What started as just a dream for Michelle Vogrinec twelve years ago, has led to an incredibly rewarding and successful career in one of the most competitive industries in the world today. Here, the GAIA Brand Creator and Managing Director of GAIA Skin Naturals, shares her inspiring story of how being told she was “crackers” and losing it all didn’t dissuade her from creating natural skincare products for her son, and ultimately for the world, to enjoy.
I read that you did some skin care blending courses, studied aromatherapy, began boiling your own herbal infusions on the stove and experimented with creating skin creams after your son was diagnosed with eczema. You’ve taken your passion for your son’s health and wellbeing and used it to create a product range that is now the most widely distributed natural and organic baby skin care range in Australia. That’s an amazing story. Was there ever a time when you thought that you were dreaming too big?
Absolutely! Everyone, including my husband Simon, thought I was crackers when I began the dream 12 years ago. But I got a lot of encouragement from other mums who were in the same boat – looking for a natural alternative for their baby’s skin that worked. The pharmacies and health food stores I initially approached could see the potential, and once they tried my formulations they were hooked!
It is just so amazing. I still can’t believe it most days! We get letters daily thanking us for the range and how much of a difference it has made in the lives of others – it feels quite strange. Being able to give other mums the absolute relief I experienced when I finally was able to care for and comfort my son Josh’s red raw skin, is just so satisfying.
You’re a mother of three boys, I’ve got two boys and they’re an absolute handful! How do you find the time to fit it all in?
A very tight schedule and lots of assistance from the people around me! I have organised my life so that I can be there for my boys. I’m in the office 3 days a week and only during school hours. It hasn’t always been that way – but that was the dream (to build a business and lifestyle around my children) and I have made it a reality. My fabulous husband Simon is my general manager (no seriously - he IS GM of GAIA) and we have very supportive staff, family and friends.
Along the way to launching GAIA Natural Baby, were there times when you doubted your capacity to be both a mum and a successful business woman?
Absolutely! We had everything riding on it…all our savings…we didn’t own anything…we were going for broke. Then after some bad advice, we lost it all and had to start again. We moved in with Simon’s Mum and Dad and started from scratch – with one toddler and another on the way.
But I knew my ideas were sound, my product was good and that there were enough people out there that needed it – so we pressed on. We were kind of in it too far to not give it everything we had until we succeeded. There didn’t really seem any other alternative to us – well, not one we were willing to concede.
Wow, second pregnancies are exhausting enough without the added pressure of trying to launch a new business. That must have been tough on you?
Yes, my second pregnancy was very stressful - in fact I went into labour selling my range to a pharmacy hours away from home and had to get them to call the ambulance! He was a completely different baby. He didn’t sleep – which of course meant I didn’t either (or Simon for that matter). He needed far more attention which was difficult while trying to get our fledgling business off the ground.
But I guess that was what has enabled us to work through all the odds and come to the place where we are now. We are so much stronger and more resilient. We are a very tight knit family and most of our staff has been with us almost since the beginning so the bond of shared experience has forged a pretty well-oiled machine these days. It’s always easier to look back in hind-sight but I am thankful now for those times that have stretched me – as my capacity to love and create has definitely increased.
At Mama Pyjama we’re all about finding the balance between parenting, partnerships and personal passions. How do you balance these aspects of your life?
Again, it’s all about scheduling. It sounds clinical, but it’s highly necessary. School drop off and pick up times are for my boys – no question, no interruptions (unless earth shatteringly urgent). I want to prepare them for their day and then hear all about it at the end. I schedule: regular “romantic day spa days” with my husband; time to meditate or just enjoy nature; walking time; Pilates classes; Karate teaching...
Things come up, and you need to be flexible for family emergencies – but at least if you have some structure you can re-organise, delegate, delay or delete some things off that list, depending on their priority.
What advice can you offer other mums who are thinking about starting their own business or reconnecting with a passion they have neglected since becoming a parent?
First ask yourself, “What do I want out of life? What do I want my life to look like? Feel like? What makes my heart soar?” Maybe starting a business isn’t going to achieve that at all…
Then if it is – do your homework! Get great advice and I would suggest enlisting a mentor to keep you on track.
Finally, do you have support? If not, take the time to work out how you will you get it.
Great advice! Now here’s a question I’ve asked all my readers. What was the strangest thing you believed as a child? I believed I had a chocolate baby growing inside me that could only survive if I fed it chocolate icecream … well at least that’s what I told my parents!
I thought I had a little dwarf lady that would come into my bedroom at night and I could tell her all my secrets – but in reality it was my mother on her knees in the dark using a funny voice. I didn’t catch on for years!
That’s great, I love it! Just to finish up, if you could choose one thing to be remembered for, what would it be?
Inspiring women to be the best mums they can me in their own unique way.
Well, it sounds to me like you’re already well on your way to achieving that mission Michelle. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with Mama Pyjama! xo
Visit the GAIA website and check out their fantastic range of skincare products here.