Last week I had the privilege to speak to a group of dynamic women at the Northern Club, many of whom I know and admire. A daunting but exciting task . I was invited to talk about my business ventures over the years and it made me realise that reflecting on our life journey is wonderful in keeping memories alive. Accepting the down times, understanding that we grow from our challenges and celebrating what we achieved. Going through old magazine articles was hilarious and as my kids said – wow Mum you had really big hair!
So here’s a little recap on my roller coaster career and I how I got to now with my biggest and most rewarding challenge in creating Alzheimer’s awareness and prevention.
Never did my 18 year old self think that I would end up having an article in Style magazine featuring my hand painted vintage Levis Jeans that I made to order, I never imagined myself to be driving down Remuera Road to see a boutique hotel called the Devereux that I opened age 23 or visiting 22 EGG franchise stores across the globe and Harrods stocking my brand and never, ever was I even close to thinking that one day I would be creating awareness and prevention of Alzheimer’s.
My journey has been a roller coaster, one full of successes and until what I saw recently as failures. As Winston Churchill said at the age of 22. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” –
My first grown-up business was The Devereux Boutique Hotel. It was an amazing and exciting adventure; I took on renovating and decorating a dilapidated brothel. I look back now and not sure how I managed to do it, as it was set up on the smell of an oily rag. Literally. Thanks to my incredibly thrifty mother, Colyn Devereux Kay, she taught me how to create something spectacular with very little budget. In those days there was no TradeMe so every Friday when I was setting up I would buy the Trade and Exchange Booklet and traipse around the outskirts of Auckland looking for interesting and affordable pieces to create my theme boutique hotel. What a ball I had from staging an Italian themed room called Tuscany, to the Zambesi Room with a bamboo 4 poster bed and mosquito net to the Rangitoto room complete with Kiwiana Memorabilia. 13 rooms in different country themes. I am not sure – if someone had played me a video of what I was undertaking – I would actually have done it, but that is the beauty of when you are 23 and don’t over think things. I had a dream and that was what drove me. As it was one of the first Boutique Hotels it quickly got recognition in many fantastic magazines including International ones that put The Devereux on the map. As well as having a great tourist market I built up a loyal following of business people who were tired of the big hotels and wanted something small and intimate and a bit like home. One regular was Michael Hill and his wife who were instrumental in promoting my little haven and helping to give me very high occupancy rate all year round. I had a very happy 4 years setting up and running The Devereux and when I married I thought now time for a break and sold my hotel for what I would consider a good return.
Unfortunately I loaned all the money I had made from the sale of my business to my ex husband. Without going into too much detail I lost it all. What came out of it was a determination to be able to provide for my family and not to rely on anyone but myself. Fortunately I had already hatched another business which had taken off. My next baby, EGG, was hatched 3 months prior to giving birth to my first child Jasmin. So much for the break I was going to have but I was never one to walk away from an opportunity and considering the lack of stylish maternity clothing, here was a business op screaming out to be developed. My Mother also had sold her business Les Floralies to my brother and was also looking for a challenge. How lucky was I to get to work with an incredible business woman who was at the time mentoring and helping so many other women in business – she was the business head and I was the creative and very quickly EGG morphed from a little business at home to opening up our own EGG stores throughout Auckland and then franchising EGG with stores throughout NZ, Australia, Manila and Singapore as well as having stockists globally. We had an absolute ball and many adventures were had on a business trips to visit stockists, manufactures and purely for inspiration. Shopping trips were definitely high on our agender – with many “samples” required! A memorable trip from London To L.A on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class flight. Mum and I were the only ones that put on their Virgin P.Js on before it was sleep time and made full use of the amenity packs and inflight massage. We sat up at the flight bar in our PJs having cocktails and laughing like a couple of teenagers. Such happy memories.
Like all good things sometimes they have to come to an end and when the recession hit retail as we knew it would never be the same again. It was a bit of a perfect storm is some regards. The emergence of online global retailers such as ASOS and Amazon offering fast fashion and free delivery caused a shift in consumer buying patterns that affected high street retailers.
