In an ever-changing job market, the average worker will have five different careers instead of staying in the same office for life. That’s a hell of a lot of upskilling. We asked four women who’ve made drastic career changes for their hot tips
The Sales Executive Turned Supplement Queen: Anna Lahey – Vida Glow
September 13, 2014, is a date enshrined in Anna Lahey’s memory forever. Not only was it the day she said “I do” to her life partner, it was also the day her company Vida Glow sold their first-ever product. “My [now] husband spent our entire wedding day on his phone, and finally the notification came through that we had sold our first product,” says Lahey, who began her working life as a sales executive for the apparel business Hotsprings, before going out on her own to launch the revolutionary supplement brand. “I did always know I wanted to do something for myself, though I just wasn’t sure what that was going to be yet.
It took a holiday to Japan for Lahey to figure it out. “While I was in Japan, I was exposed to collagen. Everyone uses it over there and it is accessible on almost every corner. I took some home with me and left the bottle in the cupboard for six months,” explains Lahey, 31, who was struggling with hair loss at the time. After having to pour acid down the shower drain for the umpteenth time to clear the hair blocking the pipes, she started taking the collagen and noticed a difference within weeks. The discovery prompted her to investigate the miracle supplement that promised to improve skin, nail and hair health. And that research eventually led to developing her original marine collagen powder and starting Vida Glow as a side hustle while still working as a sales executive (albeit a sales executive with more voluminous hair).
In 2014, she went all-in on her beauty biz, leaving Hotsprings for a tiny office in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, working alongside her husband/business partner. Now, Vida Glow is considered a pioneer in ingestible beauty, with a cult following, rave reviews and a rapidly growing team of 20 employees, selling one unit of collagen every four seconds. Oh, and that customer who bought the very first product six years ago still uses Vida Glow today – giving Lahey another reason to raise a glass on her wedding and first sale anniversary. Here’s to health, happiness and business longevity.
The Criminal Lawyer Turned Bikini Designer: Becky Jack – Peony Swimwear
Becky Jack’s earliest memory is of drawing with her grandma’s Derwent pencils. At school she would sketch in the corner of her books, and at restaurants she would doodle on napkins. Creativity was always bubbling under the surface, at the tip of her fingers, just waiting for her to pick up a pen for it to be unleashed. And yet, growing up in a “pretty conventional family” with a nurse mother and doctor dad, Jack didn’t consider art as a career path. “I felt this pressure to pursue a more stable pathway and get a ‘real job’,” she says. “So I enrolled in a double degree in law and business, which I absolutely loved, until I actually started working in a legal practice.”
Working as a trainee lawyer in a criminal defence firm, Jack says she was “absolutely miserable” and felt “creatively stifled”.
“Every Sunday night I would get crippling anxiety about going to work in the morning,” admits Jack, 30, who quit her job and worked as a waitress while she built a business plan for her dream creative outlet: a swimwear label called Peony. “I named the business Peony because my grandmother always had a peony garden and they bloom to signal the beginning of summer. I thought it was a really beautiful metaphor for what I wanted the brand to be: feminine, romantic and effortless.”
Don’t be fooled, though: running a swimwear label isn’t all bikini shoots and beach days. Jack says the pressure of running a business is much the same as working at a law firm. What keeps her going is the freedom and creativity – plus all the little wins along the way. “At our first-ever market stall in 2012 at Burleigh Heads [in Queensland], we had girls lining up waiting for the stock to be hung up. Making my first sale – and seeing how happy the customer was trying on the swimwear – was such a validating moment,” admits Jack, whose sustainably made bikinis are now stocked at Net-APorter online, Harrods in London and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.
“Also, being featured in my dad’s favourite newspaper supplement – The Australian Financial Review – was a pinch-me moment. Especially because he was so apprehensive about the business idea in the beginning. He ate humble pie, for sure.” We can’t wait for her dad to see her in the pages of marie claire… hi Mr Jack!
The Advertising Director Turned Florist: Sarah Regan – Little Flowers
“I threw caution to the wind and resigned without a job to go to,” says Sarah Regan of her decision to quit her high-flying advertising job of 12 years. “It was a build-up. I was really ready for change.”
And change is exactly what she got: swapping her stilettos for gumboots and her 10pm client drinks for 4am market stops when she co-founded Little Flowers florist.
The idea sprouted (pun intended) from good old-fashioned people watching. While observing delivery drivers dropping off expensive bunches of limp roses at her office, Regan thought, “What if you could send flowers for under $50?” She answered her own question by launching Little Flowers in 2013, offering beautiful bunches for $25 (delivery included).
As expected, Sydney went crazy for the idea. In the years following, the company has blossomed and hasn’t stopped growing. “It was terrifying, there were so many things that could go wrong,” says Regan, 42, explaining what it was like to leave a corporate job to start her own business. “I didn’t just become a florist, but a courier, HR expert, bookkeeper and a lawyer.”
Even though upheaving her life and leaving a stable job for the unknown was panic-inducing, Regan still believes it’s the best career decision she’s ever made. “Dare to dream, ladies. Have courage and self-belief. You’re never going to know what’s possible until you try,” she says to all the women who have a light bulb ready to be switched on.
The Visual Neuroscientist Turned Baker Extraordinaire Subha Nasir Ahmad – Sunny Bakehouse
There are more parallels between science and baking than you would think: both require you to follow detailed instructions and understand intricate information, and Bunsen burners were basically made for toasting marshmallows. Subha Nasir Ahmad, a visual neuroscientist, says the ability to follow protocol helped her become a champion baker. After finishing her job at the Heart Research Institute, she auditioned for The Great Australian Bake Off – indulging her love of Swiss meringue buttercream and passionfruit curd.
“I taught myself to bake as a kid, using Betty Crocker cake mixes,” says Nasir Ahmad, who grew up in Pakistan eating traditional desserts rich with condescended milk, before moving to Australia at age 12 and discovering lamingtons.
Using her self-taught skills, Nasir Ahmad launched Sunny Bakehouse in 2015 and won The Great Australian Bake Off in 2019. Despite loving the creativity of cake decorating, she struggled with the isolation of working on her own in the kitchen.
“When Sunny Bakehouse became my full-time business, I was baking until midnight. I had no social life. I was lonely and I realised baking wasn’t stimulating enough for me as a career,” explains Nasir Ahmad, who also has aspirations of writing a cookbook and teaching baking classes.
Now 27 and on the cusp of her third career change, Nasir Ahmad’s advice to her younger self is “to be more explorative”. She’s doing just that, by taking pottery classes. “Pottery has taught me to let go. Sometimes pots don’t work out because the clay is too soft. You have to let it go.” Wise words.
This article originally appeared in the June issue of marie claire: out now.