Raised on sunshine, surf and sand on the Gold Coast, Becky Jack longed for summer to come around each year. And every spring, as soon as she saw the peonies in her nan’s garden come into bloom, she knew that her favourite season was on its way. That feeling of elation at the start of a new summer is exactly what Becky hopes to capture with her fledgling swimwear label, Peony Swimwear. Handmade in Australia using beautiful Italian lycra, Peony – which recently debuted at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Brisbane – is an ode to Australian beach life and the carefree lifestyle that it embraces.
There’s something about the beach that Becky Jack just can’t resist. “I think it’s just the fresh air and the openness of it,” she says. “When you sit there, you just feel alive and there’s nothing more invigorating than going for a swim in the ocean. It’s almost like being baptised – you just feel born again and like you’re at one with nature. When you go to some of the beautiful beaches we have and swim there, the ocean is so unforgiving that it makes you realise how trivial you and your life are in this great big, beautiful world.”
The fact that she’s spent a large portion of her life wearing nothing but swimwear has set Becky in good stead for her current career. ”I think I was in a bikini my whole childhood when I wasn’t at school,” she says. “I have such fond memories of swimwear because it reminds me of being young and growing up having sandy feet, salty hair and sunburn – just all those beautiful feelings of summer that I love so much.”
Though her childhood dream was to pursue a career in fashion, at her parents’ urging she put her dream aside in place of a ‘safer’ career option – instead studying law and business at university. When she finally graduated, Becky quickly realised that to be truly successful at something, you must love it with your whole heart. “I worked in a law firm for a year and I qualified as a lawyer, but the whole time there was something in my head telling me that it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t me,” she says. “I still had these feelings of wanting to be creative, but I’d been suppressing them for so long because I didn’t have an outlet to channel the creativity.”
She began spending her weekends painting and drawing, desperately trying to sate her yearning creative side. “I felt like there was this big part of me that was just dying,” she recalls. “Law can be really suppressing and stifling for a creative person.”
Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer and went home to tell her parents that she was leaving her law career to pursue one in fashion. “I told them that I knew they wouldn’t understand, but it was just something that I had to do for myself. I think, because I was in tears, my dad could see that I’d done everything possible in my power to give law my best shot and it just hadn’t worked – my heart wasn’t in it. So he just told me to go for it.”
There had been many sleepless nights prior to making the decision, as Becky struggled with the idea of abandoning a secure career for one that offered no security at all. “I wrote a big list of pros and cons and spoke to all my friends. But at the end of the day, you can get so many opinions from people, but if it doesn’t come from your own heart there’s no point trying to satisfy everyone else. I realised that I’d spent my whole life trying to make everyone else happy, but in doing that I’d sacrificed my own life.”
The first six months after quitting her job were tough, as Becky tried to start her business from scratch with no income. Tapping into her law skills while creating her business plan, she tried to play the devil’s advocate and challenge herself to outline why her swimwear label would be better than the thousands already on the market. “I decided that my passion for swimwear had its roots in Australia and so my label was going to be really Australian and authentic, but still stylish,” she explains. “That’s what I pinpointed as what nobody else was really doing well – being an all-Australian-made label was really uncommon. There are a lot of labels that have beautiful designs and great fabrics but they’re all mass produced overseas, so they lose that boutique Australian vibe. I really wanted to cut through the crap and create something really authentic.”
The hardest thing in her journey so far, Becky says, has been deciding to forget what everyone else thinks and make a conscious choice to do what she wants for herself in life. “I was so sensitive and conscientious about what everybody else thought of me that I put it off for a really long time. But when I finally decided to do it, it was the most liberating thing knowing what I wanted to do and then doing it.”
It was then that things began to fall into place. Peony Swimwear’s first season, released in December 2012, sold out twice at The Village Markets at the Gold Coast, where Becky first started selling her wares. “It made me realise that this wasn’t just a dream and that people actually wanted my product and loved it because there was something different about it.”
Her latest collection, Boheme Dreamer, is available online at peonyswimwear.com. “This collection was really formed around the idea of the quintessential Australian girl who lives a very bohemian lifestyle and always dreams of being at the beach,” she explains of the concept behind it. “It’s idealistic, because everyone has to work, but it’s about having an aspiration for the weekend.” Two different florals, a bohemian folk print and various block colours grace the mix-and-match separates, which include ruched bandeaus, string bikinis and a one-piece.
The eldest of four girls, Becky says her inspiration for Peony comes from her younger sisters. “They’re gorgeous girls inside and out and we’re all really close. They all love summer and the beach as much as I do and they can swim, surf and fish – they’re a little bit tomboyish and love being adventurous.”
Her sisters not only act as her inspiration, but also her test market. ”Seeing them in the ocean having a surf often makes me have an idea for a swimsuit and I ask them what they think,” she says. “I come up with a design and I stitch it up and put the pattern on it and show it to them. If they’re not in love, it goes in the bin – I want people to be jumping up and down about a design.”
While her label is still fledgling, bringing with it the inevitable financial constraints, it’s not difficult for Becky to find peace. She and her boyfriend have just moved into a small house with ocean views on Burleigh Hill, where she spends every morning with a cup of tea on the verandah overlooking the beach, checking the surf conditions. “I love it here and I don’t mind working hard because I feel really lucky and blessed,” she says. “And if I feel like I need to get away, I just walk straight down to the sand.”
Having just turned 24, Becky still feels like she’s just getting started, but she is grateful to have already learned one of life’s most important lessons. “Don’t spend your life trying to please other people,” she says. “Do what you want to do, do it really well and work really hard at it every single day. Even if you fail, at least you know you gave it a go – and that’s the key.”