Can you tell us a bit about The Lindy Charm School for Girls and how you got started?
The Lindy Charm School For Girls started with a passion, a dolly peg, some wise advise from an elderly lady in a Nursing home I was dancing at and a class full of swing dance students wanting to know how to dress and do their hair and makeup in the style in which they were dancing to…the 1930’s & 1940’s Big Band Era.
With a new love (now my husband), new home, 3 kids, full time work, building a dance school and then the birth of The Lindy Charm School for Girls… Life sure was busy. A roller-coaster of highs and some lows, pitfalls, mistakes and successes.
For a few years it was really about 1 step forward and 2 steps backwards. I look back and wonder just how we managed it all.
Back then (I’m talking around 1996) there was no internet, no YouTube, no online tutorials, blogs etc etc… if you wanted to learn how to style in a particular era it had to be done “old school”. Reading old mags, watching hundreds of old films, seeking out and approaching anyone that you could to learn from their own style/experiences. I looked to our fore-mothers who were there, who remembered their Mums and what they did etc, I definitely learnt so much from my own Mum BUT most importantly, as with everything successful in your life, I practiced, failed, practiced and failed again but I kept going until there were more successes than failures.
Fast forward 10 years and Ray and I decided to take a break from teaching Swing Dance and closed our school (Katz Korner) down. This was really, really hard for me in particular as I thought being a swing dance teacher with our own school defined me/us as it was always Ray and I as a team… little did I know, it was the right time and exactly what I needed to grow The Lindy Charm School in its own right.
For a few years, The Lindy Charm School, even though it was my 100% focused passion, it was still a weekend warrior business. Working full-time then flying out on a Saturday morning to any and every state in Australia, running workshops back to back and flying home exhausted from the fun of it all on Sunday night and front up to a job on Monday. This worked for a few years and I worked so super hard to build a brand, get my name out there and connect with as many women as I could. I started to believe I could actually make a difference to girls and what they wanted to achieve in their own personal style/journey… one pin curl at a time.. I was doing this.. this brought me joy… a wonderful lady (Tamra Mercier from Getting Naked) did some NLP/coaching work with me to find my own strength and confidence and courage to do more and grow, which were good building blocks for what was to come.
A life changing/defining moment for me and The Lindy Charm School was on a Monday Morning 2 years ago. I flew home Sunday night and went straight to the Hospital where my baby sister was fighting for her life with ovarian cancer.. it was my shift to stay over (as a family we would not let her sleep one night alone).. I woke on Monday morning and was getting ready for work… Elisha was watching me, not having much energy to talk, she said, “Chrissy, why don’t you just back yourself and do the charm school full time, you are good at it and it’s your time instead of killing yourself working 7 days a week”…. I laughed and said, how could I give up the security of a weekly wage, holiday pay and super etc, the convenience of just fronting up, doing what you do and getting paid for it…. I went off to work… less than 3 hours later I was back at the hospital as I felt something was not right and I knew where I wanted & should be and that was not at work. Elisha was never able to speak another word to me and passed away 48 hours later…Elisha words resonate in me still. I never went back to work, sent an email to resign and it took me a year to even collect my things.
Not knowing the future, no income and still a family and mortgage and life stuff to deal with, I, surprisingly felt calm and trusted the universe, my angels, God and my own abilities with the 100% support of my husband and family, The Lindy Charm School For Girls future was about to soar….
What is it about your work that you love?
The diversity and range of work we can and do get to do. I was told once if you love what you do, it’s not work. This is so true. Every event we are involved with, every workshop we deliver or every makeover we do brings with it a new experience. Everyone I meet comes with a life full of experiences and there is so much diversity with the people who come to the Charm School, it’s never dull. My most favourite part is watching the realisation on girls and ladies faces as they truly see their beauty as we do. To see a persons authentic self shine through, and it is not necessarily what society and our peers tell us is beautiful, is amazing.
I love delivering the history, sharing the values and encouraging the confidence as well as teaching them the methods on how to achieve their own look. I hold workshops for different age groups i.e.: 5 to 12 year olds, teens, and of course our open ages for the girls/women and now we are including a Suave School for Gents.
Mostly I love the feedback we get about how it was a life changing experience for them. Never underestimate the power of lipstick, powder and paint wrapped up in an envelope of like minded women empowering each other, finding their own vintage style and being given the confidence to rock it! There’s so much more to it!
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
There are a couple of ways to get your own business up and running. I’ve seen both ways succeed and burn out.
1. Have your business plan, market research, all business elements set up prior to launch. This takes cash injection and pre-prep.
2. Start with a passion, learn your market niche, grow organically and as you can afford. Enjoy the journey, embrace the pitfalls and celebrate the successes. Create a great team of people around you.
Not having any money to inject and come out with a bang and ready with all ducks in a row, The Lindy Charm School was a slow burn, it grew organically as it was meant to for me and where I was at in my life. Being a niche market and starting back when I did, there was a lot of learning how and where to fit for The Lindy Charm School. Very few were doing anything remotely like I was doing so there was a lot of trail blazing being done in the early days but to be truthful..it was our fore-mothers that trail-blazed for us so I was just learning from them and passing it on to the next generation, adding some of our own quirk along the way.
