Panel Discussion with the Sydney Urbanistas
In May 2019, I was invited to join a panel hosted by the Sydney Urbanistas.
In their own words,
“we are a women-led collaborative network that aims to amplify the voice of women making a positive difference in our community and cities. We, along with our UrbanMistas, share a passion and drive for positive social, urban, local and creative change."
The topic for discussion was
Traditional Disruptors: The Butcher, The Baker and the Candlestick Maker
This phrase is used as a generic term for people of all trades, in essence, a reference to the ordinary.
In a world where high tech is taking over there seems to be a movement that is turning a hand at old-world crafts, and creating disruption through the innovative thought and underlying intent via traditional methods.
I was extremely proud to speak alongside Suzy Spoon from the Vegetarian Butcher and Nadine Ingram from Flour and Stone. Both women are absolute powerhouses in their industries, funny and humble to boot.
Speaking on a panel was a first for me, but it was an awesome experience! If you’re a woman in Sydney and want to network with inspiring women, I’d highly recommend you to follow the Sydney Urbanistas on Facebook and try to get along to their events.
We covered some great topics on the night and what I have below isn’t the conversation verbatim, but rather from memory. We shared some wonderful experiences and advice that I wanted to write down for everyone to access, in their own time.
Note that these are just my responses and I haven’t penned anything on behalf of fellow panellists, Suzy and Nadine.
So, here goes!
Firstly, a bit of a bio about yours truly..
Leonie O'Brien is the creator of Pretty Frank and manages Marketing and Operations for a small real estate agency in Waterloo. She had an 18-month stint in the local head office of Airbnb and followed her passions outside of the 9-5 to create her handmade soy candle business.
Leonie's passion for the environment has led her to make Pretty Frank as green as possible.
When she's not pouring candles, listening to podcasts or writing blog posts, you can find her with her handsome dog, a kelpie cross named Frank.
Looking back, what has been the most defining moment for you, career or personal?
Leaving a company that wasn’t good for me anymore. I took some time to regroup and applied for the role with Airbnb and my trajectory was changed. I was finally around people who were creative and cool and they encouraged me. I started off feeling so low and like the dumbest person in the room, but by the time I left my confidence was soaring and I had learnt so much. If you’re in a role that is sucking the life out of you, PLEASE move on and make way for something new and fantastic to come along!
What was your biggest fear around starting your business and approaching it in a different way to the traditional norm?
For Pretty Frank, I just did what felt natural. Every decision I’ve made with PF has felt pretty organic. I created a product with components that I could stand behind. I did my research and sourced suppliers that have the same values as me. Most are Australian-owned, except for the tiny drop of glue which holds the wick in place. This has to be sourced from Germany to keep my products completely vegan-friendly.
What would be the one or two bits of advice you would give to your younger self?
Protect your energy. You only have so much time in the day and for an introvert, I find that if my ‘social energy’ is drained, then so is my creative energy. Be very particular about where you put your time. Netflix might be a really necessary part of your routine, just like walking the dog, or going out all the time. Be mindful of where your energy goes.
Trust your instincts. Our intuition is so powerful and I’ve found that I make better choices when I’m paying attention to my gut. If people or a potential opportunity doesn’t give you a good feeling, move on! There’s a gorgeous tribe waiting for you who will give you good feels and get you closer to your goal.
Why do you think have been the key strengths and key challenges for women in your industries?
The candle biz is dominated by women, so I’m happy to work alongside some fierce ladies! Candlemaking is a fantastic gig for women because it can be as big or as small as you’d like it to be. There’s lots to learn and everyone loves candles so there are always customers.
What’s next in your business/personal journey?
Growing PF is the current goal! I have wholesale relationships to build and nourish so that Pretty Frank can be in front of more eyes.
I look forward to more collaborations too! They’re a great way to learn new things and test your skills and build a brand, too.
Candle making has been around since Roman's times - why do you think humans have had such a love of candles for so long and what sparked your interest becoming a candle maker?
This one is easy! Candles are an affordable piece of luxury and for many people, the ritual of burning a candle is synonymous with self care.
You move in somewhere new and what better way to christen the place than to buy a brand new candle and light it!?
Fragrance also goes hand in hand with memories. Our nose has a crazy-good memory so it’s easy to bring back good times just by smelling something so familiar.
What’s the story behind your wonderful business name “Pretty Frank”?
Naming a business is so hard! I want something that was personal, but not obnoxious and wouldn’t necessarily limit me to just selling candles under the name.
Now, I have a gorgeous dog named Frank. I love his name (because I named him!) but I also love the meaning of being honest and upfront. That concept of being “Frank” is something that’s definitely aligned with my personal ethos and certainly with my candles. The candles are something that’s not wishy-washy, not over-marketed and understated.
You have made a strong commitment to the environment and sustainability with all your products, why was this an important element for you and Pretty Frank?
I know we’re all sick of hearing about the election, but the number one concern for voters this election is the environment. Caring about the planet isn’t a controversial view anymore. It’s not about being trendy or even about being ahead of the curve. If your business doesn’t care about the environment, you’re behind the times and people will absolutely boycott you because it looks like you don’t care about where we all live.
How important is collaboration with other like-minded businesses for you and the success of your business and who have been your biggest supporters of Pretty Frank?
Collaboration is huge! It’s so important to share ideas and speak to other women and business owners. Sometimes you need someone else’s perspective to help see something more clearly.
I don’t tend to follow other candle businesses on Instagram. I used to do this, but sometimes you’d see their posts and think “omg! That’s so clever! Why didn’t I think of it first!?” and beat yourself up a bit. I’d rather find new inspiration and ideas from other industries and other businesses.
As for my biggest supporters, I think that every small business will start with friends and family, and if you’re in an office - colleagues. Friends who really care about you, will care about your business too. Some people don’t get it, and that’s ok - leave them be and appreciate the other parts of your friendship. But for the people who show my business love, I’ll always have so much affection.
As a completely online business, what are the benefits and challenges of retail in this environment?
People buy candles for two reasons - one is aesthetic and the other is smell. I can take lots of photos of my candles but they’re all the same! I can’t show you how they smell. I was at a market once (they’re not really my jam, so I haven’t been back!), but I will never forget the look on people’s faces when they picked up a candle they loved the smell of… worse is when they hate the fragrance!