Melanie Hawgood: From finance to fashion

At a time when bankers and banking employees were fighting to stave off recession and secure their jobs, an optimistic and entrepreneurial few were walking the other way and risking all they knew for the holy grail: running their own business.

Meet Melanie Hawgood, a former business development manager for Macquarie Bank, who in the midst of the financial downturn, has successfully created, cemented and grown her online jewellery outlet www.mico-mico.com and become the leading distributor for the latest US accessories labels to hit Australian shores.

Melanie’s journey smells of success and she says it all came down to one life-changing factor: becoming a mother and the skills it taught her. After taking maternity leave from Macquarie in late 2007 to have her fourth child, Melanie began to struggle with the concept of returning to a full-time position and decided it might be time for her to explore finally having her own business. Having always had a strong desire to go out on her own and “live the dream,” she decided it was time to take a leap of faith.

For months she asked herself what she’d do if she could do anything, but continued to draw a blank. Her maternity leave was fast coming to an end and she resigned herself to the fact that she’d have to return to the rat race for a little longer. But in a twist of fate, she was made redundant. It turned out to be a mixed blessing.

It was at a friend’s wedding that Melanie realised the opportunity for a successful business lay in the online world. It was the perfect medium to create a business with low start-up costs that was not physically dependant on her and she could oversee from anywhere and in any outfit (pyjamas sound good, anyone?). With her mind set on the worldwide web, Melanie went on to create www.Mico-Mico.com, an online store that specialises in fashion jewellery.

Melanie explains how she came to retail jewellery as a result of not being able to find anything she liked in Australia, exposing a gap in the market she felt she could conquer: “I was simply looking for some pieces for myself. I wanted something different, something fresh. In Australia we are in our fashion jewellery infancy and I found that the only option was the aged Michael Hill style or a much younger and less ardent Diva look. Neither of these appealed to me.

“When I started seeking out international brands, I found so many options and thought it would be great to give other girls some different pieces; pieces that really complimented their personality, and so Mico-Mico was born.”

She enjoyed a dream start to her new business life as she entered the market at the height of spending 18 months ago. With strong sales front-end and a strong Australian dollar to import with, Mico-Mico was looking great. However, in October 2008, the currency market crashed and the term Global Financial Crisis became all too familiar.

With a background in career finance, Melanie was well placed to objectively look at all her options and had an understanding of the current markets. She was determined to survive and with a true entrepreneurial spirit, began to look for new opportunities to diversify her income streams. Melanie acquired the Australian distribution rights to two of her brands and began the journey that now sees her as the sole distributor for two of the country’s hottest new import labels: Viv & Ingrid and Jessica Kagan Cushman.

The true indication of an entrepreneur is someone who can take the mounting bills, sky rocketing costs of materials and fear of failure to elevate them to a position of greater success. Through the downturn of the last six months, Melanie has proven she is not only a true entrepreneur, but a force to be reckoned with.

For a woman with little to no experience running a business of her own, she has found opportunity in the downturn in an industry that has seen many people become jobless, and learnt that flexibility and diversification are the keys to always coming out on top. These traits have also become very handy in the business of motherhood, as she has learnt to successfully juggle a successful career with raising four children.

It appears that the business of being a mother and business in the real world can go hand in hand. With the determination of having more time at home and great work/life balance, Melanie continues to succeed, noting that there are always obstacles, but it’s how we choose to view them that determines success.

“Being a mother of four, I am faced every day with situations that scare me and force me to learn. I have started applying the skills I have learned as a mother over the years to my business with the keys being flexibility and adaptability. I can be whoever or whatever I need to be in any situation and I can find multiple solutions to any problem. Skills such as these are key to surviving in business and life in general.”

Neither a designer nor a fashionista, Melanie is well on her way to becoming the next big thing in the Australian fashion jewellery sector, giving the women of Australia want they want: “Fun, flirty, fashion choices!”

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