City: Melbourne & Chicago
Business: Sparro Designs
What? Australian owned brand of sleek, strong and seriously smart carry-alls for women who work and love to workout.
Sparro exists to ease the load of women so typically caught struggling under the weight of multiple bags as they travel from the house to the gym/studio, office, dinner, and everything in between.
A Sparro Carry-All isn’t a gym bag, a work tote, laptop case or dirty laundry carrier … it’s an intricately engineered single-stop solution for all of these bags combined!
How did the idea for your business first come about?*
The Sparro story began when a Hong Kong (HK) adventure presented itself in late 2014. Originally from Melbourne, I’ve spent the last three years living in HK with my partner – a fellow Aussie working for a large multinational company.
Before relocating, my week days were like that of many busy, working women. I was up and out of the house before sunrise, running or in the gym before heading to work. For me, exercise was critical. I needed it not only for my physical health, but to keep my mind in a good, balanced place. My morning workouts were like quality therapy sessions!
With this AM routine, I typically found myself showering at work or the gym. I’d leave home every day carrying clothes, shoes, toiletries, a hair dryer, laptop, keys, earphones, my wallet, breakfast, lunch, snacks, stuff … lots of STUFF, and lots of bags. My life in bags!
Upon settling into HK life, I quickly realised this regime was truly universal. Every busy, fitness-focused working woman I came across was carrying her life in bags. Moreover, we were all making a frustrating compromise between form and function. We’d either be using a stylish assortment of bags that looked good but were functionally useless, or an armful of functional bags that were, well, daggy.
The more fashionable bags would break under the weight of the 'life'; offering little or no room for sweaty post-workout apparel, while the more functional options were masculine or a bit ugly. Surprisingly, none appeared to be designed with women in mind (umm ... where do I put my steaming hot hair straighter or protect my lovely patent pumps?!)
So, therein lies the essence of Sparro. My vision is to create a range of genuine, yet stylish carry-alls that consolidate the many bags we typically carry from workout to work, and everything in between.
When did you have a ‘f*ck-it moment’ and decide you were going to go all-in and start your business?*
I am not sure it was a single f*ck-it moment as such. Perhaps more an increasing frustration that i was STILL carrying three bags everyday, and the subsequent realisation that there was a genuine gap in the market. Living in HK also presented an incredibly unique opportunity, so i think the stars simply aligned.
That said, Sparro would have remained a mere idea in my head had I not listened to the gentle words of encouragement (ahem, one ginormous shove!) from my partner who suggested I begin by simply putting my idea on paper. After a few false starts, those ideas eventually turned into a design brief, and from there the business plan, and once I had a compelling business case, it felt almost risky to not jump in before someone else did!
What were some major challenges you had when starting your business? And how did you overcome them?*
Let’s be honest, when starting a business, there appears to be a challenge at almost every step! Some are minor, and with quick hustle, a little tap dancing and google as your friend, you can play on. Others are MUCH bigger and are usually accompanied by tears and some serious confidence wobbles!
The biggest challenge was during was during a three week stint with our manufacturing partners overseeing our first production run. I was solo, without a translator (what was I thinking?!) and managing quality control issues that ultimately could have sunk us before we even launched. The experience challenged me on pretty much every level. Alone, navigating cultural differences, communicating essentially via a game of charades, and faced with a new challenge at every turn … not to mention the added pressure of having spent 40 years of savings to start the business in the first place? It was a seriously intense few weeks and I returned home feeling pretty broken.
I’m almost positive, that had I experienced this in my corporate life, I would have demanded support to be sent from HQ immediately! Alas, as is the reality of startup life, I had no choice but to have a solid cry, call home for a virtual hug every night, and somehow find another layer of resilience to keep going.
What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?*
Great question. There have been many moments over the past few months that have been genuinely thrilling. However I think the website ‘going live’ and our subsequent first sale would have to be up there with the best.
While launching the website ultimately only marked the ‘start’, the 12 months prior had required so many solo decisions, deep breaths, gut trusting and leaps of faith, that to finally see it all come to life was quite the moment. I was incredibly proud of the debut collection and it was a real thrill to finally unveil and share.
The sale of our first Sparro Carry-All was also an amazing feeling. I have no doubt that many Founders remember the name of their very first customer. I will certainly never forget ours!
… and of course, that time Kayla Itsines emailed to say she loved Sparro, and then featured us in a post!
Starting a business can be gruelling - what keeps you motivated, and keeps you going?
Running! While living in Hong Kong, I really struggled to run – the climate was not at all conducive. I definitely noticed the difference in my emotional and physical wellbeing. Upon relocating to Chicago (late Oct 2017), I quickly remembered how much more productive, happy and motivated I am when I’m able to get outdoors to clear the head each day.
Over the past 18months, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting and working with some incredibly talented and wonderful people. Being able to choose who I work with is by far my most favourite thing about what I do now. I have zero tolerance for big egos and hot air and such personalities in the corporate world had definitely worn me down over the years! Thus surrounding myself with positive and lovely people, who work hard and strive for excellence has been a joy and truly motivating.
How do you create a work-life balance?
Merging work and home life has definitely required some navigating. Finding a way to relax in the same space as that of my office is tricky.
Living overseas and away from family and friends has also made things tough at times too. As I’m sure all League members know, running your own business can be all consuming - particularly the early days. So while living away has afforded me solid focus time when i’ve needed it most, I’ve definitely missed my nearest and dearest. Those special people who provide easy company, and importantly, are able to pull you out of a tailspin when you’ve clearly spent WAY too much time alone in your own head!
I’m slowly realising that routine, exercise and sleep ARE important (the books don’t lie!). I’ve found my most productive and successful days are the ones with those boxes ticked.
However, when I’m feeling a bit flat working at home, I like to get myself out of the house and work from one of the many brilliant cafes in and around the city (be it in Chicago or Melbourne). It’s actually my happiest and most productive work space – the hustle of a busy café, great food and endless cups of tea.