Barefootfivetribe Collective, has drawn the acclaim of many celebrity customers, and is frequently featured in magazines and on TV – all in a short few months.hilst devastating for many, the COVID19 crisis has also been the launchpad for a new era of founders and business owners. Jo Robertson is one of many who traded her corporate life – self-admittedly ‘dying inside’ – to start a personal venture during the pandemic. After faring exponential grow, her niche DIY clay kit business,
Robertson offered AESTOLOGYY a raw, honest discussion of her transition from corporate life to fulfilled and successful entrepreneurship, complete with the reality of balancing business growth with a full-time job. In the end, she was asked to choose: “your business, or ours.”
AEST: Tell us about where you were – physically and mentally – when you were prompt to start the Barefootfivetribe Collective?
JO: The months prior had been a whirlwind of emotions. I was working in real estate when COVID hit, and it was such an uncertain time for everyone. The business I worked for closed, and I was asked to take mandatory leave. It was job that I was seeing myself decline in very quickly. I was definitely not happy. I loved the people I worked with, however, being a creative person and not doing what I love was slowly killing me inside. I was bored & unsatisfied.
I was hit with fear that by starting my own business I would lose the security of supporting my family, and paying the bills. My husband was supportive, and said don’t worry we will be fine – “I’ll get us through this.”
AEST: What was the mentality shift that pushed you forward? And how did you come up with your business idea?
JO: Instead of falling in a heap, I picked myself and became a ‘Mum on a mission.’
I approached it as rising up to protect what’s mine: my tribe and my dreams.
It was my mission to come up with something that would help others in this time of uncertainty. Something to clear people’s minds of their anxieties, and try to give them a chance to take their minds off whatever it was causing them pain and anxiety during the pandemic.
That’s when I came up with the idea of offering DIY clay kits that could be sent nationally. It contained a non-toxic Australian air dry clay, with tools and instructions. So there was no need to fire the piece created, it was a small introduction into the world of clay, and decorating them once dried.
It was something you could do on your own or with families to enjoy time together and reconnect whilst in isolation. It was perfect for keeping my three girls occupied that’s for sure.
I was starting to become clearer in my vision, and in the clarity was having these light bulb moments: “what if I took my experience to the people and offered clay building workshops in the comfort of people’s homes after lockdown was over?”
I questioned whether I could actually make a business out of something that I really enjoyed?
I was so uncertain.
Five weeks had passed after I created the kits, and I sent out 13 kits the first day I launched. They seemed to be a hit, which was amazing.
AEST: Tell us about the moment of business expansion, when you jumped into a new niche.
I wanted to open a studio for people to come and hand build clay, I wanted more. My brain was clearer and it was almost a natural occurrence that all these ideas were coming to me. I was starting to feel like my authentic self. I had never felt that way before. It was quite freeing. I had done maybe three workshops, the first one that I did I walked away going I am NEVER doing that again haha. I spoke to my husband about it and he explained that I had to push myself through it and do another, and so another I did. Soon, I came To realise I had done so many and people were actually getting so much from them that bookings were coming in thick and fast from word of mouth.
AEST: What was it like when you got the call to go back to work during COVID whilst your business was operational?
I was in Week 6 when got ‘the call’ to go back to work. I was very grateful to have my corporate position back. The business I worked for reopened and I found myself behind the desk again which prior to was killing me mentally and physically. But at that time I was happy to have a job, so many people were out of work and that was such an incredibly sad thing for people to have to go through.
So, I went back to work, lockdown was over. My little business was growing by the day, people were excited and couldn’t wait to be part of the Clay Workshops on offer. Kits were flying out the door, the next minute I know my kitchen/dining area began to grow and grow into a business. There were shelving units, clay, packaging, ceramics – you name it it was starting to become something and grow.
Things started to change I was at work, I began to feel sick again, and found myself back in a position I really wasn’t happy.
AEST: And then you got the call to be on national TV and promote your business, what was that like? You almost said ‘no’ in fear of your boss’ reaction?
I got the call, that Australian morning TV show, Studio 10, would like to feature my business and whether I was interested – “it’s this Friday.” My first thought was that I was working, and didn’t like my chances of asking for a day off. I felt it wasn’t super professional of me to be doing my business, whilst working for someone else. I was actually considering saying no. My husband said to me “you are crazy if you don’t do this, you have rocks in your head.” I was so worried about what my boss would say, I knew it wouldn’t go down well.
I rang my boss and as I expected they weren’t impressed about me doing it. I had requested that I come in two hours later and not take a lunch break. They said they’d think about it. They got back to me and said yes, but that going forward I’d have to choose between my business or theirs.
“… going forward I’d have to choose between my business or theirs.”
I did the Studio 10 TV segment on Friday with media personality and former Australian The Bachelor, Matty J, and rushed back to work. It was like I’d hit the fork in the road I needed to choose.
AEST: What was the shift like after your morning TV appearance on that day – balance both your business and corporate job?
Things started changing. I had been featured on Studio 10, and was having more and more enquiries each day, packing more and more. It was time to make a decision. Do I stay in a somewhat safe environment, or do I take the risk and put everything into this that I had created? I took the later, resigned that Monday. I was scared, but I had so much support and people telling me that this “was going to be huge.” I had so many people in my corner, encouraging me to do this.
That’s when I saw my vision come alive.
I organised a photo shoot, I organised a florist, a photographer, models, a caterer, two locations – one of those being the iconic Soul Of Gerringong – which was the perfect backdrop for the vision I had in mind.
People needed to see what I had envisioned in my mind for them and their tribe to enjoy.
AEST: What does life feel like now?
Today, I find myself in travel magazines, with celebrities like Australian jewellery designer, Samantha Wills, owning some of my ceramic pieces. Newspaper and holiday magazines have featured my business. I have done so many workshops now I can’t count, and have walked away feeling like my cup is full.
It blows my mind that in such a short time of stepping away from my position, so many opportunities and doors have open to bigger and better things.
Now, I have a number of retail outlets wanting to stock my work, and bookings with businesses all across the Australian South Coast for all-inclusive events. I also offer private Clay workshops for a number of high profile guests, because my workshops are requested and referred.
I am booked out until Christmas and have bookings through to September next year.
It feels so authentic, and I finally feel like I’m being true to myself.
– Jo Robertson
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