As fate would have it, Nicole Bower came up with the idea for Ocean Tales whilst standing in the Pacific Ocean. Next to her, stood her mother and aunty, the Co-founders of the children’s swimwear brand. The three were on family holiday, swimming at South West Rocks, a place that held many treasured memories from their childhoods. It was covered in salt, sand and sunscreen that they decided right then and there, Ocean Tales needed to be born.
THE GOOD BITS
“We still get VERY excited when random strangers purchase swimsuits from Ocean Tales. In the first season we did quite well, but many sales came from friends, family and market stalls. Now, when people buy from our website, the feeling is unimaginable! We don’t even know these people and they want our products?! WOOHOO!” said Nicole. Her energy is infectious, and evident in the gorgeous ‘cozzies’. “Our best week was just last week! So I’m feeling really good.”
THE TOUGH BITS
Nicole explains that budgeting and cashflow have been the most difficult areas to manage. “I totally got the numbers wrong! Projections are never what they seem! Unforeseen costs come up often. I cried at first because I was so disappointed but you just dust yourself off and learn from your mistakes. I decided to solve the problem and get on with it. The business is money hungry and everything it earns goes back into the business to help it grow.
“Also, sometimes I think, ‘F*ck, I’m tired,’ but my attitude is that I just have to keep going. If you want something bad enough, that’s what you do.”
Aside from the deep passion they each have for designing swimwear for littlies, the trio saw a gap in the market.
“In terms of what is available, there is a lot of competition in this space. If you want low quality, unlined swimsuits, they are everywhere. We really wanted to create a high-quality product that stood above the rest. We wanted fabrics that retain their prints even through chlorine, salt, sun and fun. We also said no to saggy bums! The fabric had to be strong enough to avoid sagging, yet soft enough to be comfortable. We did a lot of research to ensure the quality is unmatched.
“In terms of the prints, there were many brands offering prints that were suitable for little girls that Mum wouldn’t necessarily like. And then there were bikinis and two pieces out there that didn’t stand up to the Australian sun.
“So, we combined safe, practical styles with chic prints that Mum will love.”
Initially Nicole wanted the garments to be made in Australia, as a nod to her own heritage and to support the local economy. Sadly, many manufacturers here weren’t willing to sew swimwear, or the printing factories were separate from all the other factories, making the entire process extremely difficult to manage. Short of opening her own factory, Nicole came up against problem after problem to which end she decided to go offshore.
The trio landed on Bali as their chosen manufacturing hub, so they can travel there frequently to be a part of the process. Having worked in the fashion industry for 18 years, Nicole was aware of the unethical practices that frequented the industry, as well as the translation challenges she’d experienced with offshore suppliers in other countries.
However, when Nicole met the factory managers in Bali over Zoom, she knew it was the right fit. “They are amazing! It was important to us that the factory was ethical - the sewers receive a higher pay grade, and they work in impeccably clean standards. Even when I try to negotiate prices, they stick to their minimums and remind me that their staff come first, which I’m so happy about. I don’t want to own a business that exploits people. What’s the point in my success if others have to suffer?” I couldn’t agree more.
“Post-COVID, I plan to visit them in person, and I would like my Co-founders to join me so they can better understand the processes and the people behind the product.”
THE SIDE HUSTLE ROUTINE
Nicole’s routine looks something like this:
5am - 6am - Gym fix for the day.
8am - 6pm - Children’s Wear Designer day job.
8pm - 11:30pm - Ocean Tales side hustle.
“A night off is rare. It’s super busy, but exercise is my saviour. if I don’t do something physical it’s not a good ending for anyone! I need that release,” said Nicole.
To maintain sanity, Nicole sets aside a half day every weekend to do the ‘fun stuff’. During this time, she’s not allowed to work. “To avoid any resentment or burnout, it’s important to schedule that time off, otherwise you just find yourself working and working with no end, rest or reward.”
While it’s been difficult on so many, Nicole has been able to see the positives during 2020. Her hours were cut in her day job, giving her the space and time to work on Ocean Tales every Friday. It has allowed her to do a business mentorship course where she’s learned a monumental amount, mostly around marketing and advertising.
40% of US businesses are female-owned and women-owned businesses in the US generate $1.8 Trillion per year. Additionally, private tech companies led by women achieve 35% higher ROI. I asked Nicole what she thought about female leadership. “Women bring different qualities to the table. I think anyone can start a business, regardless of their gender. I recently joined a female business group and it’s really helped me; we encourage and keep one another accountable.
Nicole tells budding entrepreneurs, “You have to be passionate about what you do because it’s not easy. Success doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of hard work to get there. If you’re really determined you will succeed.
“It’s a lot of fun though! Don’t forget to enjoy the ride and take everything as learning. Say to yourself, ‘Oh that happened because of X.’ It’s not a mistake, no one ever gets it right the first time. What you learn from your mistakes - that’s gold.
And on the day you see a stranger using your product, it’s heaven!”
She’s also learnt to maximise her time and get productive. Rather than working on multiple projects at once and getting them half finished, she now uses laser focus to work on what’s important or urgent, and take Ocean Tales to the next level.
The brand has recently launched a boyswear chapter and plans to bring more gorgeous, high-quality and ethically-made swimwear to little people across the globe.
To get your hands on their unique pieces, head to the website.