Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Name and role:
Becky Jack, designer and founder of peony swimwear
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Peony was born out of my life-long love affair with the beach. I grew up with the ocean in my backyard, so the beach has always been an influential part of my life. As one of four sisters, my fondest memories are those made on summer holidays with my family in Byron or the Sunshine Coast. I created peony in celebration of everything that I love about our relaxed, coastal lifestyle and I named the label after my favourite flower, which blooms at the beginning of summer. To me, the peony flower represents the true philosophy behind the brand – effortless feminine style.
My daily routine varies a lot depending on the time of year. I start the day with some form of exercise, normally yoga, Pilates or a walk along the beach, and I try to be at my office desk before 8am. Then it’s about emails, emails, emails for the first few hours. Once they are done, I attend to that day’s tasks, whether they are designing, overseeing production, packing orders, liaising with our PR team or managing customer service.
How/when did you know this was what you wanted to do as a career?
I have always been passionate about design. As a kid I would sketch garments on notepaper during class and on napkins at restaurants. Swimwear design was particularly appealing to me because it seemed that was all we wore for nine months of the year. Although I had dreamed it, I never imagined that one day I would actually turn my passion it into a career.
After school I studied a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business (majoring in Marketing and International Business). Following graduation from university, I went on to qualify and work as a lawyer for six months. Although I loved studying law, I found legal practice personally unsatisfying and creatively stifling. I felt a fire in my belly for something more and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was time to pursue my dream of starting my own swimwear line. Soon after that, I finished working at the law firm and began the daunting but exhilarating journey of starting peony.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in our relaxed coastal lifestyle and in the simple joys of summer – diving into the ocean, the smell of coconut oil, the taste of a banana Paddle Pop and the feeling of bare feet on the hot tarmac. When I think of an Aussie summer I think of our rugged coastal landscape, frangipani trees, sausage sizzles and bikinis hanging from the hills hoist in the backyard. All the little things that make you feel excited for the warmer months inspire me to create something tangible that embodies the intangible.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?
Yes, I had two strong female mentors that helped me get peony off the ground in the beginning and who continue to mentor me today. Both were good family friends and women that I had long admired for their work and family life balance. One runs a successful international marketing company and the other worked in the Australian magazine industry in for 15 years. Both were able to give me advice specific to their area of expertise and I relished every opportunity to sit with them (often over a glass of wine or two) and absorb as much as I could.
In addition to my mentors, my parents are incredibly supportive of everything I do. My dad has a copy of the first newspaper article on peony stuck on the wall of his tearoom at work. My partner Nick is also a pillar of strength and has patience beyond measure. I feel extremely lucky.
What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?
Dealing with disapproval and criticism was a hurdle in the beginning. It seemed everyone had an opinion about what I had chosen to do. The majority of those I told couldn’t understand what has possessed me to abandon a secure career and regular pay cheque for the minuscule possibility of success in one of the most saturated and competitive industries known to man kind. A part of me wondered too. So I had to summon a lot of focus and determination during this time and again I fell back on my family and mentors who provided perspective and encouragement.
Being an Australian made brand also has its financial limitations. The industry is full of brands that are mass-produced offshore for a fraction of the price, so in the beginning it was difficult to make ends meet.
How did you overcome these?
I try to approach every obstacle like a challenge. I sit down and come up with options to overcome it, assess the pros and cons of each option and then make a decision that is in the best interests of the brand. In saying that, whilst being methodical and measured is my general approach to problem solving, my heart has the trump card. When in doubt, I always follow my heart.
What are your goals for the future?
Peony is still very much in its infancy as a brand, so I have a lot of goals for the future. I want to see peony reach its full potential and for it to be recognized, nationally and internationally, as an authentic Australian brand with heart and substance. I want my genuine love for what I do to be evident in the final product.
In my personal life, I want to continue to surround myself with people that inspire and encourage me so that I can be the best version of myself for the people that I love.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
You are much more likely to succeed in something that you are passionate about. Sit down, write a detailed business plan, find a mentor who is willing to help you and get started. Stay focused on your own goals and just enjoy the journey.