Mother of two Amy Nicholson, 35, went from working in finance to creating a children’s clothing brand, Cheeky Chaz. Her fashion-forward designs have been spotted on Suri Cruise, and continue to attract local and overseas customers.
When she had her first child in 2009, she took a maternity leave from her finance role to spend time with her son. Between the demanding workload and long hours, she knew it would be difficult to return to the job and still be the hands-on mother she wanted to be.
By the time she moved to Singapore in 2010, she was a full time stay-at-home-mum. Drawing from her long-held passion for sewing and design, in her spare moments Amy hopped on her machine and created pieces for her son, nieces, and other close friends.
It was also then that she noticed a gap in the market in Singapore for unique and handcrafted children’s clothing for both boys and girls. There were many well-known labels but they were all mass-produced. Amy knew she could fill this gap. She decided to take her genuine love of design further, and officially launched Cheeky Chaz.
TNAP: What are the major differences between working in finance and being the creator of Cheeky Chaz? Which do you think allows more work-life balance?
There are huge differences between what I was doing in finance and what I do now. My job now is all about creating and is very visual. Finance roles unfortunately are a bit lacking on both these fronts! Having said that, there is much more to Cheeky Chaz than just designing and creating. It is running a business in itself and so there are definitely many skills and tools that I gained in my finance job that translate to small business.
My current role without a doubt allows more work-life balance. It is just the nature of the role that I was in, that the hours were long and there were always critical deadlines to meet – deadlines that were being set by others.
Now, I set most of my own deadlines so I am able to take into account everything that is happening in my life and make these deadlines a bit more achievable and family-friendly!
TNAP: What are the most influential steps or events that made Cheeky Chaz successful?
The thing I love about Cheeky Chaz is that the growth has been truly organic. The first real driver of growth was when I had retailers sit up and take note of Cheeky Chaz. I was contacted reasonably early on by a few retailers who had seen customers wearing Cheeky Chaz and they followed up requesting to stock Cheeky Chaz in their stores. Obviously having a retail presence helps in creating brand awareness and so this all contributed to the growth of Cheeky Chaz.
The other major driver of growth came in September 2012 when Suri Cruise was photographed on numerous occasions wearing dresses from the Cheeky Chaz 2012 Summer Collection. These photos appeared in countless magazines, online blogs and newspapers. This generated significant interest in the brand and dramatically increased traffic on my website and of course sparked even more interest from retailers.
TNAP: What is the most rewarding part about your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing photographs of children wearing Cheeky Chaz pieces and receiving positive feedback from both the children and parents. It is still surreal when I am out and see children wearing clothing that I have designed or see a photograph of a child on the other side of the world wearing Cheeky Chaz. I really am working my dream job and doing something I have a real passion for. To see others being so receptive to the brand is thrilling and extremely rewarding.
Although I’m always excited to get new customers, many of my customers are repeat purchasers. I find this a real honour as I think this is the ultimate in feedback. It shows that they are happy with the product and have a certain connection to Cheeky Chaz.
TNAP: What is the most challenging part about your job?
The most challenging part of the job is the juggling act and time constraints. I am across all aspects of Cheeky Chaz – which is so much more than just design and manufacture-all while trying to be a full time mother. So not only am I trying to manage everything that comes with running your own business, but I’m also trying to fit it all in around school drops offs, after school activities and play dates.
I am a very hands-on mother and my kids will always take priority, but at the same time I have a commitment to Cheeky Chaz. This means if I am to continue then I need to do whatever it takes to find enough hours in the day to get it all done.
TNAP: What is your work schedule like?
My work schedule largely revolves around my kids. I really try hard to keep work time and family time separate – so when I am with the kids I am focused solely on them and when I’m working I focus purely on work, which means I either need them asleep or out of the house!
My youngest is only 2 years old so obviously he is quite active and still needs a lot of attention. He naps for a couple of hours during the day and I use absolutely every second of this time to be as productive as possible. It’s when I tend to pull out the sewing machine, pins and scissors, as this is something that I just cannot do while he is awake!
I have always been more of a morning person, so I am quite productive in the mornings before the rest of the house has woken up. Evenings are also very important. I try and structure my week so that whilst I would typically do something Cheeky Chaz related each night, it does not consume the entire night.
As Cheeky Chaz continues to grow I am finding that so too are the demands on my time and so I am taking steps to be a little more structured in my work. I have a few additional slots each week where I have someone watch the kids for me so I can dedicate additional hours to work.
I work 7 days a week but try and limit what I do on weekends. Weekends are all about my husband and children. I also use weekends to try and plan for the week ahead and prepare.
TNAP: How do you and your husband fit marriage into the balance?
Just as it’s important for me to make time for my kids, it’s equally important to make sure I have time with my husband. Luckily he takes an interest in what I do and is very encouraging. So not only is he understanding when some or all of my evening is taken up with work, but he happily gets involved too where possible.
I might have one night when I work until very late, which enables me to relax more another night and spend time with my husband. Then of course there are weekends.
TNAP: What advice do you have for mothers seeking to bring their passions to the next level, from a hobby to a career?
Ensure that as you progress from hobby to career, you manage yourself in such a way that you maintain your love of whatever it is you are doing. When it’s a hobby, you are doing it because you want to do it and enjoy doing it. As you transition this into a career it’s important that you continue to love what you do. It is this passion that will keep you motivated when times are tough and will help to distinguish you from others.
In addition to that, believe in yourself and be sure you take steps to set realistic and achievable targets.
All Cheeky Chaz products are available at www.cheekychaz.net
This article was first published in The New Age Parents Apr / May 2015 e-magazine