NAME: Rachel Wells
COMPANY: The Hood
TITLE(S): Co-founder The Hood and freelance journalist
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Empathetic. Unassuming. Determined. Honest. Self-deprecating.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I grew up in a small country town called Cobram, which is up on the Murray River, in northern Victoria. I have an older brother and a twin sister, Natasha, (who is also my business partner). At the age of 18, Tash and I both moved to Melbourne to study.
From a pretty young age, I had my heart set on being a journalist. (Jana Wendt was my childhood idol). So I went off and did a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in professional writing and communication studies. While Tash studied advertising.
My first job out of uni was with an economic forecasting group called IbisWorld where I wrote daily business news briefs and industry reports for their clients, which included the big corporates and government agencies. It was a great company to work for but a career in journalism was still calling.
On the weekends I would go into the now defunct Sports Weekly magazine, which was owned by Pacific Magazines, and tap in AFL footy results and the odd sports brief. Not long after, New Idea’s publisher (also owned by Pacific) was looking for an assistant. I was given the role with a handshake-promise of a journalism cadetship (traineeship) within the year.
After a short stint as the publisher’s assistant I began my training in earnest and was appointed New Idea’s beauty writer. By the time I left 2.5 years later, I was the magazine’s beauty editor.
My departure co-incided with New Idea’s relocation to Sydney. I had the opportunity to move with the magazine, but figured if I was going to move, I may as well head to London. Tash was working in advertising over there and it was an exciting time for a journalist with lots of start-up websites and online newspapers and magazines.
I lived and worked in London as a freelance writer for just over a year, in between stints travelling throughout Europe, and returned to Melbourne in August 2000, just as The Age newspaper was looking for a fashion writer. Talk about timing. I started there about a month after I returned home and there I stayed for 15 years.
During that time I took on a variety of different rounds, including fashion editor of The Sunday Age, arts and entertainment reporter, consumer affairs reporter and general news reporter. I feel incredibly blessed to have worked for such an amazing newspaper and with so many talented people for so many years,
However, at the end of last year I decided to leave The Age, just four months after returning from maternity leave (I have a two-year-old son). An opportunity to take up a voluntary redundancy presented itself and it felt like the right time for a change. And then there was The Hood.
In August last year, while I was still on maternity leave, Tash and I launched The Hood. The Hood is a premium lifestyle brand with a social conscience. Our statement tees and sweaters give a supportive shout-out to the motherhood and the greater sisterhood and a percentage of all our sales go to not-for-profit organisation, COPE – Centre of Perinatal Excellence – which works to improve the emotional wellbeing of new parents.
The Hood came about through a real passion Tash and I both share for supporting the motherhood, and in particular, the need for having really honest conversations about just how challenging it can be. We really felt there was a need for a voice and a premium, trend-driven brand that spoke to women and let them know they weren’t alone on this rollercoaster of a ride.
Through our own experiences as sleep-deprived, time-deprived mums who were prone to meltdowns that would rival any two-year-old’s (sleep deprivation and the 24-hour demands of a tiny human, or three, will do that to you) we found that while people were willing to share all the great bits about being a parent, there was a reluctance to talk about the really challenging bits.
Don’t get me wrong, we love being mums and feel extremely blessed to have four healthy children between us. However, despite what social media would have us believe – it isn’t always picture-perfect.
