Alex started Oobi on a shoestring budget but with a strong passion for handmade prints and bold patterns. With her skills in screenprinting and design behind her she convinced a fabric company to allow her to do some short runs of some prints – and Oobi was born.
What do you typically tell people when they ask what you do?
What a timely question! I always struggle with this one and it really came home to me when I met my husband because all of a sudden my social and business network expanded and the question “what do you do?” came up a lot in new social situations. Dominik said to me “Alex, you need to sell yourself a little more”. So now I say “I design children’s clothing for my label Oobi… but that’s only part of the intricate jigsaw puzzle”. Nothing that you can say in one sentence even comes close to summing up ‘what I do’ so I try to keep it open-ended.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I ‘accidentally’ studied screen printing at university (I did a theoretical degree – Art History – and back in my day you had to do a practical component). I didn’t want to do screen printing but it was all that was left. And luckily, I loved it! So when studying for my degree left me without any money I thought I’d take my screen printed designs to a local market and that, as they say, is history.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I try to get up early, around 6.30, and I will walk my dog first thing which clears the head and throws me into a bit of nature. Against all better judgment the first thing I do when I get home is have a coffee and open my emails – just in case the sky came falling down overnight (I’d love to say that I meditate – I am working on this!). I don’t use social media until I get to the office (and usually not until after or around lunch time) as it’s a huge distraction but I can’t leave my email until I get to the office – I’m way too curious.
I get into the office around 8.45 and every morning at 9.30 we have a “10 minute stand-up meeting” with every member of the office. This is a quick blast where everyone gets to discuss what they’re up to, collaborate, throw ideas at a wall, and get creative. We’re currently trying to learn how to hula hoop in our meeting and the goal is to be able to get through the whole 10 minutes while hula-ing. We are also now obsessed with arm knitting. Yep.
After that I always go through the sales figures from the day before and get through a bit of office admin. Around lunch time I hop on social media and talk to my Oobi mums, check out photos of their kids, go on the Oobi Facebook page, see what’s happening on Instagram and I personally comment on (almost) every single photo that people post. The reason for this is twofold. Someone has taken the time to purchase a garment that I made and has taken the time to post the photo. I understand that the mum wants to share our garments with us and it would be a disservice to not engage. However I admit that some do fall through the cracks. Anyway I love it and it is a massively important part of my research. How does the garment fit, how does the child look, is the mum and the child happy – these are crucial to what I do.
After lunch my fabric printers in India are getting into the office so most of the afternoon I’m working with them, designing, approving garments, working with my production manager in Sydney on new patterns, fit and specs.
Of course a whole lot of things come up, phone calls, interviews, planning for media events and launch parties, doing photo shoots, showings for our wholesale customers – so many things! I also travel a lot for work so that puts a spanner in the works.
Every single second of every single day is accounted for and I love it. Around 6.30 I leave the office and try to get some kind of exercise in (most days), I don’t care what – rock climbing or Pilates or some kind of blokey weights training thing – just anything! Otherwise I am a wired-up ball of energy and annoy my husband all night.
Most nights I’m involved in either an event for my business or my husband’s business or he and I sit down and discuss all the exciting things that have happened that day. We both own our own businesses.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The Oobi Community which starts with my amazing mums who support our label and continues to the charitable program, Oobi-fy the World, that I was able to found because of the opportunities afforded to me by label.
Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you understood about starting a business before you started OOBI?
I wish I’d understood that it’s futile to worry so much about trying to please everyone. When I stick to my guns and do what I like and what I think is cool, that resonates with my customers. And that ultimately is what pleases them. I was just listening to Seth Godin talk and he said (and I paraphrase) it’s better to sing to a few friends than to shout to the masses. I really like that. Why aim for a hundred thousand Facebook or IG followers who aren’t really ‘friends’ when you can dedicate yourself to 25,000 – 35,000 who genuinely love what you do.
What was your greatest fear when you started OOBI?
Well… I often think that I’m “fearless” and that is important when you have a business. But the thing that plagued me as the business grew was, “How would I be a boss?” I’m not naturally cut out to be a boss even though I think a lot of people would describe me as a leader. And there is a big difference. I never imagined that I would be able to do some of the sticky things that come with all the responsibility – plus be kind, encouraging, empathetic and strong all at the same time. But I know that my staff forgive me when I am super busy and can’t be there for them as much as I’d like. It’s tough and I want to be great and fair and inspirational, and all that good stuff.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
There are many and I often channel certain people when times are tough or I need a little inspiration. Sometimes it’s Coco Chanel, sometimes it’s Gandhi (when I REALLY need some zen-spiration), or even my grandmother who was also a businesswoman, sometimes (mostly) it’s my hero Jane Goodall.
She was a conservationist before it was cool, she followed her passion and her passion led her to do some extraordinary and very self-sacrificing things that taught the world not only about animals but about ourselves. She merged her education with her ethics and changed world opinion. She also worked very closely with kids with her program “Roots and Shoots” teaches them that they too can change the world. What a mission! And if you look at her story, it’s absolutely inspirational.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Oh come on, I’ve made every mistake there is to make, and I reckon that every other business owner will say the same thing. That’s the hardship (and the beauty in a way, hey, I won’t fire myself!) of having your own business and being a risk-taker or pioneer. Sometimes a mistake is not a mistake in the long-run too, you just need to play the waiting game. Some of my most popular garments were considered ‘mistakes’ and then really resonated later on. So there’s always hope! Generally speaking though the mistakes that you most regret are the ones you make from being ill-informed or unprepared. So I work very hard to get all my facts, know my stuff and do my best. And sometimes that means being annoying by asking too many questions or reading too much data before making a decision.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Winning Australia’s best-loved Children’s Fashion Label seven years running by an independent survey of KidStyleFile readers – this is huge because it’s the voice of my peers, the voice of the people that matter. Ultimately, on a personal level, it makes me so grateful and, honestly, so, so proud. It’s a validation of my hard work and shows that you can march to the beat of your own drum and succeed.
In one word, characterize your life as a start up?
To what do you most attribute your success? What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
Without ego, you have to have a talent and a passion for what you do. It’s taken me years to say it out loud but my success is due to the fact that I’m good at what I do – I’m absolutely passionate about designing children’s fashion. After that, you can’t just rest on your laurels. You have to want to show that to the world or to your customers and to do that right you have to work hard, you have to have business acumen (or learn it – stat!) and you have to be strong because it’s not easy. If it’s worth it because you’re passionate you won’t care or complain about the start-out wages (none) the long hours (and weekends), the stress and the anxiety. You will do it all and ask for more on top because you “need” to get it out there. That’s passion.
It’s taken me years to say it out loud but my success is due to the fact that I’m good at what I do – I’m absolutely passionate about designing children’s fashion. After that, you can’t just rest on your laurels. You have to want to show that to the world or to your customers and to do that right you have to work hard, you have to have business acumen (or learn it – stat!) and you have to be strong because it’s not easy.
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