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Career

Augustine designer Kelly Coe on how she juggles family and a fashion empire

The Kiwi designer with a flair for colour shares her secrets for balancing life and work.

By Sophie Neville
When Kelly Coe and her husband Nathan launched fashion label Augustine from the back of their garage 10 years ago, the stylish mum's biggest fear was that no-one would be brave enough to wear her bold designs.
After all, Kiwi women are known for their love of black and Kelly's clothes are anything but.
A decade on, however, the queen of colour can barely walk down the street without spotting someone in one of her stunning garments, the bright prints often bedazzled in sparkly sequins.
"It's a wonderful feeling when I see people in my designs – it's like I've injected colour into the nation!" she laughs as she welcomes us into her Auckland home to celebrate the brand's 10-year anniversary.
Kelly is known for her bright colours and prints
While creating a successful company from the ground up would be enough to keep most women busy, designer Kelly, 36, and Nathan, 43, have managed to fit a family into the mix as well. And as she introduces her gorgeous girls Indiana, eight, Demi, seven, and two-year-old Havana, it's clear that motherhood always comes first.
"Nathan and I always said that if it wasn't working for our family, then we'd stop. The kids are absolutely our first priority and we've made sure that we're incredibly involved in everything they do. We both coach their sports teams, and we're at every athletics day and school performance. We're very fortunate that we can be hands-on parents."
But Kelly admits life wasn't quite so straightforward when baby Indi arrived soon after she and Nathan first set up Augustine back in 2008. While the successful business now has four stand-alone retail stores, 60 stockists and 70 staff, back then, Kelly didn't have help, so would take her wee girl along to meetings, where she would sit under a desk in her car seat, attend fashion shows, and even go on trips to China with Mum and Dad.
"She was the best-travelled baby – she just came everywhere with us!" recalls Kelly.
"There were definitely stressful times along the way, but Nathan is one of those people who says, 'Of course we can do this!' and he always encouraged me to keep going, even in the tough parts."
While the clan now has a full-time nanny, Kelly saysthe girls are regular visitors to the Augustine office and stores, where they love to muck in and play shop.
"They help wrap up the packages for our online sales and play around on the tills," says Kelly, who adds that so far, only her middle daughter appears to have inherited her mum's love of fashion.
"I don't remember the last time Indi wore a dress," she laughs. "She's more of an activewear girl. But Demi loves clothes and she dresses herself so perfectly. Havanais still little enough to let me dress her in whatever I want,so I'm enjoying that while it lasts!"
Kelly says her daughters are all different in their own ways. Indi is outgoing and loves performing, Demi is thoughtful and more reserved, while Havana rules the roost.
"Havana is the boss of everything. She's so bossy but very adorable. She probably gets away with far too much because she's the youngest – sometimes we think, 'Oh God, what have we created?!'"
Kelly and Nathan have managed to balance work and family
just swimmingly.
An early adopter of social media, Kelly – who posts a photo of her outfit on Facebook most days – says it's this openness that's helped win the loyalty of so many Kiwi women. She's proud of the fact her clothes are "inclusive".
"I put my face out there very early on and it was about saying, 'This is me. I'm a suburban mum, but this is how I'm dressing and I think you should try it too. 'It inspired them to wear colour and be glam. It's all about feeling good and I think my clothes make people happy."
The pair, who celebrated Augustine's milestone with a massive party in Auckland's Mission Bay earlier this month, are still amazed by their customers' loyalty.
"I love that our customers feel like they know me and know each other. They send photos of what they're wearing and how they're wearing it. They're incredible the way they've bought into everything we've created."
While Kelly admits she rarely stops thinking about work, over Christmas, she will turn off her phone and head up north for a well-earned two-week family holiday at their remote seaside bach.
They'll spend their days barefoot on the beach, kayaking, jet-skiing and hopefully catching a fish or two.
"There's no reception at all and no other houses nearby," she enthuses. "It's the best place to unwind and switch off from our usual crazy lifestyle. I just can't wait!"

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