One of the things I love most about living in Byron, is meeting and becoming friends with likeminded businesswomen like Rachael Calvet founder of Marvell Lane Swimwear. I first meet Rachael at women’s weekend retreat that Shannon Fricke was hosting at Gracisoa here in Byron, that I was invited to come in a do the catering.
Rachael and I got chatting in the kitchen about food and having both moved to Byron from Sydney. We caught up a couple of weeks later with the view for me to interview Rachael for the blog …….. but we ended up just talking each others ears off and giggling up a storm, and we totally forgot about the interview and decided to be vino and caffeine buddies instead YAY! Fast forward a few months, I finally got around to shooting Rachael off some Q’s because I wanted to share this beautiful womens story with you, and selfishly wanted to keep my catch up with Rachael for copious amounts of laughter and good times.
(Rachael at Watego’s beach where her swimwear label was born : Photo by Inez Brookes)
Q: How does a girl from Katherine NT find herself living in Byron Bay AND designing swimwear?
I’ve lived in many places and after a very traumatic event in 2015, I told my husband that I couldn’t live in Sydney any longer. I actually wanted to move home to the NT permanently but there’s no surf there for my husband and their golf course is fairly average as well, so he vetoed a move way up north! hahaha. We’d holidayed in Byron previously and got married in Mullumbimby in 2014, so Byron was the next best place we decided to go. I got my small town fix and Dave got his golf and surf!
(Rachael in one of her Marvell Lane Swimwear pieces : Photo by Inez Brookes)
Q: How did you come to design swimwear?
Well, funnily enough I moved to Byron Bay and no one was selling any swimwear that would fit my fuller bust (or if they did then I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it). I love fashion and being creative and this was a way to combine the two things! I was also struggling to find work I wanted to do long term in Byron Bay (like most people) and encouraged by my husband decided to design the swimwear I wanted to see!
Q: Why did you start designing and making swimwear for busty women?
To be perfectly frank, the area of the market was very neglected and those brands that did service this size range either did it poorly with bad fitting garments or their designs were matronly, unfashionable and not age appropriate. I was a fashion-loving 27 year old who literally could not find a single bikini top or one piece I liked to fit my bust (which is an 8G for those wondering)!
Q: You obviously use a range of models of all different shapes and sizes in your imagery. Why do you do this?
The average size Australian woman is a size 14-size 16. I want my imagery to reflect all the sizes of women buying my swimwear. Not, just the women who fit a size 8. I’m doing it for myself, for my sisters and for any other woman who feels like they never see themselves reflected back in any imagery. I’m an intelligent being and I’m sick of being sold the same trope of how women “should” look. So are most other women!
Based on the imagery that most brands use, many women think that the average size woman is a size 6-8 and not a 14-16. Is it any wonder many women have poor body image, have breakdowns in change rooms and are investing so much time and money in changing their bodies. I want to be one of the brands to change this. We’re slowly seeing a change in the diversity of women used in imagery and it can’t come soon enough!
Q: Have you found it hard to break into the swimwear / fashion industry?
I haven’t found it hard in so far that I’m a really hard worker and persistent but it has been difficult designing and manufacturing products for such a niche size range. I’m working out why other brands don’t tackle this size range! haha.
Q: What if anything do you wish you’d done differently?
There are always little things I wish I could have done differently but I haven’t had any major doozies to tell of yet. Thank God! That being said, the saying goes ‘You don’t know, what you don’t know’ and any mistakes I’ve made have simply been because I’ve not known how something was supposed to have been done (particularly from a manufacturing perspective).
Q: What do you find are you biggest challenges in starting up your own business?
- Capital: Depending on what you’re doing for your own business, you will need cash to start anything. Marvell Lane was started using tens of thousands of dollars of savings before we even got to a point of being able to sell one bikini. And that was hoping that once we got to the point of selling our swimwear that people would actually want to buy it! Wanna talk about pressure and anxiety? hahahahaha.
