Whether you are embarking on your own journey of motherhood or you’re just planning to lavish your own mother with lots of love this weekend, mothers are a part of our history, biology and often have lots to teach us.
This month Emporium Connecte caught up with fashion designer, businesswoman and mother, Julie Tengdahl, to discuss career, motherhood and just how to juggle it all…
What do you love most about what you do?
After 30 years I still get a thrill from being on the shop floor; seeing how clients interact and respond to designs, and tailoring the collections to suit them. Whether I’m in the workroom sketching a design, or at one of the stores styling a client, the power of making a woman feel truly beautiful has never lost its joy for me. This career has offered me the chance to travel, meet amazing people and constantly channel my creativity into something tangible.
Why did you start in your industry?
My mother was a seamstress and some of my first memories are of playing beneath her sewing machine, collecting remnants of fabric. After school I studied fashion design at MSIT. I worked in fashion design in London and when I returned to Australia I took a job as an aerobics instructor while trying to establish myself in the Brisbane fashion industry. I noticed active wear at the time was boring so I created a range of sports wear for my aerobics class, and when sales took off, the range funded my first collection as a fashion designer.
You are a Mother, Business owner and a Woman, how do you fuse these roles together and maintain balance?
At work, I have adopted a business model that suits my ideal life balance. When I’m at home with family, I try to be present and accessible, while also encouraging their independence and autonomy. I’ve also surrounded myself with incredibly capable women who take my breath away with their balancing abilities. And I avoid burn-out by having time to myself occasionally; anything from a quick yoga session on the Kangaroo Point cliffs as the sun rises on a Sunday morning – through to an overseas sabbatical like the one I just completed in India. As a family we support each other through the ups and downs, and encourage each other to pursue whatever brings fulfilment and happiness as individuals. My relationships with each child has evolved as they’ve grown older, and now that my two eldest children are pursuing their own careers I love hearing their thoughts about the business, and drawing inspiration from their creative contributions to the label as well.
How has being a mother helped you in the way you run your business?
After having children I developed a more intuitive approach to designing and managing my business. I backed myself and trusted my ‘gut instinct’ more than I had before. My decisions are clearer, I am more efficient in my use of time and I have a better grasp of the big picture. I don’t dwell on the insignificant stuff that would have had me obsessing or stressing at work in the past. Rather than holding us back or making us complacent, I think this perspective actually makes it easier to take risks, because as long as your family are happy and healthy, there’s nothing much in life to fear. Fashion design can be very egocentric, very tense, so letting go of that fear has meant I’ve done things that I wouldn’t have otherwise done if I hadn’t relinquished the pressure I placed on ‘proving’ myself.
What is the most surprising thing you have discovered about yourself since becoming a mother?
A level of confidence that I never had before. Bravado and self-doubt was replaced by a deeper belief in myself. Motherhood highlights how little we know – and yet simultaneously how much we are capable of, and how much we have to offer our community.
What are your tips for women who are juggling career and motherhood?
It gets easier. Follow your intuition; both at work and at home. And let go of the expectation that life, motherhood, work, relationships are meant to be simultaneously perfect. Enjoy the crazy, ever-changing, imperfectness of it all.
What has been your proudest career achievement?
Keeping garment production in Brisbane. The label is still produced in our West End workroom, by local dressmakers and machinists. The financial cost of producing locally is outweighed by the fact that it keeps jobs in the local fashion industry and enables me to be responsive to the feedback and needs of my clients. It also means I can retain high quality standards, have a quick turn around and stay in control of my supply chain - ensuring all garments and their materials are sourced and produced ethically. I am so proud that the label is still 100% Australian made.
Define your style…
My style has multiple personality disorder! I dress to reflect different aspects of my identity as a woman; some days it is feminine and elegant, other days it is practical and perfunctory – or sensual, bold and colourful. It always has to be effortless, comfortable, simple and thoughtfully designed!
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