“I cried a lot in the first two years”, says Pip Brett, the founder of much-loved homewares and fashion store Jumbled. It’s not what you’d expect from the energetic Brett – Jumbled is a colourful haven, bursting with inspiration and pure joy.
But her early days, she says, weren’t all vibrant colour-clashing and unexpected pattern-mashups. “I had rented this little butcher’s shop. It was $200 a week and it included the house next door… I had really humble beginnings. It was pretty dismal when I’d have a quiet day of no money and then walk into my cold house next door.”
But Brett persevered, and having a singular vision helped. “Our goal was to give joy and to inspire, not just sell.” It’s something that’s helped to drive the business forward, growing not only in its fiercely loyal community but in its passionate online following, and now, The Huddle – a semi-regular weekend retreat for women in business to share and connect.
At its heart, Jumbled isn’t just a place for art, fashion, interiors and trinkets – it’s about, well, heart itself. We speak to its inimitable founder about being authentic, believing in yourself, and why personality beats skills every time…
Your mum is a huge inspiration to you. She ran a fashion store for years – what memories do you have of being at the store growing up?
Most of our childhood was at the store. It was in this cute little old cottage, Mrs. Beasley’s cottage, and had cockle shells out the front and statues that would always get stolen on a Saturday night. My brother and I were always out the back putting stickers onto her pamphlets to post, because of course there wasn’t the internet back then.
I feel like my whole life has been around retail. My father died when we were young, so we watched mum grow her business. She was super hard working and did it all on her own. She had one staff member that would come in if she had to go away. If anyone’s worked in retail, you’ll know that real buzz of nailing it and seeing someone walking out feeling happy from your help. It’s what drove her. She’s a total inspiration to me.
You started your business when you were just 22. Did you feel fearless?
I wouldn’t say fearless. I always say ignorance is bliss. I don’t think I thought too much about it. I can’t ever remember thinking that it would fail, but I don’t know if I ever thought it would succeed either. I just felt in my bones, it was the right thing to do. I also knew that where we are in central western NSW, there was a real need for beautiful fashion. It’s not like it is today, there was no online shopping. People needed to drive to Sydney and spend the day shopping in the city. There was nothing out here.
I just did it, and I didn’t think too much about it, but that’s the beauty of starting a business when you’re young. I feel very grateful that I did do that. I wasn’t too worried about failing, because I think all my friends were also young and none of my friends had opened a business yet. It was a different time then.
When you first launched, you were stocking products based on what you thought people wanted, rather than what you were personally drawn to. Tell me about the beginning and how quickly you learned to stick to your gut instinct?
I launched in Bathurst, not in Orange, where I live now. I launched in Bathurst because there was a university there. I thought young people would love it, but university students have no money and they’re on holidays so often. They’re not really in Bathurst most of the year. Most of my clients were coming from Orange and they were older than I’d expected. Two years later, I moved the store over to Orange and that’s when I really felt like I properly launched.
Jumbled is just the most incredible business. It almost feels like your success happened overnight – but businesses never happen overnight…
Our business has been a slow burn. There have been certain decisions that we’ve made along the way that have catapulted it up, but those first years were extremely hard. I cried a lot in the first two years. I had rented this little butcher’s shop. It was $200 a week and it included the house next door. I didn’t over capitalise. I had really humble beginnings. It was pretty dismal when I’d have a quiet day of no money and then walk into my cold house next door. I worked out what worked and what didn’t, and I changed it.
It's the people who make a business. Talk to me about how you hire for personality over skills…
Staff would be the thing that would keep me up at night. Not customers, not money, but my staff. They’re very important to me and having the right people is so vital to your business. I’ve made so many mistakes over the last 16 years, but I feel like I’ve finally got a handle on how to hire better and how to find the right people. At the moment, we have the most beautiful mix of people from really varied backgrounds. Skills can be taught. We hire on personality, really, because you can’t teach someone to go the extra mile for someone. You can’t teach someone to think of someone else. You’ve got it, or you don’t. I feel like going forward, that’s going to be the secret to the success of having really good staff, because they’re the ones that make the magic day in, day out. In all of our job interviews, one of our questions is, “When have you gone above and beyond?” I think that’s a real ethos to our customer service here. I have the most unreal team, and when you’re an entrepreneur, your business and your life are so intertwined, it’s hard to know where to separate the two. It’s important to be surrounded by wonderful people.
You come across as a natural in front of the camera. Tell me about how you used to be scared to talk or see your face on camera and how you overcame this?
I’d show my feet or my body, but I would never show my face on Instagram. I would never talk either. I once had a retail job in Sydney and in a performance review they said, “could you talk with less of the country accent?” I was like, “Oh my god. I could do everything else but that’s not really something I can change.”