The most important piece of advice ever given to me after I was down about all the seemingly perfect business successes of others that I was seeing on social media. A wise person said to me: “While your minding someone else business you are not minding your own” .
It was head down, derriere up from then on and I noticed two things: a): growth & b) a positive confidence in myself at the helm of something great.
What has been the biggest learning curve about working for yourself?
Letting go of the fear of not having the stability of a good job with steady income.
Who to trust and listen to. I wear my heart on my sleeve, can be somewhat naive and accept everyone. Over time, I have learnt to still wear my heart on my sleeve, accept everyone, listen to all but take time to breathe it in, run it past my family or inner circle of friends and then react accordingly and with a degree of poise.
Also, finding new audiences and growing your business without it costing major dollars in marketing which can sometimes be hit and miss. This has been a creative challenge to come up with ways to grow and do all the things you must in business but with a very tight budget.
Time management… I could manage entrepreneurial families, juggle and organise their many business, staff and events but some days can’t stay focused on my current “to-do list” ! These days I can be easily distracted! ……mmmm… shoes… Oh, where were we?
Can you recall a time when something you set out to do has failed – how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
I’ve had many failures. My Mum was the most positive and graceful in defeat women I have ever known. I would go to Mum crying saying I can’t do this, that didn’t work, I’m useless, how can I, what to do etc etc… and she would always find and say the right words to pick me up and put me back on that path to the next thing to try.. Eventually I had more successes than failures and every time I am off to an event I want to ring Mum and tell her what I am doing and at days end after a successful event I want to call her and tell her all about it. This is still really hard for me not to be able to do this each day since she passed away but I have learnt this new thing that is working a treat – my sister Ronnie put me on to it – it goes like this:
Still with a bunch of nerves and butterflies going into any event: I start saying all these wonderful positive things that I imagine being said to me at the end of the event/workshop. I also verbalise the 100% best outcome of what I want for the day, whatever it is you need or would like I say thank you for it… I imagine the END of the event and all of what I say is coming true…. I get quite animated and when I first started dong it Ray looked at me and said “What the heck are you doing? Who are you talking to?” Sounds kind of silly but seriously, so far, it has worked each time. If nothing else, it does give others around me a giggle.
Oh and yes, I do the Wonder Woman Pose for 2 minutes before facing any new challenge.
Why do you think we are so reluctant to talk about our failures?
Because we care too much about what the wrong person out there thinks of us.
We aren’t scared or reluctant to talk about our failures to the right people in our lives, family and trusted friends. In fact we trust them enough to tell the truth about our vulnerabilities to learn and grow from it.
We are all scared of failure, that’s normal but, also, we all know that you need the failures to learn from and to be successful. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new they say!
What inspires you?
I have a healthy respect for the history of what our fore-mothers endured for our rite of passage now. Their tenacity, stoicism and courage to fight for the freedoms we have today is inspiring . I look to people (men or women) who have found the balance and display courage and compassion in equal measure, those who can lead and carry but then also be vulnerable enough to lean on others when required. I am acutely aware of the mortality of us, the finite-ness of life and am in awe at how that pushes people to get up, get going and be great every day in everything they do not matter how big or small.
Biggest misconception about women who dress in vintage style?
That they embrace and are lost in the past, that they maintain and uphold some archaic values of subservience and just being the pretty little lady at home, that they are fuddy-duddy, and meek. In fact, WE who embrace and CHOOSE to carry our own vintage style with confidence, sass and grace in equal measure, are indeed strong, confident feminists as well. We are bold, bright and beautiful. We can hold our own, we are intelligent, savvy, empowering. It takes a fair amount of confidence to step out at the airport wearing an original 1940’s Paku Mu teamed with some tooled mules and a bunch of flowers growing out of your head, let me tell you! *wink*!
What has been your greatest challenge?
To continue delivering and meeting my obligations whilst all around me, my world was falling apart. In the past 3 years, The Lindy Charm School has grown more than ever before and it was also the time of the passing of my Dad, my Sister, my Mum and then going through cancer & treatment myself! I now know that this growth and the small successes along the way have been due to my family, my beautiful wider vintage community of friends and the angels now watching over me. I could not have done any of it alone. For that and them I am so grateful.
I remember one day I had to be hooked up to a take away chemo bottle in the morning and catch a flight in the afternoon to Melbourne to deliver a full house vintage styling workshop the next day. I felt fine. My oncologist just shook his head but said there was no danger in me going at that time. I enlisted a couple of my besties in the industry to carry and do the hands on stuff in the workshop and I just took a step back and talked.
I went home and thought if I can do that with all this happening around me.. I felt I could do anything!
How do you deal with feelings of self-doubt?
I recall my Mum and Sisters words, I look to what our fore-mothers had to do and measure against my current feeling of self-doubt, I then look at what I have achieved and turn it around, if all that fails, I go to those who love me and lean on them a bit until I am restored.
How do you switch off? What’s your favourite way to relax?
Swing Dancing, watching an old movie, walking on the beach, spending quality time with family and friends.
And finally – where can people find you?
Check out other interviews in The F – Word Series.