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Vivien Mitchell: Starting Out

Vivien Mitchell

For a few months after I left my day job, I wasn’t sure how to label my new way of life.

Was this home-based, thongs-wearing, keep-my-own-hours freedom legit? Was I an entrepreneur or a fashion designer? A textile designer or a start-up founder? Honestly, I didn’t feel like any of these things at first, as my operating environment was so different. Everything was new. I was a newbie in a few industries.

For a while it was liberating to have such flexibility and freedom in the way I worked. I could work with the dog curled up next to me and the cat purring around my legs, but there were so many tasks, it was pretty overwhelming and it was hard to know where to start. But that’s the thing, you just have to take the first step and keep on going.

We tend to settle into what is familiar and comfortable. We naturally play to our strengths and procrastinate over the tougher things. But with any start-up, you have to wear every hat, whether or not it suits you. For me, the creative part was exciting but very challenging. There were moments of revelation and a deep emotional connection to the designs. There were tears of frustration and exasperation.

Vivien Mitchell

Vivien Mitchell

I’m pretty sure that being a mum helped in all of this. I’ve spent nearly 22 years nurturing, guiding and encouraging my children through infancy, toddler and pre-school years, primary, high school and even university. Mother-in-supporting-role means that you are constantly looking for strengths and interests, watching for where avoidance or reluctance sets in, and then always being the coach to help them get through the barriers. I’ve seen my kids get a bit wobbly, and make negative statements such as, “I suck at maths”. There were times last year when I thought pretty much the same – that I suck at design.

Even with a mature approach to starting afresh, last year was both exhilarating and terrifying. I felt in- control-yet-exposed and optimistic-yet-vulnerable. Self-confidence is essential and intuition plays a big role when working with a blank canvas. A dear friend sent me a little motivational verse on creativity. “Creativity is a kind of learning process where the teacher and student reside in the same individual”.

Solar Bare's fashvests

Solar Bare’s fashvests

Working to a massive external deadline – Fashfest 2015 – gave me the drive to create and succeed. A fixed time-frame forced me to work up the designs and take them from concept to catwalk. This validated the idea of stylish sun protection in the world of fashion. What I didn’t know then was that I had developed a ‘minimum viable product’. The collection was the first step in product development.

Next was the Griffin Accelerator program, an intensive start-up school for early stage entrepreneurs. The idea had validation in a business context. Doors opened for Solar Bare. Access to a knowledge bank, through a network of mentors and experienced entrepreneurs and business people was just one part. The other enabled each of the teams to progress beyond an idea – ‘smart money’ – that is, investment that comes with many positive strings and active, professional support and guidance.

Solar Bare at Fashfest 2015

Solar Bare at Fashfest 2015

Starting out is tough. Being a sole founder can be isolating, especially if working from home and the novelty of uncertainty wears off. No income becomes a drag. You have to really want to follow your dream. It’s about purpose and desire. You’ve got to try to keep emotion out of the equation in the world of start-ups as there are so many critical decisions to be made. For female entrepreneurs, and perhaps in particular ones who are also mothers, this is difficult as your start-up is very much like another baby.

reef mix back view solar bare

Some of Solar Bare’s designs

You love and nurture it, and invest much of your soul and energy into shaping and growing it, but you have to be willing to listen to advice and take it onboard. In accelerator speak, this means you need to be coachable. One of my mentors, who has become a friend, reminded me that it “takes a village to raise a child”. Success is very much a team effort, and being surrounded by generous, talented and high achieving folk is vital in start-ups.

Their generosity of spirit and enthusiastic, or sometimes levelling feedback, help inform decision making and keep you going when it all seems too hard. So does the support of family and friends.

This last year has been very challenging, but I’ve pushed through my comfort zone to launch something new and unique. You have to remember to pause somewhere along the path and turn around to see how far you’ve come.

Solar Bare at Fashfest 2015

Solar Bare at Fashfest 2015

My new baby hasn’t reached its first birthday yet. The idea behind Solar Bare is that in re-imagining the rash vest to a fashvest – a marriage of fashion and rash vest – more people, in particular younger adults, will embrace sun wear as part of their beach kit. With this shift in culture, our beach and summer lifestyle can be enjoyed a little more safely.

Why compromise on style while being sun smart? One of the key things I learnt at the Griffin Accelerator was that you have to be able to pitch your story, and do it well and at any opportunity. Without pitching, our best ideas remain at a hobby level. Having the confidence and determination to get your concept or product out there is a huge step.

All images of Fashfest 2015 by Rebecca Doyle Photography


Vivien Mitchell

Vivien is a mother-of-five who values kindness and connection. She is an entrepreneur, founder and designer at Solar Bare, a boutique sun wear label that offers stylish sun protection with distinctive prints. In a previous life, she was snr partnerships manager at Centenary of Canberra and has also managed some high-profile events around town. She is a consultant on partnerships and development in the arts and has travelled the ‘long-goodbye’ Alzheimer’s path with her mum. She’s a creative soul who loves writing, photography, fashion (in particular vintage and op-shop finds), coffee, French champagne, Tasmanian sparklings, family and friends. Vivien tweets at @Viv54 and is on Instagram @54viv. More about the Author

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