When Instagram Stories started, it felt like a more relaxed approach as it would be gone in 24 hours. I started off talking through a lookbook and saying what I liked and what was coming in. I tried really hard to have a nice voice for it! As soon as Instagram Stories started and we started showing our faces, people got a real sense of who we were and what our story was. It was one of those tipping points in the business that really catapulted it again.
I think regional businesses are really good at showing their story – who they are and what they stand for. Showing the face of the business is important, because we all buy from who we know we can trust. We’re so lucky to have social media in this day and age – it has been such an amazing tool for our business.
I want to talk about how your business has scaled, because in a growing business, you can’t do everything. Equally as the owner, it’s important to understand all aspects of the business. How have you navigated scaling and how involved in all aspects of the business are you?
It’s an ever-evolving thing. As staff come and go, I keep across everything, but I do know when I need to let go. My only fear is that if you give a particular staff member a role and don’t learn it yourself, then when they leave, you’re lost. I actually love all elements of my business and staff. But I have stopped mopping the floors in the morning – I have to let go of some things! You can have it all, but you can’t do it all. So I feel like that’s when you’ve got to call on other people. Equally, you still need to understand what they’re doing, otherwise you’re too reliant.
It’s not easy to build a community, it takes a long time and it does take trust as well. You have such an incredibly engaged community who love everything that Jumbled does - how have you built the Jumbled community and have you had a clear strategy?
We have the most amazing community of loving, amazing, mainly women. But there was no strategy. I think it’s just been as the business has evolved, we’ve picked people up along the way, they jumped on the train with us. I feel like we’ve taken people on the journey as well with us. And then people become invested in what you’re doing as well. When people are starting a new business and saying they want to build a community, I find that to be a really hard thing. I don’t know how I would even go about that if I was starting from scratch today, because it has been just that slow burn of 16 years of doing what we do.
I do think that there was a turning point when we were gaining more followers on Instagram and thinking about what the purpose was. For me, our goal was to give joy and to inspire, not just sell. We really wanted to share the work of others. We want to inspire and educate, we want to share things that we’re truly passionate about, whether it’s a charity or whatever. This has helped create more of a community.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes that new brands make when they launch?
I think the biggest mistake that people make when they’re starting would be pretending they’re bigger than what they are. I find it really interesting when people say, “I’ll just put you on the phone to accounts.” Or make up different people to seem like they’re bigger than what they are, because I really feel if you are a one-man band, or you are up late at night sewing or you’re struggling to get it all together, people connect with that. I think pretending that you’re bigger is a big mistake. Being true to your story and who you are, and taking people on the journey, will help you.
I remember with Iglou – my clothing store that I first started – I rebranded it at one point. I wanted it to be really sophisticated and cool, and I’m just not that. So it was a bit of a flop I feel because it wasn’t being true to who I was.
You launched The Huddle, tell us what it is and why it’s so meaningful for you?
We’ve postponed two and now it’s in May this year again. It’s a weekend of inspiration and learning for kick-ass businesswomen. It came about because we were going through the worst drought and businesses were suffering. I work with my best friend Jess, and we were down in Melbourne for a trade fair. We went out to dinner and sat next to this amazing lady. Everything she said really resonated with me. And I was like, “God! We just need to get her and women like her to Orange. We walked back home to our hotel room, and that’s where the idea for The Huddle came about.
We had 400 people to the first one, and it sold out within the night, it was amazing. We’ve got 750 people coming in May and it’s a full-on weekend in Orange where we just showcase the town as well.
What did you learn about women at the first Huddle?
The single thing that was holding everyone back was their own self-doubt which really surprised me. I don’t have a lot of self-doubt, I don’t know why, but that just really shocked me. It was such a nice place for people to connect and collaborate, but also to know that they’re not alone as well because being in business, I know myself, I’ve felt very lonely. Sometimes you can’t talk to your staff about particular things, and it can feel lonely, when it’s you that has to make decisions.
There were so many cracking little pearls of wisdom. Jane Cay from Bird’s Nest said, “When in doubt, be generous.” I use that daily, whether it’s with a customer solving a problem, my family, my staff, it’s so much easier to be nicer than to stand your ground on something.
What are the biggest changes that you've seen in the last decade in Orange?
Orange has always been an amazing town. When I was growing up, there were wonderful things already going on, like Food Week, which is massive now. But back then, there were people championing really interesting things. Technology and people realising that they can work from anywhere, or that there’s so many opportunities out here to be in business, has meant that Orange has really flourished.
Talk to me about becoming a mum and how motherhood changed the way that you approached your career?
I’ve got two boys and I feel like things are very different now. When they were little, the business was in a real growth phase, and I didn’t have a big team – it was a bit trickier. I really feel like I probably didn’t take the time off that I should have. I didn’t have maternity leave, I just went straight into it. But I also adore what I do. And I really loved having work to go to. Fast forward to now I feel I’ve literally never been in a happier place. I feel like I’ve got a nice balance of work and family now. In those early years, you really do have to grind, don’t you? I feel like now, I’m totally reaping the reward.