What It's Really Like to Quit a Corporate Career to Start Your Own Business
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Logic and reason tend to dominate when it comes to making a life-altering decision, like whether to quit your job. Yet for Becky Morton, a business and law graduate working as a trainee lawyer, there was a third more important cue that helped her make the career decision. "I felt a fire in my belly for something more," she tells MyDomaine, and contrary to the rational pros and cons, Morton left her stable legal career to do something completely unknown: start a swimwear label.
Though this might sound like a risky move, Morton was right to trust her gut. It has been six years since she made that difficult decision, and now, Peony Swimwear has gained cult status in the Australian market, launched in the U.S. via Revolve, and is poised to debut on Net-a-Porter this month.
Known for its whimsical prints and flattering cuts, the label also takes a strong stance on sustainability. "The fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to global pollution—[It's] a sad reality and something we should all be working to improve," she says. To take the first step, Peony Swimwear's latest collection features fabrics made from discarded nylon materials. such as fishing nets recovered from the bottom of the ocean.
Ahead, Morton talks to us about why sustainability should be at the core of every business and what it's really like to quit a stable career and leap into the unknown.
At what stage did you know you wanted to leave law and change careers? Was there a light bulb moment?
I never really had a light bulb moment. My light bulb was more of a slow burn. Looking back, I have always been passionate about design. When I was at school, I would sketch garments on notepaper during class and on napkins at restaurants. Swimwear design was particularly appealing to me because we grew up in Australia near the beach and it seemed that was all we wore for nine months of the year. Although I had dreamed it, I never imagined that one day I would actually turn my passion it into a career.
After school, I studied a double degree in law and business. Following graduation from university, I went on to qualify and work as a lawyer for six months. Although I loved studying law, I found legal practice personally unsatisfying. I felt a fire in my belly for something more, and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was time to pursue my dream of starting my own brand.
Soon after that, I finished working at the law firm and started Peony. The brand was born in 2012 and named after my favourite flower, which blooms at the beginning of summer.
Corporate careers like law have a very clear path. Were you nervous pursuing a career that’s less defined or linear?
Yes, absolutely, but that’s the magic of it. It isn’t linear or predictable. Nothing is certain and yet everything is possible. Knowing now what I’ve learned about myself over the last five years of business, I know that I am much better suited to a dynamic and ever-changing career path.
How did you know that Peony Swimwear was more than just a good idea and could be turned into a real, profitable business?
I sold one of my first-ever swimsuits at a market stall in 2012. When my then-boyfriend (now husband and finance and operations director of Peony) and I were setting up the market tent that we bought on eBay the week before for $50, we had a line of girls waiting to come in. We made our first sale within a minute or so after the tent went up. I recall the customer had to pay with cash because we hadn’t had the chance to set up our Eftpos machine. After the first customer flowed many others; we sold out of our first collection within a matter of weeks.
If there was ever a single moment that made me realize Peony was going to exceed my expectations, it was somewhere in those early days. I rejoiced in the validation of an in-person purchase from a bona fide customer. I knew that if this customer loved the product, there would be more like her out there that would too. The insatiable demand for our brand and the incredible loyalty of our customers continues to demonstrate to us that we have created much more than just a swimwear brand.
Over the last five years, we have grown with our customer. We’re not just creating a product, we are creating a world that our girl is a part of. We listen to her, we connect with her, and we grow with her. We have a very clear understanding of who she is, we don’t deviate from this, and I believe this is why she comes back to us, despite all the noise, season on season.
Swimwear is a competitive market. What makes Peony different from other labels?
In terms of the actual product, we do a few things differently. We design all collections to be mixed and matched. We make sure color palettes talk back and forward to neighboring collections to facilitate this further. We use exclusive and sustainable fabrications, and we sell all pieces as separates to allow our girl the maximum freedom to choose what style, fabrication, and size suit her.
But at the end of the day, it’s the difficult-to-describe qualities of peony that ultimately set us apart. We are a small family-run business with a genuine love and passion for what we do. We are focused on sustainability and are committed to continuing to reduce our environmental impact. Authenticity, mindfulness, and conscious creation are at the heart of what we do.
Tell us about your first career path as a lawyer. What did your role involve?
My first job out of university was as a trainee lawyer at a high-profile criminal law firm in Queensland, Australia. My role was involved anything from administrative tasks and legal research to case management and the preparation of memos. I absolutely loved studying law, but I found legal practice quite unsatisfying.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
I didn’t move past it, I took a leap and then learned how to harness it so it worked for me. The fear of failure in the beginning was what spurred me on. Today, the business is established and going from strength to strength, so I don’t have fear necessarily, but I still have the healthy dose of uncertainty that comes with running any business. I believe that if you can harness that feeling and combine it with unwavering dedication and passion for what you do, you will achieve great things.
What have been the biggest challenges in entering the fashion industry?
I had always loved and followed fashion, but coming from a legal background, I had no experience working in the industry. It was a whole new world and very unfamiliar to me. The first few years were extremely challenging; there was a lot of trial and error and some very long nights.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
It’s dynamic, challenging, and satisfying.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Would you do anything differently?
The way I see it, every little thing that has happened in my life has lead me to exactly where I am today, so I’m not hard on myself or overly critical of the mistakes I’ve made (and there have been plenty!) because even they have contributed to this outcome.
I may have got here faster or perhaps more smoothly had I not made those mistakes, but I can’t be sure of that, and I wouldn’t want to be without the valuable knowledge and experience I gained along the way.
When it comes to sustainability, what change do you want to see—or pave the way for—in your industry?
The fashion industry is the second biggest contributor to global pollution. [It's] a sad reality and something we should all be working to improve. It can be an overwhelming task, but this shift doesn’t have to happen all at once.
Take small, considered steps toward reducing your impact on the environment. Do your research and support small, independent, and environmentally conscious brands where you can. Consider purchasing less quantity and better quality to ensure your purchases stand the test of time and don’t need replacement. It’s all the little things that can add up to great change.
For example, all peony styles are sold separately and designed to mix and match. I love this philosophy that peony is built on, not only because of the freedom it allows but because I believe it is important each range talks back to the previous ranges so we can encourage our girl to update last season's go-to treasures with new-season updates—this nod to slow fashion is important to us.
What is the best piece of career/life advice you’ve ever received?
Celebrate all your wins, even the small ones, and remember to stop and smell the roses.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
In the early days, we consistently underestimated demand and therefore sold out of our collections much earlier than anticipated. It sounds like a great problem to have, and in many ways it was, but there was a lot of missed opportunity as well as having to deal with an overflowing inbox of disappointed customers.
Looking back, I can see that this was key in building demand for the brand. The customers that missed out learned that next time they couldn’t wait, and the customers that secured their favorite Peony pieces knew they had something special that they cherished.
What advice do you have for other women who want to take a leap but fear change?
I find that big tasks and projects are much easier to manage when you compartmentalise them. Try to view the big leap as a series of steps. Start with the first step and once complete, move to the second. When you chip away at something, it will feel more manageable and less daunting.
I would also encourage women to believe in themselves and surround themselves with like-minded people that do too.
Craving a beach escape? Shop the collection below: