Heidi Carter, female entrepreneur and Founder of popular resort wear label Paddo to Palmy, grew up on Sydney’s North Shore. At 21 she graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney. Unable to find a job in finance she worked for a media agency before transferring to Singapore a few years later.
On returning to Sydney, Carter launched an interiors blog documenting the renovation of her houses in Paddington and Palm Beach. Quickly identifying a gap in the market for Moroccan decor, she launched her own interiors business.
“I like to mix old with new, and bright cobalt hues with yellows to create a Moroccan minimalist style.”
Facing high shipping and logistics costs, and having identified another gap in the market – this time for elegant, high quality and flattering womenswear without the Chanel price-tag – her strategy shifted to fashion design. What she lacked in experience she made up for in passion, drive and business savvy and, after a very steep learning curve, Paddo to Palmy now enjoys a cult following amongst international style bloggers, including Anna Mavridis and A Pair & A Spare.
Mixing classic with Parisian boho – think Côte d’Azur meets Jackie Kennedy – Carter’s eye for exquisite fabric, meticulous design and feminine silhouettes sets the label apart. Try pouring over the website and you’ll realise how difficult it is to choose just one dress! I had no option but to buy two (Positano and Take Me To The Louvre) plus three earmarked for next pay day.
I caught up with this super chilled, talented and stylish mother of two to chat about her challenges and wins as a female entrepreneur in the fashion world & to learn the secret to designing a dress which fits me perfectly around the boobs.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
After high school, I was offered a scholarship to do a Bachelor of Agriculture & Economics. I thought I wanted to do futures trading – I don’t know why! I always wanted to be an interior designer or a fashion designer but I didn’t think I was good enough or cool enough. And, I knew those kind of jobs were a dime a dozen. I always wanted to have my own business, which is why a commerce degree made sense. I ended up studying a Bachelor Commerce at University of Sydney majoring in marketing and economics.
If I could give my 18-year-old self advice it would be to back myself and study fashion.
What motivated the launch of Paddo to Palmy?
After having the kids there were a few years where I struggled. I knew I had it in me to create my own business, I just needed to come up with the idea and execute it. I felt the pressure to not just be a stay-at-home mum.
Who is the Paddo to Palmy woman?
A love of travel would have to be a common thread amongst our customers, they want easy, un-complicated clothing which will make them feel chic and comfortable in any destination.
What has been your greatest challenge so far as a female entrepreneur?
Definitely starting it! You hear about so many small businesses failing, especially in the fashion industry. When you design your first collection the pressure is so immense. There are so many elements that you have to nail: fabric selection, print development, ensure you have the perfect cut and that your grading is spot on. Then the marketing and business side is a whole separate set of skills…gosh when I look back I really don’t know how I mustered up the courage to start the business in the first place so I guess that would be my greatest achievement (family aside of course!)
When you design your first collection the pressure is immense.
What do you wish you had known before launching Paddo to Palmy and becoming a female entrepreneur?
I wish that I had some formal work experience in a fashion house, I have had to research everything on my own and rely on outsourcing experts which has been costly in terms of time and money. I really wish I had studied graphic design!
How do you schedule in time for the business & time with your family?
It’s definitely a balance and a challenge everyday. But we, as a family, all get more out of having this business than not. I, myself, I’m happier with a creative outlet. Without it, it’s not pretty!
I, myself, I’m happier with a creative outlet.
Any spare time I get I use to create a new style. I take inspiration from ladies on the street and when travelling I am always looking at the details of clothes, If I see an interesting finish or textile/colour combination the camera is never far away!
I am not saying it’s not hard work – it is!
Do your friends rally around you and your business?
Because I come from a commerce background, with no fashion experience, my friends constantly ask me “how are you doing this so well?” When you are so passionate about something it’s not really work – I am not saying it’s not hard work – it is! A lot of my friends have their own businesses so understand the blood and sweat that goes into them.
You seem like the quintessential effortlessly chic Parisian on holiday. How would you describe your personal style?
Relaxed and, hopefully, chic! I don’t like to be too polished and shiny, I am a stickler for natural fibres I will always opt for linen and cashmere. I guess my style is a little bit Parisian with a boho twist.
Balance is difficult to come by these days. How do you manage to chill out with a thriving business and two kiddos?
I’ll go for a run and a swim at the beach and then walk back home.
Do you think your girls will follow in your creative footsteps or follow the pack to university?
Ella (9) is obsessed with Harry Potter and wants to go to wizard school and has dreams of being a film director or a makeup artist. Gisele (7) is going to invent a flying car.
A lot of my friends enjoy the corporate world but I would never go back.
Would you ever dip back into the advertising world?
A lot of my friends enjoy the corporate world but I would never go back. These days everyone has so many different careers. I’m going to have this career for the next 20 years so I’m going to invest in it. This summer I’ve enrolled in a fashion course at Central St Martin’s, London.
The fashion industry gets a pretty bad rap for being b****y. What is your take on the politics of the fashion industry?
I’m lucky to have amazing customers who are loyal so I don’t need to focus too much on the politics of the fashion industry. I may not be making Vogue shoots but I have a really good business and I’m just happy to make beautiful dresses that our customers feel beautiful in.
I admire and look up to all female entrepreneurs as it truly is a 24/7 juggle.
Do you have a role model or a particular female entrepreneur who you look up to?
I admire and look up to all female entrepreneurs as it truly is a 24/7 juggle between your passion for your business and caring for the loves in your life – your family. Aerin Lauder and Tory Burch to me are the bee’s knees: they have built incredible empires when they could have easily sat back and whittled away their inherited fortunes.
What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
- Product – Make sure you are offering something way better and different than the existing offering.
- “Stop, collaborate and listen” – Speak to as many industry experts as possible, their advice is priceless as they have most likely already made the mistakes that you are about to!
- Passion – It is very cliché, but without it there is no way I could have endured those bad days/weeks that all business owners have.
Aerin Lauder and Tory Burch to me are the bee’s knees: they have built incredible empires when they could have easily sat back and whittled away their inherited fortunes.
What’s your pet hate?
Mean Girls! As my Mum would say its just as easy to be nice as it is to be nasty.
How do you juggle family demands and a successful business?
Thankfully I have a very supportive husband and Mother who happens to live with us and is pretty much my right hand man (or woman!) in running the business, there is no way I could run the business and family without her!
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Gosh…tricky question!! I love the honesty that Jennifer Lawrence portrays. My daughters also love her from her roles in Hunger Games!
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Coffee and ocean swims, preferably in that order!
What’s your favourite breakfast haunt in Sydney?
We love Dunbar House down at Watsons Bay – the kids play on the beach at the front whilst waiting for their scrambled eggs! Doesn’t get much better than that!
Do you have creative juices that need squeezing??? Perhaps you have considered changing career paths? Tell us all in the comments below.
Paddo to Palmy
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