Professional midwife and Territorian entrepreneur, Verity Powell, is on a mission to make it easier – and more affordable – for mums around Australia and internationally to breastfeed in public.
“After I had my first baby, I realised many clothes either didn’t fit or had no access for breastfeeding. One woman told me she would go to the public toilets, remove her whole dress and feed her baby sitting on a public toilet! When I heard that, I knew something had to be done.”
Her business, Breastfeeding Wear Australia is a collection of appropriate everyday clothing with breastfeeding access under $100.
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
As a new mum with a husband who had started an apprenticeship I couldn’t afford many of the labels available for breastfeeding mums. Larger chain stores had affordable wear but very little that were fashionable. Coupled with the fact that I had a baby that disliked shopping it became very clear that there was little available for mums on a budget. I started the business thinking if I had these difficulties then surely other mums must as well.
What is the vision for your business?
I started out wanting a family-friendly mum-ran business. Hours of work that were flexible for raising my own children whilst supporting the family with my husband’s career change. Slowly I have realised that mums identified with my frustration of buying fashionable but affordable breastfeeding-friendly clothing. Something that would serve the purpose of being breastfeeding-friendly but could be worn for years after their breastfeeding journey had ended.
What did you want to be when you left school? Did you study?
When I left school, I became a Registered Nurse at 20 years of age. I went on to complete a post graduate in Intensive Care Nursing and later a graduate diploma in midwifery. It was not until becoming a midwife that my eyes were opened to how important breastfeeding is and that mums want the best for their babies.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my initial career is what led me to where I am. I learnt so much about women, pregnancy and the struggle of having a new baby. It didn’t truly resonate until having my own children. It’s a huge change to life as at was and women need all the support they can get.
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I started out stocking breastfeeding-specific wear- clothing you could wear to discreetly breastfeed your baby. In time I became really challenged with the idea that we must feed our babies discreetly. I had worked as a midwife in an Indigenous community and these women openly breastfed. There was nothing taboo, this was what their bodies were meant for. That was the turning point of approaching fashion labels rather that breastfeeding-specific clothing and I would look through hundreds of images finding dresses or tops with buttons or zips at the front to easily breastfeed babies.
Initially, what difficulties did you face?
I had no background in IT but was on a budget when starting out. I knew I needed a website and I self-taught with thanks to YouTube help guides and Shopify online support. Once the website was running I then had the feat of finding customers. I started out locally at weekend markets. Sounds easy but it involved three hours of ironing prior to an event, set-up in 99% humidity (I live in the tropics of Darwin) and I was still breastfeeding a 3 month old! My husband would care for him during the market and pop over when he was hungry for me to breastfeed whilst serving customers.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
My partner, he has always been fully supportive. Whilst working full time he would come home and late at night when our boys were in bed he would be my listening board to work through hurdles, help pack orders and work through my IT issues on those days when I was ready to throw the computer off the desk!
What was your initial marketing strategy, and how has it changed?
I didn’t have a strategy…. Which turns out to be a rookie error for a startup! In saying that though, I had children who were breastfeeding so all the places I would go with them I would leave business cards in waiting rooms, play cafes and breastfeeding rooms. Instagram was a huge turning point: I had some collaborators willing to take a chance on me and represent my brand by wearing my clothing and mention me in their Instagram posts.
The great thing about mums is that we talk a lot with each other and Darwin (where the business is based) is a transient population. Women would buy from me and then move south and tell their friends which led to growth. In 2018 I took on a PR and Marketing consultant. There is a reason why this is a speciality and I kick myself that I didn’t start out with PR/marketing from the very beginning.
What do you think was the biggest mistake you made in business?