We like to think of our statement tees as a fashionable and wearable pep talk to the sisterhood, as well as conversation starters that hopefully prompt more honest discussions about motherhood.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do? I am the co-founder of The Hood – a premium lifestyle brand that gives a supportive shout-out to the motherhood and the greater sisterhood. Currently, our core business is fashionable statement tees with a conscience. A percentage of our profits go to COPE – Centre of Perinatal Excellence – which works to improve the emotional wellbeing of new parents. I also work as a freelance journalist.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) No, not at all. Tash and I had, for a very long time, talked about starting a business together. But it felt very much like a pipedream. And we certainly had no concrete ideas or business plans. I’m not sure how far into the future I looked, but there was a time when I could never, ever have imagined leaving The Age. I loved that place and the work that I did. However, once I had a child that changed. My sister and I spent a lot of time talking about finding that elusive balance of juggling a career (and paying the bills) while still being able to spend time with our children while they were still so young. We were also spending a lot of time discussing why no one else was talking about how hard this motherhood gig really was. We became increasingly passionate about wanting to communicate with other women to let them know they weren’t alone. We felt the sisterhood needed an honest, unfiltered and supportive voice. Increasingly, we talked about launching a premium fashion-cum-lifestyle brand that actually stood for something. We would start by printing fashionable statement tees with supportive and tongue-in-cheek messages. I still remember the exact moment when we went “right, let’s stop talking about it and actually do this.” I was parked out the front of a café with my baby boy asleep in the back seat. Tash kindly ran out with a cup of takeaway coffee for me and declared she had the line for our first t-shirt design – “You Got This”. It was a statement that went to the heart of The Hood and one we knew would resonate with women. It is still our best-selling design.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? For me success feels like being able to juggle all your balls without dropping them too often. And to be honest, my idea of success has probably changed quite significantly over the years. In my 20s and early 30s, success meant having a great career. My biggest focus was on my job as a journalist – being a better one, getting more front-page stories, breaking more stories. Now it means so much more. Yes, it still means being a good journalist and a great business owner, but it also means being the best mum I can be to my two-year-old son, Jack, and it means being a good wife (not in the dutiful housewife sense but by talking and sharing and negotiating and trying to make it work), and making sure the house is (relatively) clean and dinner is cooked, and making time to see friends, and nurturing those friendships and relationships, as well as making time for myself. I guess success to me now is about finding balance between all of those things. Some days I feel successful and then I go and burn dinner.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) Professionally; I still have so many things I want to achieve. The Hood is still very young but we have really big plans for it. We have a whole heap of new products we are preparing to launch this year and some great people we are looking to collaborate with. So, we’re extremely excited about some of those opportunities.
We are also just beginning to expand our range so that it talks to the greater sisterhood more broadly. The motherhood is always going to be close to our hearts and at the core of what The Hood stands for, but we are keen to start designing more products for women in all stages of life. Our La Sororite tee, for example, which means ‘The Sisterhood’ in French, was really the beginning of that. Like the Samantha Wills Foundation, we really feel that having support from the sisterhood is so important, regardless of what’s happening in your life.
So our upcoming products will continue to be a bit of a pep talk for women and, of course, a bit of fun, but they will speak to a wider audience of women. We really feel like there is this groundswell of support among women at the moment. It’s exciting and we want to be a part of that.
Personally, I want to keep learning and growing so I can be a better mother, a better wife, a better business owner, a better writer, a better friend, sister and daughter. I also want learn to live more bravely. I am currently undertaking Brene Brown’s Living Brave e-course. The course is based around her two successful books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Basically, it explores what it means to embrace vulnerability, be brave and show up in our lives. I’m only a few weeks in, but already I’m learning a lot about how having the courage to be vulnerable and to speak our minds, with no guarantee of how it will be received, can help us to get more out of our lives and our relationships.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I completed a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in professional writing and communication studies. As far as BA’s go, it was actually quite practical and useful. Though there’s no question I learnt far more in the newsroom than I ever did in the classroom. In terms of my current role as a co-founder and co-director at The Hood, I haven’t had any formal training. My sister studied advertising and marketing which has been useful and my communication skills certainly help from a public relations point of view. The rest we are figuring out as we go.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? That’s a tough one. As a journalist, there is nothing like the thrill of breaking an important news story, particularly one that exposes wrongdoing; or being able to give someone with an extraordinary story a voice. And I do feel extremely proud that I was brave enough and passionate enough to chase my childhood dream of becoming a journalist. To have worked for one of Australia’s finest mastheads alongside some incredibly talented writers and photographers really is something to be proud of. I also feel proud and extremely privileged that as a freelance journalist I can continue to contribute to the public conversation. That is something I will never take for granted.
