How many times have you sat on the sand at the beach when you really wanted to dive into the water? Or walked down to the water’s edge with your child and felt distracted by being self-conscious about your body, rather than focusing on what’s right in front of you? It was moments like this which inspired Gemma Freeman to launch her business...
“ALULU came to me after one particularly beautiful day by the water. I had already missed out on so many early memories with my children simply because I didn’t feel comfortable in my swimwear. I needed pieces with bust support and pieces that offered all-day comfort. So, I set out on a journey to make that happen.” She set out to create a brand which focused on diversity (sizes range from Aus 10-20 and US 6-16) and making women feel good.
That journey began in her family garage in northern NSW. To prepare for Gemma’s first-ever shipment of swimwear in 2018, she gave the garage a complete overhaul, installing shelving, a desk and an office plant. “I was so proud of this little space. It gave me a place to lock myself away from my toddlers for a short amount of time and be in my own world working on something I was passionate about,” she reflects. At that time, Gemma was also working three days a week in product development for a fashion company on the Gold Coast, so it was only once her children were in bed, that she’d have time to work on the business. And like many start-ups, bringing her vision to life didn’t come without sacrifices. “To get the business off the ground, we turned our family home into a vacation rental. During holiday periods, we moved our family in and out of our home to finance the business.” Since then, the business has expanded into a local warehouse, and her dream has turned into a reality. “It means so much to me now when I receive messages from women telling me how they feel in their ALULU… I actually save all of the lovely messages women send to me and look back on them if ever I need a pick me up!”. Gemma has also expanded into chic loungewear, in addition to her swimwear which will make you feel good and forget that niggling voice which tells you to stay put on the sand.
Here, we speak to the inspiring mother and founder about her passion for fostering body love in women, self-acceptance and chasing her dreams.
Go to alulu.com.au
Tell us about where you live…
I live 30 minutes north of Byron in a little town called Pottsville. I really love the relaxed vibe and easy access and connection to nature.
Our bodies change when we have children – and there's a lot of pressure to get our pre-baby bodies back, when in fact, our bodies are more special than ever before after we give birth. How did you feel about your body after you gave birth?
I absolutely agree with this. To be completely honest, after having a baby, it did take me a little while to feel confident in my body again. Our bodies go through so much change – and between caring for a new little human and getting used to my post-baby body, it was a lot of change to get used to. Now that my children are a little older, I look back and wish I hadn’t worried so much about my body. I now try to enjoy all the moments without fear of how my body looks! My hope is that we can all embrace our uniqueness and carry our characteristics with confidence.
Your brand was inspired by your own experience of being by the water and not feeling relaxed. This is something so many women can relate to – so many of us feel self-conscious and like we're not able to join in the fun with our kids. Tell me about your experience?
You’re right, I really didn’t feel confident to strip down to my swimwear and join in the fun with the kids. The idea for ALULU came to me after one particularly beautiful day by the water. I had already missed out on so many early memories with my children simply because I didn’t feel comfortable in my swimwear. I needed pieces with bust support and pieces that offered all-day comfort. So, I set out on a journey to make that happen!
So many swimwear brands lack coverage and are totally impractical for beach swims or wrangling kids – when you were looking for swimwear, what did you find in the market (or what didn't you find?)
When I looked for swimwear, I tended to find either expensive, unsupportive and impractical pieces, or cheaper items with gaudy prints. All had shapes that didn’t make me feel sophisticated and comfortable either.
What were you looking for when it came to swimwear?
I was definitely looking for bust support and pieces that offered all-day comfort. Practicality combined with style.
You embarked on a journey with the goal to make it easier for women to feel happy and confident by the water – this is so important because those moments with our children are fleeting. Body image/not feeling comfortable holds so many women back. What is some of the feedback you've had since you launched Alulu?
