“It really was my upbringing that fostered confidence and an open mind… I grew up in an entrepreneurial family” – Meet The Extraordinary Founder of A-ESQUE Amanda Briskin-Rettig
Back in 1996, Amanda Briskin-Rettig founded the legendary Australian accessories brand Mimco. She had $5000 in savings which she used to develop six handbag samples. And then in 2007, 11 years after she launched the brand, she sold it for a reported $45 million. To describe her as extraordinary is an understatement....

The launch of Mimco just so happened to coincide with the birth of her first son, Blake. "I was unpacking the truck with my first delivery of product when I was pregnant at 26," the Melbourne based Briskin-Rettig recalls. "My eldest son has been with me on the journey from starting the business in the very beginning. He joined me on my business trips and meetings – I would have him in a rocker at my feet in my first office."

The confidence to go out on her own, she credits to growing up in an entrepreneurial family. And as for navigating career and motherhood, that's an ongoing journey. But one thing she has learnt is not to seek approval from others. "The biggest adaptation has been working out my own identity as woman, mother, and partner, and keeping that balance so I don't sacrifice myself. Feeling satisfied is really important. I feel it has to be my own satisfaction though and not approval I seek from others. My husband, Andrew, has been the linchpin in helping me to confront these challenges and deal with them head-on."

In 2012 she launched herself back into the world of accessories and founded the creative bespoke leather-goods house A-ESQUE, but this time she did things differently. "I was craving the creative output on a smaller, immediate scale. I wanted to be immersed in and production, I wanted to own the process of making," she says. "I also felt that at the time of launching A-ESQUE the world didn't need any more 'stuff' and if I was going to add to that it needed to be in a more responsible way. Considered consumption was really important to me." The answer Briskin-Rettig came up with was simple and logical, manufacturing in a controlled and responsive way, in her hometown of Melbourne. Her flagship store is located on Melbourne's Collins Street and in keeping with the company's commitment to sustainability, they also offer a made to order service.

Visit their website and you'll see Briskin-Rettig's design philosophy is carried through every single bag: "I love beautiful things as opposed to things that are a name. I want this to be less about a brand and more about design." Each item is perfectly considered – belt bags, object boxes, and carryalls. "For me, career and life are one. I don't see them as separate, but I do think because of that I have a propensity to get lost in my work, so I need to keep myself in check with an awareness around this," she says.

Here, we discover more about Briskin-Rettig's exceptional journey.

To shop, go to www.a-esque.com | Photography by Monica Edwards for A-ESQUE

Tell us about your childhood. What are some of your most vivid memories?

My childhood was filled with love, adventure and experience. My mother was young and curious and enjoyed exploring the world. We lived in Israel and London and were lucky enough to travel quite a bit. I have vivid memories of the fashion jewellery and flea markets. My grandparents were also very much involved in my life. Many of my childhood memories, I share with them. I would spend days getting dressed up in my grandmothers' wardrobe, especially her shoes and jewellery box. My father's love and our strong family bond hasn't changed, and I am lucky to still be enjoying experiences with my parents, and as grandparents with my children.

You founded the legendary brand Mimco in 1996. What led you to that point in your career?

My career before Mimco was in Marketing and IT. When I finished uni at the time there weren't really any bags for women my age in the workforce. I would walk around department stores trying to find something I liked but nothing felt right. My parents had always encouraged me to try things and keep an open mind, so when I couldn't find anything I loved, I decided I would try to make something that I enjoyed wearing.

What gave you the confidence to launch your own brand?

It really was my upbringing that fostered confidence and an open mind. I didn't overthink it and jumped in headfirst. Also, I grew up in an entrepreneurial family.

As a mother and a business founder, what are your time management tips?

Routine is not my strong point. My days change constantly so I need to keep an open mind and follow my intuition, which inevitably comes back to my own wellbeing… health, exercise and headspace. If I am not looking after myself then my ability to focus on work and family slips. If I'm not nourishing my mind and body, I will lose my own compass. In a specific work sense, it comes down to being hands on. I'm much happier and creative when I am hands on. Also, being able to prioritise, remain flexible, and being a decision maker have all been important in time management for me.

What's been the biggest challenge of motherhood?

The joys and challenges of motherhood are an ongoing life journey. Every day is different from the last and that presents new challenges and joys in so many different ways.

" I think the biggest adaptation has been working out my own identity as woman, mother and partner, and keeping that balance so I don't sacrifice myself. Feeling satisfied is really important "

You sold Mimco in 2007. What brought you to that decision and was it an emotional one?

Mimco was an undeniably incredible experience both personally and professionally. It allowed me to be develop in so many ways. It was an incredible decision after so many years, but I also understood that the creative aspect of the business came from within me, so I knew that there were more opportunities and roads ahead.

How different was your life post-Mimco?

Just like anybody, life is always changing and at the time I was naturally moving through the chapters. So, I think with or without Mimco my life was already changing. On reflection the move away from the scale, intensity and structure of the business was probably the biggest difference. Naturally, there was a change of pace. I jumped into projects and collaborations with other businesses, which I enjoyed equally and applied myself with gusto and passion. Work wise, my skills and creativity were harnessed when I took on a really great project with a large Australian heritage brand. I was tasked with developing a retail strategy for them including creative direction for stores in the Australian retail landscape.

Tell us about A-ESQUE. What inspired you to launch it?

After some time consulting and collaborating with others, I was feeling creatively frustrated with not being able to make 'things happen'. I love the creative thinking around business and creative projects, but I do love the execution and the satisfaction of making things happen. I can take a long time to digest thoughts and get going, but once I do, the pace is fast. And I love that. That is something I was unable to do while I was consulting. Essentially the desire to execute is what propelled me into the next project.

Post Mimco, I was satisfied with the creative thinking around my new project, but missed the execution, so I started exploring that feeling. I didn't have a desire to go back to the manufacturing in the style I adopted with Mimco, which was solely focussed on manufacturing in Asia, working out of factories with minimum quantities, designing from a distance. Instead I was craving the creative output on a smaller, immediate scale. I wanted to be immersed in and production, I wanted to own the process of making.

I also felt that at the time of launching A-ESQUE the world didn't need any more 'stuff' and if I was going to add to that it needed to be in a more responsible way. Considered consumption was really important to me. I spent time exploring manufacturers and makers that were right on my doorstep and I met some great creatives. Along the way I set up a small atelier with second hand machines which were no longer needed by larger companies as more brands moved production off shore. Gradually, I set myself up for manufacturing in Melbourne, with a desire to be involved in the design and making every single day.

What's different about A-ESQUE? Both in terms of the design, and in the way you're approaching the business?

A-ESQUE comes from the desire to share creative expression, to explore methods of making, and communicating and reflecting. Both brands I have started were similar in the sense that they were relevant at the time of inception.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Throughout my childhood I was encouraged to keep an open mind, not stand in judgement others, and to know myself. I also think its important to laugh at yourself, don't take yourself so seriously… something I wasn't so good at in my 20's, but improved on in my 30's and have started to perfect in my 40's!

What does a day in your life look like?

Pre-Covid it would have involved coffee, kids, work, exercise, school run, work, school pick up, and family time. It's a little different with Covid-19, with the focus on home.

What are you loving at the moment - anything from podcasts to books, fashion, food, anything!

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