When everything felt like it was falling apart my darling mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In her mind she was not sick and now I see this as a blessing that she never accepted that she had this terrible disease that would rob her of her mind and body. She would come to work everyday and we let her think she was working but the reality was that she would tell me the same thing 100 times over and something I quickly learnt is that you had to listen and not correct her otherwise it would be frightening to her and would make my very loving and gentle mother agitated. This was a very sad time as only 6 months prior she had been awarded and Order of Merit for her services in business.
My mother had been the first woman chairperson of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, had mentored and helped so many women in business set up. She tirelessly chaired the Breast Cancer Foundation and was instrumental in setting up the first Glassons T shirt campaign to raise money for Breast Cancer. She was so giving of her time and never stopped. Weekends at her special beach house at Leigh were spent in the garden or working on other business plans. She was tireless and always willing to help.
Looking back on this time and seeing that so many other businesses were struggling it was not my business failing but the way the world was changing. As my husband said to me the only constant is change and it is how we react to change. I was mourning the mother I had once had and working at EGG without her I had simply lost my passion for what it once was. Time for an exit plan from EGG and time to focus on change and to look at new beginnings.
12 months prior to selling EGG I started hatching my next business idea always an opportunist I couldn’t help myself. Just like how EGG came to fruition when I was pregnant with my daughter Jasmin, now a teenager and having problems with her skin, here was a new business idea that I could not walk away from. After nearly a year of researching natural skincare I came across a little magic ingredient from Myanmar called Thanaka. It’s renowned as a skincare staple in Burmese households, but it was pretty much inaccessible in the Western World. This was my gem and what would be my hero ingredient for my skincare so along with two new business partners, Philippa Gebbie and Sara Orme we set out to find a thanaka supplier. Myanmar which was hugely exciting, but not as easy as we anticipated. After a week travelling from village to village we finally found a family that could help. The crazy thing was that there was no shortage of Thanaka which is the bark from the Thanaka Tree, it was the processing. Burmese women’s beauty staples are a thanaka log, a flat grinding stone and a brush. We needed it is powder form and produced in the most hygienic environments with good tools which was rather hard to come by unless we went to a large manufacturer. We wanted to be true to our cause and only work with families and women collective groups. Everyone was very curious about us and the lovely thing was we found that we could be on a an even par with these incredible people, they could take photos on their phones, tag us on Facebook and vice versa. While so much was very primitive social media was in full force. Not one person had come across a westerner interested in their beloved Thanaka to use in skincare and as a business. We had help from Action Aid and when they opened their files they discovered the last person to do research was Anita Roddick from the Body Shop in the 80’s which never eventuated.
After a year of very intense work Girl Undiscovered launched in December last year. We are not just a beauty brand we are partners in a global movement towards empowerment. We believe beauty has no borders, that it should be about freedom and adventure, regardless of your age or culture. It’s about being true and honest. What beauty should feel like.
Like all business it has had its challenges and I had my own personal ones with a sick daughter and mother. After a very intense period for me of working long hours and not seeing my children after school as much as I would’ve liked as well as a busy crossover period selling EGG I was burned out. I went away at Christmas time to Paunui to have a much needed holiday. I had just finished reading a book called Start Something that Matters which is about a remarkable guy called Blake Mycoskie. While traveling in Argentina in 2006, he witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. One for One®. It was then that I was walking along the beach early one morning with the waves crashing on the sand I had a little light bulb moment. I had been wanting to create more awareness around Alzheimer’s Disease and here was my perfect opportunity to create a blog and spend more time with my mother as well as my children. For the first time in quite a while I simply felt everything made sense and that is when the sun truly came out! I had been also been worrying for some time about getting Alzheimer’s myself as my grandmother, auntie and uncle had died from it so it was quite selfish really as I could not only create Alzheimers awareness but also look at ways to prevent it for myself and others.
So a new chapter of my life begins with Beautiful Mind. I am still a partner of Girl Undiscovered and are excited to be taking our gorgeous product into retail. Although I have sold it, I work with EGG and remain a shareholder. I feel incredibly blessed I am still part of my babies I hatched. I did attempt to paint a pair of jeans not so long ago but think I will now leave that up to my 7 year old.
My journey on reflection for a Beautiful Mind and it is only just the beginning.