- Persistence & Consistency: In regards to my business, there is literally no one else who is going to answer your phone, do your emails, follow up all the people (suppliers, manufactures, pattern-makers, graphic designers, artists, etc), plan social media, plan advertising, grow a customer email database etc, so you have to be consistent and turn up day after day (and on weekends) and be persistent with all the little things!
- Not seeing anyone else all day: The only people I speak to day-to-day (aside from business-related chats) are my barista and the ladies at the post office. You need to get comfortable with your own company because it can be really lonely and quite isolating!
Q: What do you think is so special about Byron and it’s ability to incubate so many local brands founder and run by women?
I think that the whole region is special for a number of reasons but namely that:
- There are limited traditional employment opportunities that exist in a city (outside of hospitality and tourism) – so you have to carve your own place out;
- Byron is so close to major centres such as Brisbane & the Gold Coast and commuting to Sydney or Melbourne as needed is easy with the GC & Ballina airport, so you can do the city work as needed and everything else here!; and
- Most importantly – I think people get inspired here because they see SO MANY other women out there working really damn hard, creating their own opportunities and growing and running their own businesses. If other women can do it then you can too!
Q: Have you ever had a business coach? Would you recommend women starting their won businesses invest in a mentor / business coach?
If you have the funds then investing in a business coach/mentor is a good idea. I had a consultant help me with finding a manufacturer and pattern-maker when I first started. This initially cost me funds (again, spending more money before you make money) but it fast-tracked my business and cut out a lot of crappy options I would have experienced on my own.
But don’t undervalue your own ability to read and research. Go to the local library and use the FREE internet and start researching. I have pretty much Googled “How To….” for every aspect of my business. If I didn’t/don’t know the answer to something then I find the answer. You must be self-motivated and willing to learn and DIY. I didn’t know how to build a website or do SEO or design products or manufacture products or anything related to my business but I do know how to work hard and if you don’t know the answer to something then FIND IT. I did.
Q: How do you manage those moments of self doubt?
The self-doubt can be almost crippling and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have moments of self-doubt (especially at the beginning). It’s always healthy to question what you’re doing as you’re going along as this allows you to make judgement, reflect and fix anything which might need your attention or keep going as you were! Just don’t let the self-doubt paralyse you and keep you in the same spot – as it sometimes can! Practically, if I am overwhelmed or doubting myself in many aspects then I literally write-down all my over-arching tasks and then break them down into little tasks and tick those little tasks off. It’s sometimes the enormity of everything which can cause self-doubt.
Q: Where is your favourite place to holiday?
Katherine, Northern Territory – because I want to see my family all the time and I constantly miss them and the rivers! Followed closely by coastal northern Italy!
Q: Do you treat yourself to a little “me time” if yes, what does this look like? ie spa / facial etc
No, never. I’m really bad at this because I feel guilty about wasting money, even if I have money to “waste”. hahaha. I would like to but I think my adult habits are reflective of what I saw my own mother do and she never spent money on herself (she didn’t have any money to do so). “Me time” probably looks like the lighthouse walk or glass of wine at home.
Q: What new fabrics, or advances in technology in the swimwear industry are you most excited about?
A huge aspect of my business is sustainability and our outter fabric is made in Italy from recycled nylon fibres! I can’t wait to see more sustainable fabric options be developed but I feel like this is moving at a snail’s pace!
I’m looking for a sustainable inner-lining fabric and sustainable power-mesh but at this point in time they don’t exist. If anyone knows of a possible fabric I can use then let me know! But I even look at what other leading sustainability labels use and I haven’t yet noticed any recyclable inner linings or power-mesh!
Q: How much of your marketing budget and time do you invest in social media?
I don’t have a set budget at this stage. I actually quit social media about 18 months before I started Marvell Lane and was devastated to realise I had to re-engage with social media for the sake of my business! haha. But this is how people are consuming content in most regards and it certainly isn’t changing any time soon! I spend around 5-10 hours/week planning and “doing” social media. This is actually how customers first contact my business now, through Facebook and Instagram, instead of emailing or calling. No one ever calls although that would be the FASTEST way to get hold of me! haha!
Until next time!