I’d been a professional midwife for eight years and genuinely passionate about helping women through the most challenging, but simultaneously most rewarding time in their lives.
My husband and I were ready for our own family and while I was pregnant with our first son, I was pretty confident that I knew about why lay ahead of me. We were ready for the sleepless nights, the inconsolable colicky cries, the constant state of stress. We were ready (we couldn’t wait!) to be sucked into a vortex of baby wipes and cuddles and that unparalleled sense of love and loving that you get from your own child.
One thing I didn’t expect, though, that breastfeeding my son – the natural way to provide my son with the nutrition he needs – would be difficult and I would feel uncomfortable and even embarrassed doing so in public.
The embarrassing truth
I need to fess up to something… I used to tell a story about a woman I knew who was so uncomfortable breastfeeding in public that she would hide out in a public toilet block, with her dress over her head, seated on the toilet, feeding her baby. What I didn’t have the courage to say, was that that woman was me.
Before having a baby, it’s difficult to imagine that your life could be upturned by something as natural as breastfeeding your newborn. I went shopping for breastfeeding clothes but quickly learnt stores are not equipped for pushers or babies accompanying you into a changeroom. Not only this of course, but after having a baby you’re no longer the same size and shape as you were previously so it’s unlikely your pre-baby style will still suit you as it once did.
I looked online but specially-designed ‘nursing wear’ was expensive and with me on maternity leave and with a husband who had just become an apprentice, extra money was scarce. I knew I couldn’t have been the only woman feeling frustrated by the current options. I was determined to find fashion that had button or zip access for under $100.
That’s when I welcomed a new baby into the world: Breastfeeding Wear Australia.
A new beginning
I won’t lie: having a business with a newborn is hard. I would research during sleep times and had several supplier companies turn me down stating that being stocked by my business model of ‘affordable wear’ would cheapen their brand.
Starting a business on a budget is not easy. I didn’t have a lot of equity to put into the business and so I relied on sales to grow. I spent hours at night working on a website with no IT experience… I think secretly the Shopify helpline was sick of hearing from me! But after weeks of tapping away on a keyboard and troubleshooting tech issues, I finally launched the site, only to get zero sales in the first month.
I realised branding was key but with no budget I was limited to growing organically from the local markets where I could get my brand name known. I’m Darwin-based but at the time, I started in markets where it was peak wet season with 99% humidity and occasional downpours of rain. I would leave my 6-week-old baby with my husband who would bring him in for visits every three hours for breastfeeds at which time my breasts felt like they were going to explode.
Turning of the tide
Slowly I became known, not only as a brand that offered breastfeeding fashion but as a brand that offered postnatal wear. Our signature style is flowing, natural fabrics with shapes that are flattering to women after having a baby.
I slowly built an engaged community on social media which helped me to gain recognition in other states and internationally. I’m so glad to say that the business has grown enough in the first 18 months to leave my full-time job to give it (and my children) my full focus.
Despite the success, I can unreservedly say, start-ups are hard. I considered selling the business on more than one occasion but whenever the doubt would creep in, I’d remind myself of the bigger picture, which is to work flexible hours to do school drop offs and pick-ups. I want to be present in my children’s lives: every mothers dream.
Doubling down and going forward
Now, Breastfeeding Wear Australia stocks more than 40 different labels of breastfeeding fashion under $100 and sells to customers around Australia and internationally, including New Zealand, Canada and Iran. This year, we were recognised as a finalist in the 2018 Telstra Business Awards.
Looking ahead, we’re about to challenge the status quo for a second time. The convention of the fashion industry is to make a maximum size of 16, which is quite unrealistic given how women’s bodies change after carrying a baby. Not only this, but when plus-sizes are available, they are priced at a premium.
To continue our mission to make it easier for women to breastfeed their babies, Breastfeeding Wear Australia will soon be launching its own brand, available up to size 20, while remaining under $100.
New mums have enough challenges to face without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable to give their babies the nutrition they need.