I did. I’m not your typical artistic person – for me it was about having a business as well as being creative with my hats. I wanted the business to be something, not just a hobby.
I was so inspired by Richard Nylon and the direction of my business changed when Richard started talking to me about his business, where stylists call him for talent jobs and he said “you can’t polish a turd. You’ve got to charge for your hats. You can’t start selling your hats for $100 and then a few years later start charging $400. You have to start off charging what your hats are worth, and start hiring them out – with stylists coming to you for all kinds of different styling jobs.” The market has really changed in the last few years. Back in 2011 no-one was talking about hiring dresses or handbags or hiring Louis Vuitton shoes for an event. I had no problem saying that I hired stuff out – essentially I am a costume shop. Eventually one day that will grow to include shoes and bags and dresses. I get to do the creative side, making one off pieces and one-off customer orders, but I’m not really into the whole fashion side of the businesIn my first year I experienced the power of social media. To this day I am still so thankful for this amazing group of women from Essendon who all knew each other and were avid race goers and they all gave me a go and they still come back every year, now mostly to hire as they know I make fresh hat designs every year. One woman referred 15 customers and they keep coming back too. Hard work pays off. I flogged myself on social media. You have to be shameless and you have to fake it till you make it. I always post photos of ‘what’s on the table today’ and progress shots so people see what goes into making a hat.
I remember feeling quite creative as an adolescent, but unless you’re naturally confident, which I’m not, I don’t think the confidence to believe in your own creativity happens until you have children. Kids do that to you – if you can birth them and carry them and look after them and live without sleep and they survive and thrive – you gain confidence. Having my first child, Ruby, threw me completely. I really, really struggled and I fell pregnant with my second child quite quickly. My son was such an easy baby – I felt empowered and I felt I could do anything. Becoming Oscar’s mother liberated me – it was completely life changing. Not just because I got a beautiful son and daughter - I really started believing in myself. Growing up I was surrounded by artists and musicians, and my mother was a painter, and I just wasn’t confident in myself - especially in my twenties. I was so intimidated by the talent around me, and I’m just not intimidated any more. You can waste a lot of your life being intimated by people and processes and being scared by things – but just give things a go and if it doesn’t work, try something else. I think if you did a survey of everyone who’s running a home-based business, it all kicks off when you have children.
My business probably isn’t the most family-friendly. From August to November during the Spring Carnival I work full time, seven days a week from 6am until midnight. The kids cope well now, they understand. They’re so self-sufficient - they can get their own food and entertain themselves, but I can’t deny it’s tough. You juggle, you find ways to make it work – you can do anything if you put your mind to it. The secret for me is being organised. I have to do a weekly shop, and get everything set for the week. And I have a very supportive husband who really encourages me in so many ways. He is so proud. I hope that at some point I can give back to him and let him have a career break. Life has changed so much for me and I enjoy life so much now because I have stopped being so worried about everything. We live in a beautiful house we have two healthy kids and great big dog!
Now I can work on growing my business. Getting the website right with an inventory program will be amazing – instead of my paper diary with photos and hand written notes of payments and dates, it will all be on the ipad and phone and online so I can hire an intern – and the intern will manage the hires for me this Spring Carnival so that I can just focus on designing my hats.
I have a sales target and I have a business plan, and every year I want the business to double. It’s not just art for me– it’s business. My business is a way for me to be self-sufficient. I am able to take my kids to school and pick them up, I don’t want them to go to before school and after school care. I don’t want to be chained to work but I do want to be able to make enough money by the time that they’re in high school so that we have options. That’s the goal, it’s not a huge goal – it’s an achievable goal. If I keep doing what I’m doing, in three years I’ll be there.
Carla Murley’s highly successful millinery debut season in 2012 saw her featured in both Vogue Australia and The Age, and in 2014 Carla was named as one of Melbourne's "Top Ten Milliners" by the Herald Sun.
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