And with a title like the ‘sunshine state’ you would think that Queensland’s swim and surfwear brands would have the sun safe swimwear market covered. But as western Queensland sheep and cattle producer Julie Brown found out, that’s not the case.
“My parents retired from our property (at Kalapa outside of Rockhampton) and moved to Yeppoon 12 years ago. As my parents, brother and I all have really fair skin, I thought rashies and board shorts would make the perfect Christmas presents for all of us. I searched online for hours and couldn’t find what I was looking for,” Julie said.
“We have all had basal cell carcinomas or BCC (non-melanoma skin cancers) removed so I kept on searching. Each Christmas I would walk around the shops at Yeppoon and Rockhampton and still couldn’t find what I wanted. I tried buying some from America online but was unhappy with the quality.”
“One day when Adrian and I were tailing cattle and you know when it’s all going a bit slow and you have hours to think. I began to wonder, if I can’t find sun safe swimwear, especially bright ones in larger sizes, I wonder if other people are having the same problems? I thought oh my God, maybe this is my off-farm income business idea!
“I vividly remember riding over to Adrian and saying I’ve just had this fantastic idea for a business opportunity and he just rolled his eyes at me. I can understand his reaction though, who in their right mind would start a swimwear business in the middle of outback Queensland?”
“This was over ten years ago before the drought started to take over the Brown’s 50,000 acre property just outside Ilfracombe.
“We normally run Santa Gertrudis cattle and Merino wethers . We had been having pretty good seasons and were fully stocked. Then in 2013 it seemed as though the protein had been leached out of our grass and there was nothing in it.
“That was the start of the real impact of the drought for us. We fed for twelve months at great expense both financially, personally and emotionally, just like many others across Western Queensland. By April 2015 we were totally de-stocked, apart from 6 poddys and two old horses left on the property.
“When the drought really started to bite for us in 2013 I revisited the swimwear idea that I had stored in the back of my head. I thought I have to do something, I didn’t want to move to town as we had two small children at that stage and I wanted to keep the family together.
“An electronic business just seemed to be the answer, so I started researching swimwear manufacturing. As I did not have small business or retail experience, I kept doubting whether I was doing the right thing and whether it was a good idea to be using all my savings to establish this unusual business idea.
“After 18 months of research I finally found a manufacturer who could sew and create my designs. I then got the tick off from the Australian regulatory authority for sun safety that my fabric was the highest level (UPS 50+) you can get. Another 15 months on I launched a Facebook page on the first day of summer in 2015.
“The very next day the communication tower failed so I had to drive to Ilfracombe every day to access the internet. That was also the same time that my stock was arriving and I was trying to complete my website. We kept going and launched the website on the 15th of December last year and now here we are a year on and slowly gaining momentum.”
For someone who has created and grown a completely online business you would not expect to find out that not only had Julie never used social media but was also terrified of it.
“I had to get help from some social media people who had to do everything like setting up a Facebook business page for me, as I didn’t know how to. I’m still terrified of it, but I have been able to use my old skills from marketing at university. It is still all about building relationships with people and gaining their trust by showing them that it is possible to provide people with sunsafe swimwear that is beautiful, colourful and really good quality.”
Even though her business is gaining momentum Julie still felt shy about Coola Cozzies winning the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network Small Business of the Year award last month. “It has given me the confidence to talk about the business, it was so left of field that I wasn’t sure what people would think but the award has given me an awesome confidence boost and has made the journey so much sweeter.”
Something very close to Julie’s heart is helping those impacted by the drought, that is why five per cent of Coola Cozzies proceeds go towards the Western Queensland Drought Appeal.
“We wanted to try and give something back, we are in it for the long haul too.”
What is next for Coola Cozzies? Julie was getting ready to launch some new designs before Christmas and “if we can help at least one person avoid a melanoma, or get someone back in the water because they feel more confident in swimwear that provides a bit more cover, then the journey has been worthwhile.”