I am also very proud of what The Hood has done in its short time to help foster a community of support among the motherhood. In particular, I am proud of the #nofiltermum campaign we launched in conjunction with COPE – Centre of Perinatal Excellence – during Postnatal Depression Awareness Week in November last year. The aim of the campaign was to encourage women to post their real, unfiltered images and stories of motherhood on social media in the hope it would help other women feel less alone on their motherhood journey, and encourage women who were struggling with postnatal depression and anxiety to speak up and seek help. We printed #nofiltermum and #nofilter tees and sweaters and like all our products, a gold coin form every garment sold went to COPE to help support new parents. The response we have had has been beyond overwhelming – from national media outlets, influential bloggers, celebrities, and mums from all over the world. It’s been so successful that we have had to reorder more t-shirts and have added them to our permanent collection.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I work primarily from my home office. Though I also like to bring my Mac down to my local café from time to time. I find a change of scenery can get the creative juices flowing. And sometimes – when I’m working late – my bed – complete with laptop on my lap - becomes my temporary office. At other times, our office is Tash’s kitchen table, complete with kids hanging off us and/or squabbling over toys in the background. What I love most about my home office is the natural light. It’s amazing what a difference a bit of sunlight through the window can make. I also love the big, built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelf – I love being surrounded by books. Oh, and the fact it is literally 30 metres from my local café – for those frequent coffee runs.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? The biggest frustration I find is when someone tells you something can't be done. The flip side is that it motivates me to prove them wrong.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? I honestly can't remember the last time I cried because of work stresses. It's usually something more frivolous, like dropping and smashing my favourite tea cup. Mind you the tea cup tears are usually a culmination of the work load and the mothering load and the lack of sleep.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Absolutely. I think most of us do. However, I was a lot harder on myself when I was starting out because I was trying to make a name for myself and yet I still had a lot to learn. Now that I'm more sure of myself, and my skills and abilities, I don't put quite as much pressure on myself.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? Combining parenthood and running a business means Tash and I are both very good at juggling competing demands, switching hats and dealing with the unexpected. The beauty of running the business with my sister is that when one of us is compromised for family reasons, or whatever it might be, the other one is there to pick up the slack. Because we care about each other so much we always understand that whatever might be going on personally is far more important than the business.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? For a very long time, my work came before everything else and I did miss out on things from time. However, since becoming a mother, I have a lot more balance. In saying that, I often spend my evenings, once my son is in bed, working on The Hood, and that can mean I don't spend as much quality time with my husband as I should. Mind you, he's often working too.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Not at all. Tash and I have always felt so blessed to have each other. When you're a twin you never really feel alone. At least, that's been my experience. Now that we're in business together, it never feels lonely. I often ask people who are running a business on their own, how they do it. The work load is so much lighter when there are two of you and you also have that constant moral support as well which is just so important. And of course, you've always got someone to share the wins with. I can't imagine doing this on my own.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? When I was working at The Age, I would sometimes lay awake wondering if I had checked and double checked certain facts in a story - the spelling of someone's name, my dates, my figures, etc, etc. Now, even if I am worried about something, I'm generally too tired for it to keep me awake. Sleep is too precious these days.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? The only thing I wish I'd done from an earlier age, is back myself more. I've always had big dreams but when I was younger I probably didn't promote myself or sell myself as much as I should have. It's only now that I'm more confident in my capabilities and myself generally, I guess, that I'm prepared to be more forthright about what I want to achieve.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Don't be so hard on yourself. You don't have to be perfect. Back yourself. Oh, and you're gorgeous. I was so critical of myself. And yet now I look back at photos and think "wow, if I only I looked like that now".
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Mia Freedman - for all that she has achieved, all the while raising a family; Zoe Foster-Blake - for her business-savvy, humour and witty writing; Lisa Messenger – because she is such a go-getter; Dr Nicole Highett - the chief executive of COPE - for her tireless energy and commitment to championing and supporting the emotional needs of new parents; and Samantha Wills, not least because of her inspired, inspiring and amazingly generous foundation.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Positivity, humour, a can-do attitude, a heart for others.
Work life balance… Does it exist? and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? My experience has been that it is always a juggling act. I think I've got better at getting the balance right. In an ideal world that balance would be weighted towards the things we care about most.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Not yet. The Hood is still very young and we feel incredibly excited and encouraged by how it has been received so far. Of course, there are some days when Tash and I are trying to have a conversation about the business and the kids are tugging at us or screaming in the background or we're up working till midnight when our day started at 5.30am. But at the end of the day, we get an enormous amount of satisfaction out of what we do and hope that in some small way we are making a positive contribution to the sisterhood.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? It is hard to know how other people perceive us. But I think like many fashion brands and businesses, from the outside, it probably looks quite glamorous but there is a lot of hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? In terms of running a business or a social enterprise, if it is something you are really passionate about, give it a go. At least you won't die wondering. The beauty of the modern world of e-commerce is that you can now get a business off the ground without it costing you an arm and a leg. For journalists, network – so you can a) get work and b) get stories; write lots (even if it’s for peanuts to begin with); read lots; and be curious. You can never ask too many questions.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I'd do it all again in a heart beat but I'd be much kinder to myself along the way.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? Someone who cared. And someone who cared enough to chase their dreams.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Because we are so much stronger when we work together. I don't think I realised until I became a mother just how important the sisterhood is. At the very heart of The Hood is a passion for fostering an inclusive, non-judgmental and supportive community of women. After all, who wants to do this alone? Whether it's starting a business, forging a career or raising a family, we can all achieve so much more and cope so much better when we have that support around us.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
"If there is no way, create one."
"Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we're all in this together." Brene Brown
“The secret to having it all is knowing you already do. “
“To the ones who still believe in dreams: chase them. Chase them until you are out of breath. Then, keep running.”
“You Got This”