Making a career out of your passion project has become the ultimate modern day aspiration - a way to make work not
feel like work and live your best life. But despite all the online success stories we scroll past, which frankly make it
seem easy, the reality is actually much more complex.
In an effort to uncover exactly what it takes to do just that, we asked five incredibly inspirational Australian
entrepreneurs - all at different stages in their careers - to share their business making journeys so far.
We delved deep into the reality of creating something from nothing; the strength and perseverance necessary to get
through the lows and the highs. And how they wrapped their heads around the heavier stuff, like writing a business
plan and managing finances, and of course the impact of all of that on their fabulous lifestyles.
Find your niche and run with it — Monika Nakata founder of Parfemme Magazine (and Oyster Magazine)
Sabina Mckenna: What do you think people should know before starting their own Ecommerce store?
Monika Nakata: It’s really important to understand the market you want to get into, who their demographic is and how
to communicate to them. You need to develop an audience that trusts you and a lot of the time people have really
interesting and insightful feedback. So developing a relationship with your customers and knowing who they are is
very important, because if they're happy with what you're doing, their word of mouth is going to be a very powerful
Sabina McKenna: What do you think the key is to establishing a niche audience or idea?
Monika Nakata: It's difficult to say. But I have always been someone who is interested in very specific markets or
demographics, mostly those that are relevant to myself. So everything in my business has been quite personal – I
never started a business to make money, I did it out of passion. So I know exactly who I want to appeal to. I have
always thought that if it doesn't appeal to millions of people, that's fine. So long as it's substantial within my niche.
Sabina Mckenna: What did you think was missing in the intimate health space that you wanted to fulfill with Par Femme?
Monica Nakata: The dialogue wasn't really open for women to talk about taboo subjects like periods, cycles, orgasms and sexual
health. We saw a huge opportunity to create a meaningful platform for women and wanted to create an online
shopping experience, with really good quality sex toys and accessories, which wasn’t really around at the time. Sex
shops were very seedy and had a lot of cheap products, with terrible unsafe ingredients, so we wanted to create a
space that people could trust and appreciate that we had done the work.
Sabina Mckenna: How did starting Par Femme impact your own experience as a woman?
It definitely sparked a journey of discovery for myself. It opened my eyes to many things I wasn’t aware of and I had
so much passion for the content we were building around it. The more I connected with women and industry
professionals around sexual and intimate wellness, I felt even more affirmed that it would have a great impact...
Start and scale by focusing on doing one thing first, and doing it well — Daniel Jianing, hairdresser and
teacher at USFIN Atelier.
Sabina Mckenna: What do you think has been most helpful for growing the business so far?
Daniel Jianing: When we started, our initial vision was for a hair salon and floral design studio (my partner Gina is a
Florist). But eventually the hairdressing became really popular, and it got to a point where we were struggling to fit in
clients. So we decided to just focus on one aspect only, which was such a big milestone.
Trying to focus on too many different things was making us lose focus and we were generally stressed and
overworked [so it was hard to move forward and grow]. So we realised it’s much better to focus on the core things
first, then once you succeed with that, you can expand.
Sabina McKenna: Collaboration is an aspect you expanded into. How did you make that happen?
Daniel Jianing:It came quite organically. Because even though our core business is hairdressing, when we are looking for inspiration for hair we tend to look at art, music or fashion design - sometimes even natural landscapes
and architecture. That way we find our hairdressing also becomes very inclusive and diverse—not for a specific type
of gender or preference, but rather something broad like art. So with that we organically reached certain clients who
are artists or designers or in the creative industry, which resulted in collaborations and a community of clients who
love art too.
Sabina McKenna: Why did you want to make the salon genderless?
Daniel Jianing: We really think being genderless is essential for any modern hair salon and wanted to create an
environment that is safe and non-judgemental for everyone. I’ve had experiences in other hair salons where I felt
intimidated, perhaps because of how I looked or what I was wearing that day. So I wanted to create a salon
environment in which no matter what your preference or style is; we can help you enhance how beautiful you are,
rather than judge what kind of style we think you should wear. We believe everyone is beautiful by themselves - that’s
why we think having a genderless salon is so important.
Do the financial paperwork: research, track and have a plan before you start — Agnes Choi, designer at Pach
Sabina Mckenna: How did you approach finances when you were starting Pach Project?
Agnes Choi: Obviously at the start of the process, you don't really have any cash flow, which is something I feel isn’t
talked about much. So financially it was such a struggle sometimes. Pretty much whatever money I made from work I
do, I put into the business. And even then, I had to be so strict. There isn’t a lot of funding for small business owners
out there, so me trying to compensate for that and doing a lot of the work myself was definitely a more exhausting
Sabina McKenna: How long was the process of figuring that all out?
Agnes Choi: All the research took about a year and a half before I had even started designing. I didn’t have external
investors or a team, so I decided to make a huge Excel spreadsheet to keep track of absolutely every step in the
process, from design and pattern making to fabric and production costs. From that I was able to figure out all of the
different costs and how much we would need to retail something for. It was pretty daunting overall, but if you do that
at the beginning, you'll know exactly how much of everything you can afford and your business will be better for it.
Sabina McKenna: Was it easy to make sure every step of that process was sustainable, as well as the
Agnes Choi: The industry makes it so difficult to do things sustainably - it is such a shock. You go to the effort to find
the best quality material and make sure none of it goes into landfill and then you have all these off cuts. It's insane.
