Hand-crafted pieces by Danice Erard 'the Milliner and the mum'.
Danica hard at work on one of her unique designs as pictured (including the gorgeous piece worn by @seewantshop)
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Passionate, honest, hardworking, driven, loyal.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? Grab a cup of tea (or a glass of sparkling) & take a seat, you might need it!
My story starts in the town of Deniliquin NSW, I was born to two amazing humans; Vanda Helsby (a window dresser) & John Paul Erard (a tailor). ‘Deni’ as we knew it, was small, dusty and hot, I was always the girl at the river with the oversized denim hat or baseball cap at school. A place where Akubra hats reigned supreme in the mid 90’s. School was fun but I faced many obstacles after my parents divorced. Life changed and became tough. But now I look back and see that maybe this was the start of my compassion and resilience. Fast forward to completing yr. 12, where I take off to Melbourne and feel immediately at home in my fashion-forward attire. I secured my first city job working in the high end “George Gross & Harry Who?’’ boutique (haha! I think there was still river sand in my hair that day!) Then I made the move into David Jones as a ‘’David Jones’’ team member, and this is where my true passion for High Fashion was born. To this day I praise David Jones for igniting my true love for amazing Australian and European designers, as well as allowing me to meet some of the most amazing and well-dressed ladies of Melbourne.
There I was working with iconic Australian labels such as Collette Dinnigan, Trent Nathan, Carla Zampatti and many more. It was at this time that I started to design jewellery on weekends, and being a little cheeky (and in true Country girl style) I’d sneak my latest designs into work & place them into the Ch. 10 Wardrobe selections when the courier would pick up the outfits for the news readers each week (shh!). I did get to see my creations on a few newsreaders, but I never said a word for fear of losing my job.
In 2002, a neighbour of mine, who knew of my part time jewellery ventures, had asked me to design her a fascinator. “What’s a fascinator” I asked. She explained, and I set out to create her a beautiful headpiece for Oaks Day that year. I can still see it in my mind today! She did offer me a sum of money for my efforts, but instead I took her advice, as she thought I could turn it into a business. I remember watching the Melbourne Cup that year thinking I’m going to start making headwear, and one day my pieces will be featured on those racing ladies. Not long after starting my designs, I fell pregnant, and at this point fear and uncertainty took over. Suddenly I was looking at a very different path to what I had been imagining.
When Oscar was born it was, as I was told, a very high risk pregnancy with complications. It was at this time, after coming home with new baby, that I would need all my strength to go on. After both Oscar and I almost didn’t make it through labour, I developed PND. Some days were so dark I couldn’t see past the morning feed. Needless to say, the once passionate budding designer in me had all but diminished! I was in full time ‘new mum’ mode , which I loved dearly, but that I spent thinking the sadness would never end. I didn’t realise how badly affected I was till many years later. I’m still saddened by this struggle and the frustration of not knowing what was wrong with me. At that time, Post Natal Depression was not spoken about.
It was at this time that we decided to leave the city behind and head north to an outback property to raise our son. This was probably not the best move for new parents! Especially as I was suffering from PND, and already feeling somewhat alienated from the glamorous life I once had. We landed near Cobar in NSW where our run down little farm house awaited. With our whole life packed on the back of a Land cruiser ute, (and with a partner who was wonderful, but totally oblivious to the deep emotion and isolation I was feeling) we arrive at our new address; a run down old farm house which was 155 km to the nearest milk and bread! I realised this could either make or break me, and breaking was not an option for me.
To give me something to do, most days I would set off with Oscar into town, where my bubbly, outgoing personality took many locals by surprise. I’m sure some thought I was lost, looking at my little sports car with VIC number plates, covered in layers of red dust. Little did they know, I was in the midst of the hardest struggle of my life, desperately needing someone to accept who I was, and just be nice to me in a time of absolute isolation! One impactful day I met a beautiful outgoing young lady who had asked me what I did besides ‘being a mum’. I responded that I used to make jewellery and I had actually started to make headpieces and hats. She then asked if I could possibly make one for her. The confident businesswoman in me responded straight away “of course!” She then describes a hat with a slanted crown & large brim, like something a Royal had just worn. It was at that particular moment in time that Danica Erard the Milliner was born. Throwing myself in the deep end, I physically had to travel to the local library just to find out how to actually ‘make’ hats – I didn’t even own a computer at the time! After getting my partner to chop down a 40ft Pine to craft the slanted crown, and many days hand sewing, I delivered the hat she had seen and that I had visualised. This time I took the money and her advice when she said I had a true gift for this. This is when I started to make headpieces to sell at local markets. It was crazy and exciting to see people wanting my stuff!
Soon after, we decided to move back closer to home in Deniliquin as my Dad had taken ill. He passed shortly after we moved back, and my personal struggles began again. Once we recovered from losing Dad, I felt my passion slowly return. Now based out of Deniliquin, and only 35 kms to town, I started taking my pieces to Melbourne. I would pack up the car and set up hat showings in motel rooms, and soon I felt like I was back! The locals loved seeing me & my little family back in our hometown, and welcomed us with open arms, true Deniliquin style!! My little outback business was taking off, Oscar was at school, and farm life was good. But not long after settling in, we then lost my darling Mum. Another loss that hit us all very badly and took a long time to recover again, but being somewhere familiar was a huge help. I am blessed to have my little family and I know my parents are looking down with pride.
I can’t describe it fully, but some days I feel them here, inspiring me to go on and do better and I am eternally grateful for this, even for the struggles I faced early on. I honestly believe looking back that maybe my millinery passion saved my life and that without my beautiful family and friends to support and encourage me, it would be a very different story.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? I think when you can look around at the people you have inspired it’s a beautiful form of success. Getting to a point where you’re still building a business that started as a small hobby, is success. I do consider myself successful after enduring so many hurdles to get the point where I am now, but to be very honest I struggle to say that!
