We celebrate incredible local men and women in business everyday here at TVM. Our heartfilled community is made up of creative’s pursuing their passion whilst trying to balance their personal life, other careers and for many, families too.
To celebrate Mothers Day this coming Sunday, we chatted to the delightful Madeleine Lee. Founder of fashion label Oak Meadow, mother to two adventurous little boys Oakie and Soli, and wife to Sam.
Excitingly, Madeleine has very generously offered a TVM loving mother the chance to win TWO $250 vouchers - one for the winner and one for them to gift to a fave mother or lady in their life, to spend online at Oak Meadow. That’s an incredible gift to receive! So head on over to our Instagram page @thevillagemarkets for more information and to enter.
Hi Madeleine! Let’s start with the beginning of Oak Meadow - what year did you start your business?
Oak Meadow was initially an Instagram run business launching in August 2016, however I officially launched online with a website on July 1st 2018.
Who is in your family?
Our family is Myself Madeleine, my husband Sam, my two boys Oakie and Soli who are just 17 months apart, Oakie is 4 and Soli is 3.
Did motherhood inspire you to create your business initially?
When I started Oak Meadow I was selling tie-dye baby rompers, however I soon realised there was such a huge need and want for baby tie-dye which is what led me to start an official Instagram and sell custom creations.
I found this process of creation beautiful and very peaceful, it brought a lot of fulfilment to my days while my newborn son Oakie was sleeping. It also connected me with people, which was something I really needed at the time, as a new mother.
Motherhood inspired me in so many ways and really brought out my creative side. I never planned to make Oak Meadow as big as it stands today - but gosh I am so grateful and happy I’ve found my calling.
I have had so many comments like “how do you find the time?” but the truth is when I became a mother I truly found myself. I didn’t have to find the time or make time because things truly happened around me organically and I felt so strong and driven as both a woman and a mother.
I truly believe Oak Meadow was born from the inspiration of love power and motherhood.
How did Oak Meadow evolve from tie-dye rompers for children, to embroidered dresses and linen hats, to now the most beautiful women’s collections?
This is actually a very big part of the entire story of Oak Meadow. I never set out to move into womenswear.
I always dreamed of designing womenswear and I had styles that I loved and that truly pulled at my heartstrings but I never thought I’d have the skills, mindset or power to actually do it, this is why I pursued childrenswear initially.
After my children’s collection of tie-dye rompers were so successful, I decided to find a supplier to make new shapes for me. I would draw them on paper and Sam (my husband) would do rough measurements that we would get from current baby clothes we had and we designed our first ever pair of overalls.
The process was long, my gosh was it long, I was in a world so unknown!
The day the postman came with my sample of overalls was the best day ever... I’ll never forget it, I raced to get my hands into my dye bath and I dyed the overalls, the waiting hours overnight felt like forever - if I got it wrong they would be stuffed, when I opened the dye bath and cut the ties, wow, what a moment, I placed that single image on Instagram announcing custom tie-dye overalls and wow, I think I had over 50 customers with their custom orders ready to go.
It was so overwhelming and yet so exciting! The customers, my followers from the beginning, were so supportive and patient as it was almost a 6-8 weeks pre-order sometimes.
I did tie-dying for around 2 years after that. In that time I designed 4 staple pieces in tie-dye and most of the dye was completely natural, either made from avocados, natural leaves or I’d purchase good quality toxin-free natural powders.
I think the biggest shift was when I decided to drop a tiny collection of overalls in a print and this is where the process evolved naturally, we sold out overnight. From there the kid’s collection got wider with prints and the tie-dye also.
There was a huge shift at one point, we had decided to sell everything and move into our bus and really make a life of Oak Meadow, to truly live and breathe in the essence of us as a young family. My eldest son Oakie was just 2 at the time and my youngest Soli was 7 months when we hit the road.
We travelled with stock on hand in the bus, I’d pull up to parks and pack out the orders, it was a beautiful nightmare but I felt so privileged that I could support us as a family while we travelled unexplored beaches and made memories by the sea.
While in the background, I had been working very hard on releasing my first-ever women’s dress. It was incredibly hard and took almost 24 months of back and forth.
For anyone who was following our journey knows we spent three months in Indonesia and this is truly what made my womenswear come to life, working alongside the sewing team. It was the best experience of my life.
What were you doing prior to having the boys, were you always working in fashion?
I left school in year 10 after my parents split and moved away, I decided to live with my nan who raised me most of my life, we are very close, she educated me on having a job and I truly believe her strength has been built into me, especially when it comes to work-life.
I worked my first job at Hungry Jacks at the age of 14, I hated every second, but I loved having pocket money.
At that point in time, I had always dreamt of being a hairdresser. I thought it was the coolest job ever! Whenever I would go to get my hair cut as a kid or coloured, I remember always thinking that the hairdresser was just so cool.
I noticed these things a lot as a child, how people dressed, did their hair, how they spoke. I was very interested in people and my mum always loved fashion and wore the coolest clothes mostly from Italy. I would wear her clothes and sneak out in them, ha.
I ended up pushing myself to leave Hungry Jacks and got a hairdressing apprenticeship and I loved every second! I worked Tuesday to Saturdays and late-night Thursdays, and I worked very hard. I was so passionate and I loved colour more than anything, I went on to be the head colourist for 3 years and then I ran my own business in hair. I felt so successful and I loved my job so much, I loved making people feel incredible, and I loved hearing each persons life story and I believe hearing those stories and experiences is really what made me who I am today.
I then went on to travel and left hairdressing behind, when I returned home I came back to childcare. I loved this job too because it was creative and I really had a soft spot for children so this was a great match as I saw it. I did this for five years while I had my son Oakie and Oak Meadow was just my hobby at the time. I never would have thought I’d leave childcare to pursue my own business and that would be that.