Being in Darwin there are no wholesalers, so I used to buy all stock online. I took on a new label and bought 64 dresses with zip breastfeeding access. At the time that was a huge buy for me but the design I thought was a hit. After selling around 40 at a local pre-Christmas baby expo 38 were returned to me as they shrunk (I think the other 2 were not returned purely as they were close friends). They didn’t just shrink a little- they shrunk a lot. It was a huge financial hit and took months to work through. Now I sample all new labels and do twice yearly trips interstate to find new and emerging labels.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
The name ‘Breastfeeding Wear Australia’, I was always told never to have a three worded name in business. But, I wanted something simple and easy to identify with. Breastfeeding Wear was easy but I added the ‘Australia” only because I wanted Australian mums to know they were buying from an Australian business. I grew up in a farming town where ‘support local’ was embedded in us as children and I wanted Australian women to know they were supporting an Australian family.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
Other women in business are not competition, they are your mentors and support. Each one brings sound knowledge and advice, in actual fact all of my mentors have been mums. Often their wealth of knowledge has not necessarily been business related but how to divide time with children and running a business. It’s a juggle and you need all the tips and advice you can get.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Being ready to change what you are doing- if something is not working you need to try and not take offence and change it up.
- Don’t be threatened to let others with expertise into your business- you can’t do it all yourself. You absolutely need to let go of some aspects to focus on other areas.
- Find an amazing accountant- my sleepless nights stopped once I found someone to do the stressing over financials for me.
Who do you look up to in business? Who inspires you?
Naomi Simpson- the founder of ‘Red balloon’, I remember reading her statement once that read:
“Tell me I ‘cannot’ do, be or have something – and that is the surest way to inspire me into action…. “What inspires me is simply when the ‘impossible becomes possible’ – to tackle a problem and never give up, no matter how challenging.
How have you personally measured your success?
Ha…by paying myself a wage! Money used to go 100% back into the business and I’m finally at a place where I am paid a weekly wage. It’s a minimum wage but still it’s a start.
How do you make the most of your day?
If I can get my work done by 2.30 pm so I can pick my eldest up from school that’s a great day. School pickup is the greatest, they run into your arms and are so eager to tell you about their day. Of course often putting on hold the afternoons means catching up at nights but it’s worth it.
How have your kids impacted the way you structure your day?
Absolutely. I’m often up at 5 am packing orders and answering e-mails. 7am- 9 am is getting ready for school and drop offs, then I work on turbo until school pick up at 2.30 pm. I try my best to be present for my kids until bedtime. Work does creep in but I have to constantly keep it in check.
When you think of your journey, what is the thing you are most proud of?
There are so many things I am grateful for. In 2018 I was a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards for the Small and Succeeding Award which felt like a huge acknowledgement and pat on the back…I didn’t win but I have my sights set on 2019.
What is your favourite thing to do in your downtime?
I’ll often pop down to our local markets child free just for an hour for a massage. Massage works for me in reducing stress. If you can reduce your stress levels I think you can prioritise your work so much better.
What is your favourite app?
Receiptbank! My accountant changed my life with this little app.
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
Both. You need to have an understanding of all aspects of your business. Its OK not to be the expert but I think you need to be across the fundamentals of all of your business.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being the driver…which is funny as I always prefer my husband to drive if we are heading out. I love getting to choose the direction the business is heading and with growth love that women starting out have started to ask for advice in business.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Well the dream was always to be surrounded by a small team, in a work space that can be flexible around children. Its not until returning to work you realize how important flexibility is. Maybe your son has become sick at school or you want to be there to see him receive a merit at assembly. I’d love to foster a culture of work that allows you to be a professional but be a mum equally.
What are your growth areas for 2019?
PR and marketing, I’ve recently taken on the amazing Julia from Echomakers and I have been overwhelmed at the inroads she has created for me within weeks.
Who is the wisest woman you know and what have you learnt from her?
My mum. My mother never had many opportunities. She was as a farmer’s daughter growing up in the 60’s in a small rural town. She wanted to gain a formal education but instead was responsible for caring for her aged Nanna who lived with her family for several years before passing away. She has always pushed me in education and striving for opportunities. She wanted her three girls to have choices and strongly believed this started with a good education. When I was in my teens she worked long hours as a cleaner in a nursing home whilst studying to be a nurse at nights. She was in her 40’s juggling three girls, work and study all to afford a formal education for her children.
Want to find out more about Verity and Breastfeeding Wear Australia?