There are also super high minimums; [and other prohibitive things like] patterns calculated at a fee per piece and
things like that. So in terms of budgeting my approach became to use the skills I have first and then put money into
the areas I couldn’t do. We repurpose a lot too and ask for all the off-cuts back from the manufacturers. So if you
think about it, that way we are actually getting free fabric back.
Sabina McKenna: Did you learn any business aspects at university?
Agnes Choi: Not really, but I didn’t mind teaching myself because it meant I could figure it out and do it my own way
instead of adapting to industry standards that we don't really know where originated. A lot of the time [existing ways of
doing things] don’t cater to a more circular aspect of fashion anyway. You really need to have the ability to criticise,
and analyse how things work. And then decide what you should be doing.
Preserve time and space for your creative practice to still be a creative practice, outside of the business –
Raenee Sydney, Ceramicist at Rainy BB World.
Sabina Mckenna: What has been the most challenging aspect of running your business so far?
Raenee Sydney: with anything it's hard to have that separation between something being work and something being
a creative output. Finding that middle ground has been challenging. When I’m busy with orders I don’t feel inspired to
make anything new, because I don't have time to think creatively about new colours, or styles. That's been the
hardest thing, setting aside time for myself to just let myself be creative rather than making mugs and bowls to sell.
Sabina McKenna: I think a lot of people struggle with that. We're told that the goal should be to make our
dreams into a job. But does that take the enjoyment out of it?
Raenee Sydney: Exactly. At the end of the day I'm my own boss, I can give myself a little more. So that kind of makes
up for it - I’m pretty lucky that I can go and make stuff day-by-day [rather than all at once], and if I need a break or
want to go to the beach in the morning I can because I'm not tied to a set structure.
Sabina McKenna: When did you decide to turn your ceramic into a business for the first time?
Raenee Sydney: I was working for this store in Sydney during lockdown doing customer service and lots of online
stuff. I was going to the studio on the weekend and after work too, but it wasn't very fulfilling.
Eventually I thought—we can't go out, we can't do anything - why am I spending all this time at this job, when I can
push myself with my ceramics? At that stage I had a really good response from friends and had market stalls that
were well received. So I thought if I'm not working, I'll have a reason to be way more focused on my ceramics to turn
it into something bigger.
Sabina McKenna: Where did you start?
Raenee Sydney: It started when I realised I needed to get rid of my stuff haha. I sold my first few pieces as samples
or seconds to friends through my Instagram. After that I started a small store on Big Cartel, and eventually that grew
into me knowing that if I make stuff people will buy it and that means I can keep making stuff. But as with any hobby,
ceramics are really expensive so I think it was also a way for me to keep affording to do it.
Sabina McKenna: Did you do any marketing or was it just word of mouth?
Raenee Sydney: I’ve always had somewhat of an Instagram presence, and I don't think I would be where I am now if
I didn't. When I first started selling my ceramics, I wanted to make it anonymous. But then I thought, why am I trying
to fight this thing? It'll help you. So now I’m grateful that I have that platform and work with it.
Embrace your personal brand as a unique point of difference — Nina Ratsaphong, founder of Extra Silky hair
Sabina Mckenna: What did you want to fulfill with Extra Silky that other salons weren't providing?
Nina Ratsaphong: I wanted to help people achieve being their true self. The salon has really become a safe space for
everyone who visits and I feel so happy that we get so many different walks of life through the door. Our clients are
every person you can imagine - and they all just want to have good hair. Having a space that people feel comfortable
in to get a crazy colour or a gender affirming cut, and not have to feel inferior, is so important to me.
Sabina McKenna: You’ve definitely become known for that — such a big aspect of the salon is built around
your personal profile and the creative community that you have. How has that contributed to the business?
Nina Ratsaphong: Extra Silky really is an extension of all my other interests. In the past we've had awesome dance
parties which have been such a fun vibe. Those kinds of things are so important to me and our amazing community,
[as much as doing great hairstyling]. We all have so much in common so I think by making it more than just a salon
everyone feels super comfortable and wants to be there often, because you have like minded hairdressers and like
minded people sitting in the chair next to you. That makes me so happy.
Sabina McKenna: Do you think having a personal brand attached to whatever you're doing is important?
Nina Ratsaphong: It's definitely something to consider. Everyone has some sort of core values that they should want
to bring to their business. It's not just about business, it's about who we are as people. So I would definitely say
portraying that through your businesses is something to prioritise for sure.
Sabina McKenna: What was the catalyst moment that made you want to make Extra Silky happen?
Nina Ratsaphong: I knew I was ready because I was working pretty much full-time with salon clients, then I had a
whole base of friends that I would groom in my own time too. At one point I was working six days a week with my own
clientele and was like, wait a minute, this is much more of my passion and like minded people. So I took it upon
myself to work towards having my own space and eventually my own business. It took like a while, maybe six months or a year, to build up and get the confidence to do it.
Sabina McKenna: That's not that long! What was the key to doing it so fast?
Nina Ratsaphong: I'm fortunate enough to be really close with my old bosses in Melbourne at FUR and so I could ask
them for advice when I needed it. I was a manager for them so I knew the ins and outs of running a business well.
But with everything else I winged it: business, finance, insurance. All that stuff—I don’t even remember, but it was just
figuring things out.
It’s all about a mix of tapping into what you already know from over the years and then talking things out with people,
and realising: oh, you need public liability insurance, and getting it. It's not that complicated.
Follow our business creators here: Daniel Jianing @usfinatelier, Nina Ratsaphong: @extrasilky Monika Nakata:
@parfemme, Raenee Sydney @rainybbworld, Agnes Choi: @pachproject