Clarita Farrugia

City: Melbourne

Business: Tom-Boi Online Shop

What: Tom-Boi is a Melbourne-based fashion label born from frustration of a fashion industry that keeps clothes almost always gender specific. Designed specifically for ‘the boi in every girl’, we take action by providing clothes for women who want the style of men’s fashion.

What was the catalyst for you launching your business?

The motivation behind starting Tom-Boi came from my love of men’s clothing. There were many men’s fashion pieces I adored and would want for myself, but they never fit that well on a woman’s body. I also knew many other women who experienced the same. There was a gap in the market, and with absolutely no fashion or business knowledge, I decided to fill it.

At the time, I was working as a secondary school P.E. teacher, and in this role I was constantly exposed to teenage girls with body image issues, struggling with their own sense of self against society’s image of how a woman should look and dress.  Thus, Tom-Boi was built upon the message of empowering women to be anything they want to be and wear whatever makes them happiest.

From this evolved a fascination with the word ‘tomboy’ and a desire for it to be representative of a female who is free from the restrictions of social gender rules. If you think about what a tomboy is, really it is just a girl who isn’t afraid to do what she wants to do, despite what society says she should do or how she should behave. I think we all have an inner tomboy and we are here to hear them roar!

So from these idealistic beginnings, Tom-Boi was born!

What do you love most about what you do now?

I love that I get to be part of all areas of the business, so every day is different from the last and I am always learning something new and exciting.

Mostly though, it lights me up to be able to provide a product that women want but have never been able to have – Australia’s first and ONLY women’s boxer brief – while simultaneously creating a brand that makes people who are part of it feel like they belong to a wider community of empowered women, aka tomboys.

Describe the biggest setback you faced when establishing your business? How did it affect you and how did you push through?

Firstly, I started a fashion label with next to no starting capital, and secondly, I started with NO experience in any area of business, fashion, marketing or sales.  As I said earlier, I left my job as a P.E. teacher and took a chance. It has been two years of steep learning and really thinking outside the square to generate exposure.

It’s not easy staying motivated when you’re on a shoestring and results are slow-coming. Whenever I find myself in a slum, I think about the greater purpose behind Tom-Boi and find I am encouraged to keep persevering knowing that this is bigger than me.

A well placed PR campaign resulted in attracting an entrepreneur, Hayley Barrett, to invest in and become a partner in the business. Realising that people believe in the brand and want to get behind it has really helped to overcome the challenges that come with starting on a shoestring.

Everyone has days where they feel flat or uninspired - do you have any tricks or tactics for overcoming these feelings?

For sure, there were many days, especially at the beginning, when there was so much to learn and do while I was still working full-time. For me I find that my 9am “Quote of The Day” app is really helpful (never underestimate the power of a good quote) and is mostly the boost I need.

Taking a step back and remembering that there are bigger and more important things in life and that this is just what I am doing at the moment. I accept that I will not enjoy every aspect of what I am doing and that a down moment or day will pass, as they always do – so just keep swimming!

What is the most courageous thing you've done in business?

Leaving the comfort of a secure teaching career to jump head first into the completely unknown world of fashion designer/business owner with no fashion background, business knowledge, business partner or capital. This is all about the dream!

Words of Wisdom / Personal Quote

Every mistake is a lesson or part of life’s master plan to take you in a different direction so always keep an eye out for why something isn’t happening the way you imagined and just go with it. Some of Tom-Boi’s signature styles come from mistakes in communication with our manufacturer! Who knows, your next accident might be the next biggest thing.

Also be curious about everything!