It means so much to me now when I receive messages from women telling me how they feel in their ALULU. A lot of women have told me that they love the support in our cozzies and that they really appreciate the amount of coverage the pieces offer. Many women also tell me that they are post-baby which means their bodies have changed. They think it is wonderful to feel comfortable again in swimwear. I actually save all of the lovely messages women send to me and look back on them if ever I need a pick me up!
Sustainability has always been hugely important to you – tell me about how you approach sustainability?
I approach sustainability as a journey – always being open to new ways to improve how we create our products. Remarkable new developments are regularly occurring in recycled and regenerated fibres. These fibres are being made into the most luxurious swimwear fabrics. I make sure I stay up-to-date with what the new developments are. I truly believe that collectively, the small steps we make now can have significant impacts for future generations.
I am also really proud to be using manufacturers that I feel run their factories ethically. I love that our garment factory supports a diverse workplace, and the senior management team are all female and engage a workforce with significant cultural and religious diversity. Above award/minimum wages are paid to staff, and the factory is regularly audited. I think it’s also pretty special that the factory provides workers with flexible working conditions, allowing staff to navigate the two daily school sittings in Bali.
Your sizing is inclusive - Sizes 8-20 – and you feature women with real bodies (that includes cellulite) in your imagery. This is so important and it's a shame more brands don't offer a more realistic representation of women. Was this always something that was important to you from the beginning?
Providing size inclusivity and featuring a range of different model sizes, is very close to my heart. I think, as women, we tend to live with beliefs around body image that only hold us back from experiencing freedom and joy. I believe the more we normalise all bodies, and embrace uniqueness, the faster we can move away from these limiting beliefs. We don’t need to look a certain way to be worthy or accepted. That’s an important message.
Tell me about some of your favourite swimwear styles?
This season we have introduced several beautiful new shapes and fabrics into the mix! I particularly love the new textured Italian fabrics we have on offer this season.
What about the launch of your loungewear – was this always part of the plan, and tell me about it?
To me, loungewear goes hand-in-hand with swimwear. Personally, I love working with a small range of clothes in my cupboard. A few neutral pieces I can wear every day, and over swimmers to the beach makes life as a mum so much easier!
How do you structure your day with work/children?
I have spent a lot of my business journey juggling young children and work simultaneously. Recently I made the decision to clearly define “work” time and family time. During school holidays, I try to work half days – so I can focus on work in the morning and spend the afternoons with my children. I also make sure I exercise every day (where possible) as I find that so important for my own mental health and productivity!
Running your own business, do you find it hard to switch off?
Absolutely. This is something I am still working on. Having young children, it is always tempting to finish the day’s work once the children go to bed, leaving no downtime in the day. I have learnt to notice the signs of when I am overdoing it and when I need to be a little gentler to myself. Lately, I have been setting more exact boundaries around what needs to happen to allow me to get the work done, and spend quality time with my children. Things like asking for help or booking that extra day at childcare so quality time can be spent with children can be so helpful.
What areas of the business do you find the most challenging?
I have a design background, so there are many other areas of business I have had to learn, such as website management and marketing. We now have a great little team working with us that support that side of the business, which I am super grateful for! I can focus more on creating our products and managing our supply chain. Finding trustworthy manufacturers did take us a little while. We are at a point now where we have complete trust in our supply chain, but it did require a lot of searching and testing.
How has the pandemic impacted your business and what's your advice to other small business owners around navigating this period?
ALULU is a small, exclusively eCommerce business so fortunately we haven’t been too severely affected by the pandemic. My advice is to other small business owners is to be bold and optimistic, and look for opportunities. If something isn’t working during these times, let go and find another way. And be kind, always be kind.
Finally, what do you want to say to women about loving their bodies/fostering self-love after children?
As women, we have such incredible strength within us. I am always so inspired by the strength of the women around me, and my hope is that when we look in the mirror, we see the true beauty, strength and courage that looks back at us. We are our little people’s entire world – and we are absolute perfection in their eyes. Sometimes it is hard to remember that amongst all the chaos.