An Oakleigh-based clothing label that helps protect women from the sun has earned one of Australia’s top small business awards.
Honeybell Waterwear was recently named the Champion New Business at the Australian Small Business Champion Awards, the only national awards program to recognise small businesses.
The win was a surprise for Honeybell Waterwear founder Annaliese Allen, whose business had only been in operation for seven months at the time of receiving the award.
“I was beyond thrilled,” Allen said of her win.
The mother-of-two said the award nomination process was difficult because it forced her to truly reflect on herself and her business.
“Those first six months (of running the business), I was working unbelievable hours – and all at unusual times around nap time and around children’s schedules,” she said.
“There are so many success stories in the media about mumpreneurs rocking it out and doing really well. But a lot of those stories don’t show the amount of hard work, grit and determination it takes to launch a business. A lot of mums are afraid to talk about the realities.”
For Allen, the hard work began on a family holiday to Coffs Harbour where she recalls sitting on the beach with a towel over her shoulders to protect her skin from the harsh Australian sun.
“When you become a mum your attitude towards sun safety dramatically changes,” she said.
“I really thought I should be doing better, setting a better example. I came to the realisation that I needed to look after myself too.”
Allen came up with an idea to create a rashie that women could wear and feel confident in.
She researched suppliers, found fashion and print designers, and sketched designs of a rash vest for women that was stylish, flattering and comfortable to wear.
As an advocate of supporting women in business, Allen only hired Australian women to help bring her products to life.
It took about 16 months of planning and production before Honeybell Waterwear officially launched in September 2016, and the journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
“I think the hardest thing is probably just being on your own a lot,” Allen said.
“When I worked in a corporate environment there was always someone to pat your back or chat things over with. When you start out on your own and work on a business during children’s nap time, at weekends and around the kids, there was never anyone around to keep me accountable or give me the encouragement to keep going.”
Allen found solace in online groups formed to encourage mums in business. It was here that she connected with other women, networked and found the support she needed.
Moving into the first year of business, Allen enlisted the help of a business coach to ensure her clothing label would continue to head in the direction that she wanted.
Currently, Allen has stopped advertising her business while it’s “off season” and is using the time to focus on other areas of her business without the distraction of sales and advertising.
“I’m using this time to learn and improve things like my customer service experience and website conversions,” Allen said.
For the next six to 12 months Allen will continue to focus on her core product range and “do them well”.
“They’re classic cuts in classic colours so can last season after season,” she said.
The label’s most popular item is the shirt-dress which offers a modern twist on a 1950’s classic rashie dress. Designed with clean lines, the dress features long sleeves, a slimming tie at the waist and subtle front buttons. Not only is it a smart choice when spending time in the sun, the practical design will take you from the beachside to a casual dinner in comfort.
For Allen, her mission is greater than offering women stylish outdoor wear.
“With two in every three Australians being diagnosed with skin cancer, we all know the importance of sun protection, but the answer is not as simple as telling women to wear a rash vest,” she said.
“Traditional rash vests are unflattering so this message has not been resonating with women who are body or fashion conscious. Recognising that sun protective clothing is only helpful if you wear it, I set out to design something that will make women want to wear it.”
Allen’s goal is to play a part in turning around Australia’s very scary skin cancer statistics.
“I’m giving women the opportunity to be fashionable and sun smart – a more positive angle on the sun smart message,” she said.
View the full Honeybell Waterwear range here.