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally) I always have a list going! One goal I am working towards is to soon be settled with the family; where Oscar can pursue his acting career, and I can still work on my business and we can be content as a family. Professionally; to keep expanding this little business into many different paths that cover all the ideas I am currently working on. Exciting times ahead.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? No I am mostly self-taught.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? One of the most notable rewards in my career was being noticed by someone I looked to as an inspiration - knowing that they genuinely loved my work is so rewarding! Also, little things like being able to contribute to family expenses, I feel proud when those little things happen!
Tell us about your workspace - what inspires you about it? I currently work from home, so my work spaces are spread across a few rooms. My sewing studio - this room is bright and very organised, it has a main table that I sew from, like a sacred sewing place as this table is covered in my mum’s favourite tablecloth. The space is bright and fresh overlooking our hallway and pool area which is lovely. I do find myself often shifting out on the patio to sew outside as it’s more like a form of therapy than work. We have resident Sunbirds that flutter amongst the Palm trees, which are beautiful and very inspiring to watch between stitches. I also do a lot of prep work in the shed, which is stark contrast to my indoor space, very dirty, dusty and hot where the chemical stiffener is put onto the bigger hats and the spraying of pieces is done.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? I struggled at the start with people not taking my venture seriously. They’d ask “oh you make hats don’t you, but do you work?” Further into the career people star copying your ideas, so I have had to learn not say a word until the chickens hatch, as you just never know what is about to happen or who’s listening.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload? I shed some happy tears when this email came through to be featured on the SW Foundation page, so just a few days ago! Workload tears came just last week when I did a big shoot for my new business venture here at home. Featuring over 10 children and parents, the day ran smooth but was HECTIC! After the shoot was all finished, I was overwhelmed and curled up on the couch and had a good cry!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career? I do put pressure on myself! If I don’t, no one else will and I don’t think I would get anything achieved. I mostly run everything solo, so I feel highly responsible for the outcomes.
As a business owner, 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? To be honest, you just have to. People are waiting and relying on your service/product, so you can’t disclose this stress to them. I normally tackle the problem immediately, fix it and move forward; the longer you dwell on situations the more they will spiral out of control and become worse.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships? Yes it has. At the start not many people took me seriously, and I forever felt like I was trying to prove myself to my partner (which I know you shouldn’t have to, but when he’s bringing in a wage and you’re not, it just puts a strain on your relationship!) One day he realised I was doing ok and it all turned around! With relationships, I only see the good in people, and I have learned the hard way that sometimes these unfold to reveal a relationship of convenience for the other person. I am more guarded now!!
Has your journey at times felt lonely? Yes, I have worked through many a night to get a big opportunity happening, and then wake to find I am all alone, with no one to run things by. I am getting stronger all the time and know that whilst I work alone, I am not lonely anymore, and I feel this comes with personal growth and experience.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights? Most of my anxiety comes when I have a major idea in my head and want it all done & running NOW! Also, in the middle of a really hectic time, when I’m so sleep deprived but also totally wired, that causes a sleepless night. This is where my bedtime note writing really helps!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? Absolutely!! First, I would ignore the haters (they are confused admirers) as they can set you back & they don’t matter in the big scheme of things!!! Also, I wouldn’t be so easily trusting of everyone.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Samantha Wills – an amazing Australian woman, driven and an inspiration to many! Gai Waterhouse; again, a driven woman dominating in what has always been classified as a man’s industry. Strong and successful women who have a ‘no BS’ attitude to life. Turia Pitt; after seeing her story, you simply cannot whinge about a damn thing! What a true fighter, such a beautiful woman with a heart of gold and again an inspiration to young women worldwide. There are so many more…
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Honesty would be my number one. Being genuine, understanding, with a small dose of empathy, these are so important!
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? It’s tricky - the only way I can have this balance is by setting work goals and sticking to them. When Oscar is at school, Damien is at work so when we are all under the same roof together we have that precious family time! This can be as simple as after school time/homework at the dinner table or a sneaky glass of bubbles with Damien by the pool. It’s not always that simple, as you all know!
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes, just last year I was ready to totally pull the pin, an absolute BITCH of a year! I was burnt by a few people; ones I was certain I would spend the rest of my life with, and it took me totally by surprise and hurt a lot! Big lessons were learnt. When I looked back and saw the insincerity of it all, I was like ‘shit… was I really going to end my passion for that?’ I pulled it together, got on with business, gave zero fucks, and moved on!!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Protect your intellectual property and be inspired by (but don’t copy) the unique designs of those around you, it’s poor taste and very obvious!
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? I think so, I am up for a challenge and hard work was instilled in me from a young age so yes! I have loved this journey so far - the good, bad and evil! I think I might have pursued the jewellery side more but when I saw SW had nailed that, I knew I was destined to do Millinery and do it well! Possibly interior design as I have always loved the freedom it gives to express your personal style!
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? ‘No matter how successful you become, never forget where you came from’.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important? This is majorly important as this highlights the good! There’s such a strong message when women in business stick together and show the world it’s ok to try, it’s ok to fail, but get up and start again. Together we are more likely to achieve this. Alone, we can allow self doubt to creep in; as a group those doubts are squashed! I want to be involved because I believe my story could help and inspire those who are struggling, or are about to give up. This is such an honour!
What are some of your favourite quotes?
‘Treat others how you like to be treated’
‘If it’s not broke don’t fix it’
‘Work hard, stay humble, be kind’
‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren't big enough’
‘She believed she could, so she did’.