Where are you originally from?
Originally I am born and raised in Pottsville, not far from Byron where we are now. Pottsville was a very small town and I grew up collecting tadpoles from the creek with my two younger sisters, riding my bike over the dirt tracks, spending our time at the beach and learning to surf as my dad was a surfboard shaper and many people in my family are passionate surfers.
My dad is a big wave rider and my uncle was on the Rip Curl team, so surfing has played a huge part in my life and also a huge part of who I am today. Living by and spending time in the ocean, kept me clear, focused, inspired and healthy.
You’ve mentioned that your family travelled in a van for sometime a few years ago and it appeared you managed to not only run but actually grow your business on the road - how did you make that work?
Wow, what a journey this was, selling everything to move into the bus was the rawest thing we’ve done yet, it was extremely impulsive, but that’s what we wanted, to feel alive!
To go everywhere but nowhere, really. Our biggest stress was what was for dinner, it was great. A few months in, Oak Meadow had grown so much to the point of struggling to manage in the bus. We were sleeping with the boxes of stock, it was crazy. I think when we moved into the bus Oak Meadow was just about to really take off.
We had planned to travel to WA but didn’t make it past Lorne in Victoria, ha.
Those who followed us know we ran short of money and decided to spend our last bit of hard-earned money on a trip to Bali for 3 months. This is where I really grew Oak Meadow and got to experience the team behind everything and work alongside them for three months, it was pure bliss.
Who makes up the Oak Meadow team now and when did you make the call to start employing staff to help you grow your business?
Our Oak Meadow team consisted of myself for three years, Owner and Creative Director, Lead Designer and also Marketing, Customer Service and Packing. I was a one-woman show for three years.
I had some staff who freelanced in terms of the website and graphics and I also had a lovely packer who was helping me pack when we were in Bali for 3 months.
I almost ran myself into the ground though. I hit a point when I realised it had grown so much bigger than my brain and heart could handle, yet I was so passionate about what OM stands for and how much joy it brings into the lives of women.
I recently went into partnership with the most incredible human, who’s changed my life, supported Oak Meadow and has given me the strength to continue my passion. We work together so well, and she brings so much balance.
Michelle is in control of all our finance (along with emotionally supporting me!) and I do the creative side.
It’s such a wonderful way to run a small business and I’m forever grateful I took the biggest leap in my life to go into a partnership with someone.
I’m very lucky and we work very hard together to ensure our small business is ethical and working towards sustainability in every aspect.
We also have just hired Lucy, she works full-time for us and she does customer service and packing and also our marketing.
Lucy is wonderful and such a hard worker and really brings me so much support, so I can spend my hours on designing and exploring fabrics.
Can you share any advice for small business owners who would love to combine their passion with business, while making time for themselves and the things that light them up, such as travel and more time with family?
My advice to small business owners is it’s all about balance. Every week I sit down with my list of things to do and I rank them from most important to least important.
I’ve always juggled my workload well during my children’s nap times and late at night. Time with family is so beyond important and keeping your mind healthy and not too overworked but the truth is if you’re a small business owner this is something you will always juggle.
You wear so many hats in a small business and I think understanding when you can’t do it all, is so important.
I was so nervous to hire help as I felt I had to really have my “brand” together and stable but having the support is what took me to the next level and blossomed Oak Meadow even more. You have to be open-minded and take risks.
Your label has been worn by some incredibly stylish women from all around the world including some of our faves Jess from Dazed but Amazed and Sarah Shabacon of Boheme Goods – who else has worn your pieces?
Oh Jess from Dazed (@dazedbutamazed) has been a huge inspiration of mine, how she brings beauty to her work-life alongside her children is just incredible and her bedsheets have been a part of my life forever.
Sarah (@bohemegoods) is such a creative and I love what she stands for.
We have all incredible women wearing our clothing, all our customers are so incredibly beautiful and from all parts of the world.
We have also had Katie from Home and Away who we spotted on her talk show wearing our first blouse from “Sylvie”. It was a real ‘wow’ moment. Also Sarah Wright Olsen and recently Teresa Palmer. Such an honour and a truly proud moment.
You have recently launched your beautiful new collection Flora – congratulations! The campaign is incredibly ethereal, set in the green lake with a rowboat and all, just brilliant. Tell us about this collection, and how it came to life?
Flora was shot in two parts, one of them was to truly bring to life the essence of who Flora is and the emotions we wanted to bring. Emily Yates has been a huge inspiration for me, her creative work is incredible and to work with her was an absolute dream come true.
Flora is about the transition from girl to woman, finding your inner beauty and the next step to elegance and romance. This was truly my dream shoot come to life and I’ll hold these photos close to my heart forever.
Do you have a favourite piece from the new Flora collection?
Yes, I sure do, that’s an easy answer. Our Garden Floral Gown! Gosh did we pour a lot of energy into this gown, this was truly a dream piece and I’m still completely blown away that it’s an Oak Meadow design.
I pinch myself every time I touch or see it, I feel so proud. Also because it’s completely sustainable. How incredible, to create beauty and something that works within mother nature's love.
Lastly, at TVM we are working towards becoming a zero-waste event and have implemented sustainability policies as a business. Tell us, what are some of the ways your business is working towards supporting a more sustainable future for our planet?
We accept it’s our duty to educate our customers about what slow fashion is and implement as many processes as possible to best help the environment, while ensuring the longevity of our garments.
It’s about being mindful of garment quantity, choosing natural fabrics, providing eco-friendly packaging, ensuring fair work trade is always in action and exploring new technology innovations which can help streamline a process.
Most importantly, to not give in to short term trends that can go out of style so quickly but instead invest in timeless pieces, allowing our customers to wear and love our apparels all year round, year after year.