If you’re looking to keep summer going all year ‘round, Sunday Soldiers just might be your new favourite kids’ clothing brand. Founder and designer Elise Doohan shares her inspiration for the business, the ups and downs and what keeps her going.
What was your inspiration to start your own business?
I have always loved fashion. When I became a mum, I found that my passion re-invented itself as a love for kids’ fashion! I was on maternity leave from my corporate job, dreading putting my son into daycare and heading back to work. So, thought I would try my hand at designing! I was so desperate to stay home with my little one, and I had zero experience in the fashion industry. I couldn’t even sew! But I just couldn’t face going back to a job I hated.
When did you know the timing was ‘right’?
I was on extended maternity leave and expecting our second baby. My husband was working in law enforcement. He was working night shift and traveling over an hour away to work each day. I remember one day, he got home around 5am and told me how lucky he was to have actually made it home, because he fell asleep at the wheel on the drive. I knew then that something had to change for our family. Our current situation wasn’t working. I wasn’t sure if I could go back to working 60-hour weeks and being stressed out of my mind, while juggling motherhood. Starting a business was a huge risk for us, but it was really a make or break point for our family.
How did you make your big break?
I don’t know if we’ve had a big ‘break’ as such. When we first started, we identified that customer service was an absolute priority to us. We wanted our brand to have good vibes from start to finish. We wanted our customers to feel special – because they are. They really mean so much to us. It’s something that we’ve always had as a part of our brand DNA. We definitely haven’t got it right all the time, we have learned some MAJOR lessons in biting off more than we can chew. But it’s something that is integral to our brand. We’ve grown steadily since our launch in March 2015, and while I don’t think we’ve had a big break necessarily, I do think that our good vibes is what has kept us growing.
What was your training prior to starting your own business?
I’ve worked in banking since I was 17. I had a few jobs here and there in retail, but it’s always been sales orientated.
What are the biggest challenges of being a mum and a business women?
Juggling! Kids are so precious and while my kids are very aware of Sunday Soldiers and they know a lot about it, they definitely don’t understand the challenges. And so they shouldn’t, that’s our job as adults. It’s hard when I’m trying to meet a production deadline, or I have an important phone call – but the kids want me to sing Baby Shark or tell me that their brother has peeled 7 bananas, put them in the washing machine and turned it on. They don’t get it. I’m definitely guilty of the old ‘Can you go ask Dad?’ or ‘Mummy is busy, you have to wait sweetheart’. But I’m constantly reminding myself that I am raising kids with a business in the background. Not running a business and raising kids in the background. Juggling the time between them is my biggest challenge. I don’t always get it right, but I’m always trying to.
What is your top tip for maintaining a work/life balance?
Schedule with intent. When I’m working, I’m really working. When I’m being a mum, I’m not even thinking about work. Every evening from after school until 7.30pm, I’m with my babes. I put the phone down, TV goes off and we just hang out. I don’t work again until they’re in bed. I also try not to schedule work events on weekends during the day, because that’s my days with the kids. I exercise between 7am – 8am every morning. Ha – jokes, no I don’t (But I should!). I’m also working on scheduling a date night every month with my extremely patient husband who definitely gets neglected in between work and the kids. I believe that if you don’t schedule in the important stuff, it doesn’t happen! You must make it happen! It’s unrealistic to schedule eeeverythaang that goes on. But concrete in the important stuff and let everything else fall in between of those times.
What is your biggest learning since starting your own business?
Stay fluid. When we first began, we were hand-pressing vinyl designs onto blank t-shirts. We even did custom tees for a while, which seems crazy now. Just because you start at a certain place, doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there. Let your business and your customers lead you, respond to what they want and where they’re taking you. It might be somewhere amazing.
What do you do in your spare time to keep yourself sane?
Beach days, coffee dates and good books!
What’s one thing other people should do who are looking to start their own business?
Establish a good team. Find a good accountant, book keeper, banker and mentor. Tell your friends what you’re up to and ask for their support. You can never have enough people that believe in you and your vision.