Last year, Solar Bare launched its first sun wear collection on opening night of Canberra’s Fashfest. This was the culmination of three months of intensive design work and creativity and time to reveal the unique marine-inspired prints, which until that evening had been kept under close wraps. For me, it was a life-changing opportunity. But typical of any parent who is constantly trying to balance life and work, there were a few other pressing matters to manage that day. Family wasn’t going to stop for that fashionable moment. Mid-afternoon on the day of the event, I took my son to his appointment with a paediatric surgeon.
This taught me one of my first start-up lessons. Remain grounded. Whether trying to establish something new, or working in paid employment, keeping your family commitments front and centre is important. Don’t apologise for this extra layer of responsibility. Own it. Although largely under-valued when returning to work, parenting allows you to develop a whole suite of practical management skills. Negotiating skills and effectively managing competing priorities, deadlines and time are refined. The ability to diffuse potentially explosive moments, such as trying to cajole a toddler into the car seat when he or she is planking in protest (long before planking became a thing), and other life experiences gained through parenting are highly transferable and provide insight, patience and a sense of calm in the business world.
Fresh eyes allow you to do things differently. Starting out in new industries means you are not shaped by the status quo. While this can be an advantage, it also means you are on a steep learning curve. The second big lesson I learnt was that there is value in aligning or partnering with industry leaders. Even when you feel exposed and out of your comfort zone, you can learn from them. Trust in their knowledge and ability to help you achieve your goals.
My third start-up lesson was that IP isn’t sexy, but it offers protection for your business and brand much like a fashvest offers your skin protection from the sun’s harmful rays. While you can do your own basic research into trademarks, an intellectual property lawyer will be able to do this in a far more thorough and comprehensive way. You don’t want to discover that your business name may infringe on another person’s IP rights. Professional advice is a sound investment, even at the earliest start-up stages.IP adds value to your business asset.
Two other positive and ongoing life lessons have continued to buoy me throughout Solar Bare’s first year. The first is that people want you to succeed. There are so many people from within and even outside of your existing networks that will offer (and provide) support and encouragement. I’ve experienced the very best of generosity, mentoring and kindness. You simply can't do it alone. The other is that there’s a creative distinction between innovation and inspiration. Where innovation – which is central to most start-ups – is often a planned and designed process to achieve something new; inspiration is at the very centre of creativity. I read recently that inspiration is at once emphemeral and powerful. A true moment of creative inspiration can be life-changing, and mine was. It’s a wisp of insight and a glimpse of creative opportunity, as if the Earth or cosmos has revealed a secret to you. This is what I call the ‘rainbow effect’. That is, when white light is refracted through a prism, be it through water droplets in the atmosphere or a piece of crystal on your mantelpiece – the full spectrum of colour is revealed. What we previously couldn’t see becomes beautiful and mesmerising. Inspiration is like that.
The idea for Solar Bare washed up on the sand one day and I am grateful that I was there, ready to receive such a gift from the ocean. It was a moment of creative sympatico, when the practical idea to innovate and re-imagine the utilitarian rash vest into a fashionable garment, (fashvest®) arrived in tandem with design inspiration. And now, one challenging year on, Solar Bare’s distinctive prints have been seen on beaches from Mozambique, through Indonesia and Australia to the Solomon Islands.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported Solar Bare’s journey. You have made the seemingly impossible, possible.