Designing to create a job for myself while being a MUM

Designing to create a job for myself while being a MUM

Having a baby really changes your life, and there is no doubt that my first baby really changed mine.  She was born back in Australia, as I just wanted to be near my mum for the birth, but once she was 8 weeks old and she had her own passport, we packed up and left to go back to the Caribbean.  I remember telling mum that we would just sell our little boat and come home.  Here is my husband with her just before we returned back to the Caribbean.

Previously we had been sailing around having a very carefree life, and when we ran out of money, we simply went somewhere to work for a while.  Having a baby, meant that was not so easy anymore.  I couldn't just go out and get a job, as I didn't want to leave my baby.  My first venture into business was to buy a shipment of the most beautiful baskets from Madagascar, and shipped them to the Caribbean.  We were living in a tiny little studio apartment, so we had baskets everywhere, look at them piled up behind me in the photo below.

Next I started to make my own jewelry with crystals, Larimar (the gemstone of the Caribbean) and sterling silver.  Here is a pair of earrings I made.

Eventually my good friend and the Production Manager from Billabong South Africa said to me "when are you going to stop fiddling around with these little things and start your own label".  That was my AH-HA moment, until then I had never really thought of doing that.  I am a trained fashion designer, which I considered my "trade" (much like a hairdresser or an electrician) but I had always thought of it in terms of "getting a job", certainly not starting a fashion label!

Shortly after that conversation, I flew off to India to visit factories, source cottons and design prints.  Here I am in Delhi.

I found the most amazing SOFT cottons, perfect for sarongs and tunics to wear in the Caribbean heat.  I was so excited, I remember catching an overnight train from Jaipur, and I just couldn't sleep...I was buzzing.  By the time the train rolled into New Delhi in the morning, I had drawn up all the sketches, selected colors, designed the prints, beads, trims, labels and hang tags.  I handed it all over to the factory and flew back to the Caribbean to wait for samples.

Meanwhile my plan to sell my little boat and return to Australia didn't really pan out.... we sold our little boat and bought a BIGGER ONE.... big enough for family sailing.  We spent a year or so on the dock in St.Maarten working on the new boat we had bought at auction, and saving money.


Here is my baby falling asleep in my arms in the cockpit at sunset.  I am wearing a sarong, but a RAYON sarong, there were not too many cotton sarongs around back then.


Here is the first day we packed up the dinghy and left St.Maarten to sail south through the islands.  We stopped in at some of the most amazing Caribbean resorts along the way, visiting the buyers, showing the samples, trying to get orders for the upcoming season.  Some of the buyers already knew me from having bought jewelry and baskets, but this was a completely new line I was showing.  Lucky the buyers seemed to LOVE getting a visit from the sailing designer, I would get out of the dinghy and come up the beach with my sandy feet and bag full of samples.  Not conventional by any means!

I used to iron the samples with one of those old fashioned stove-top irons, as we didnt have electricity on board!

Internet back then was not nearly as good as today, especially down in the islands.  Sometimes we would motor around an anchorage to see if we could pick up a wifi hot spot from one of the beach bars or restaurants.... it was always such a treat to have email come straight to the boat !

Often we would scoot around the islands in the dinghy looking for cool locations for photo shoots.  Then we would ply the child with food to try to keep her quiet while Justin took photos of me in the samples.  This photo was taken on Hog Island Grenada.  I thought this was the perfect photo setup, with those 2 palm tree's perfectly aligned.

Eventually bit by bit West Indies Wear has grown, we have been going for 12 years now, and gradually we have expanded from being available in a handful of Caribbean island resorts, to now being found in boutiques all up the east coast of USA, a little on the TX gulf coast, and even all the way over to Hawaii.  Some seasons we find ourselves in Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, this season in Cancun Mexico and once even in little Swimwear shops in Canada.  

I finally moved back home to Australia when my daughter was 7 years old.  I had another 2 babies as I turned 39 and 41.  Traveling each year back to Florida to show the new collection.  Here I am at Surf Expo, showing the line with baby #3 in my pouch.

We are still a tiny little family company, working hard to bring new island goodies in pure cotton to you all each year.  This year we are deeply saddened that some of our original Caribbean island boutiques are really struggling to re-build.  Just heart broken by IRMA's bad behaviour, but in the headlines from the NY Times that Tessa from Foxy's sent me this week.... KNOCKED DOWN but NOT OUT !!!  They will be back better than ever.

I have no doubt. One Love x



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I love your stories and love what I bought from your on-line store. I’m going to the BVI’s this December and I look forward to seeing some of your stuff at Foxy’s! Thank you!


A lovely and inspiring life story. I can relate because my brother and sister-in-law decided sailing life was for them and I have lived vicariously through their adventures and experiences for the past 30 years. I love your fashions, appreciate the plus sizes and colour selections and greatly enjoy your emails. I am just awaiting delivery of the SeaStar cardi-wrap and have the turtle print tunic in Splash – which I totally love. I have referred your website to friends and they also are enthralled with the patterns and styles. Thank you for your commitment to comfort and style. I look forward to owning several more pieces.

Tamalee Bellows

Can not imagine all that you’ve lived. Beautiful, strong, resourceful family & wonderful business – good luck to you.


THATS ME!!!!!!!!!!!…


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