Southpoint Teaser Masthead

Vivien Mitchell: The mother of reinvention

Catherine Russell

“What am I doing reinventing my life?” Vivien Mitchell ponders aloud as she leans into the self doubt that so often threatens to drown an idea and scuttle a dream.

When the lights and cameras are on the runway for this year’s Fashfest, it will mark the transformation of a woman from public servant to designer.

Everything has led her to this moment. The childhood entrepreneurial flair of two girls staging concerts for the neighbourhood, the resilience only a mother-of-five could possess, the creativity that has been her calling her whole life and the loss of loved ones to whom she owes so much in the life still before her.

This is it — a now or never moment — impelled by an idea some six years before on a beach on North Stradbroke Island that has led to the design and production of a new fashion offering to be unveiled at Canberra’s Fashfest.

“When my friend and business associate said to me recently, ‘You can get a job anywhere, anytime, but you only have until May to change your life’ I knew right then, I had to quit my job and bring this concept to life. I’ve had that line printed out and stuck on my fridge in these weeks leading to Fashfest,” says Vivien reflecting on the journey to this point.

“Since January, I’ve gone from concept, to textile design, to production, and now being ready to see my designs on the runway for opening night (13 May) at Fashfest. I am honoured and thrilled to be selected for Fashfest, it has given me a clear focus and an all-important deadline to bring a concept to reality.”

In launching her first collection, Vivien set the bar pretty high with a tight timeframe, where every part of the fashion industry was new to her and she needed to learn fast and adapt quickly.

“I think creativity was once considered a lesser way to achieve, but there is a new appreciation for design, expression and art and what creativity brings not only to our culture but to our economy – you can see that at Fashfest,” she says.

“It was a powerful moment when this creative idea arrived and it never left me. It really was an epiphany on the beach, I know it sounds like a cliché. At the time my children were very little, I had only just gone back to work and I had not the faintest clue or resources to make it happen.”

But to those who know Vivien, it was just a matter of time before she discovered the ‘know how’ had been there all along.

A natural business woman, Vivien had run creative micro businesses in calligraphy and wedding photography in Sydney and Perth and most recently combined motherhood, school runs, university studies and being a parent representative on the Telopea Park School Board with a day job behind the scenes of some of the biggest events in Canberra.

As senior partnerships manager for Centenary of Canberra, she managed the VIP events for Canberra’s 100th birthday as well as the incredibly successful Windows to the World cultural experience delivered through 35 embassies and high commissions and attracting more than 35,000 people.

“The thing that has kept me going when ask myself ‘what am I doing’ is knowing that I am setting a great example for my children, particularly my daughter, in showing them that women can achieve great results by following their passion.

“My mother started her business at the age of 50 and she proved to be very business-savvy. I wanted to honour her by establishing a business, something that would make her proud. This idea just wouldn’t let me go of me.”

As Vivien gets ready to launch her label, Solar Bare, she says the feeling of ‘winging it’ is subsiding. Her determination and dedication to bring her concept to life and to launch a new business will see her join the total wave of women entrepreneurs in Australia. This will no doubt be the first of many collections for Canberra’s newest designer. May the reinvention of Vivien continue and may we get a front row seat to that runway to draw inspiration from the drive, creativity and self belief that makes an idea a reality.

Fashfest is being held at the National Convention Centre 13 to 16 May. Tickets on sale now at

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell is enthralled by public affairs in Canberra and the world at large; the issues that impact people from all walks of life; start memorable dinner party debates; fuel politics; create our advocates; and drive social media commentary. Consultant, mother and partner Catherine presents the HerCanberra perspective on the headlines. More about the Author