A tragedy can change your circumstances. But it can also change you. The way you wake in the mornings. Where your mind goes when you have a moment to think. And what nobody tells you is that you find yourself wincing whenever the phone rings, practically forever—a Pavlovian response to the moment you picked it up and found your whole world changed.
Helen Bayley, co-founder of decor brand Lovestar Australia, got such a phone call one late afternoon last February. It was Chris—her husband and business partner—in tears. The 1,400-square-foot warehouse near Brisbane where they house all the machinery and material to craft their line of acrylic vases and accessories... it was burning down.
"At first I honestly thought he was joking as he likes to play tricks on me all of the time," Bayley said.
She explained to me that the Lucite they cut to make the vases is covered in paper to keep it protected from scratches, and when you're cutting the Lucite on the laser machine, sometimes the paper catches aflame. It's easy to put out quickly when someone's watching it, which is almost always. But on one afternoon in February, Chris walked away for just a moment. The rest is now part of Lovestar's history.
She arrived on the scene just as the fire brigade was putting out the last of the flames. She was incredibly relieved that no one had been hurt ("We take our children and our dog out there, and they play around the area; it could have been so much worse."), but soon the impact to their livelihood began to set in.
"Absolutely everything was gone. Everything," she said. "All the beautiful material that we had been collecting from the USA over the last four years and our machinery that we had worked so hard to acquire. All gone in about 10 minutes. It was devastating."
Lovestar's history began in 2013, just after Helen Bayley had given birth to her third daughter. She says she was in a bit of a dark place after finding motherhood was far more difficult than she had imagined.
"I have to say that it was a bit of a blow to my ego to realize being a mother didn't come naturally to me and I wasn't feeling how I thought I would feel," Bayley said. "One morning I woke up and realized that I had to make a change and do something for myself. This is when I started tinkering around with all sorts of things. Just using my hands to make all sorts of things. It was so therapeutic for me and eventually took me from a dark place to a place of pure happiness."
Eventually Bayley, her husband, and her father-in-law taught themselves how to mold and weld using Lucite. They took some vases to a Brisbane market where they sold out in hours. The vases made it to Instagram, somehow. A few hundred "Where can I buy this?" emails later, and the Bayleys had an online store up and running within a week.
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That sort of resilience that carried Bayley from sadness to small business is what's gotten them through the months since the fire.
"After the initial shock of it wore off and we realized that we didn't have any insurance, our minds then turned to 'where to from here?'," she said. "It is not my husband's or my style to wallow. We decided that we would view it as a minor set back and we would fight our way back."
Fight they did. They're currently in a commercial studio space in the city, fulfilling as many orders as they can through their website.
Bayley took a break to share their story with me, including some brilliant lessons in strength and bouncing back. If you're facing hardship, personally or professionally, here is some of her best advice:
Keep Moving Forward
"I think it's really important to keep things in perspective," Bayley says. After the fire, she tried to remind herself that nobody was hurt, and found comfort in remembering that in the context of everything else going on the world right now, their problem was practically insignificant, she said.
"I think it's ok to be sad or grieve for a little bit, but don't indulge yourself for too long; it's not healthy," Bayley shared. "Having said that, everyone is different, but for me personally, to keep moving forward and being positive is what works best."
Ask for Help
It truly takes a village sometimes. And since the beginning, Lovestar's village has been Instagram. "I was blown away by the reaction of our community," Bayley said. "There were so many heart felt messages of love, support and encouragement. People were hopping on the website and purchasing pieces as a sign of support. Even pieces that were sold out people were buying and saying that they would wait for us to get up and running and that they knew we wouldn't be able to send them their order for some time!"
"It gave us all so much motivation to keep on going. I honestly don't think we could have got through this without all the support from our community."
Bayley said she used to be really bad at opening up and asking for help, but she's learned through this process how valuable it can be: "I would encourage anyone who is going through a tough time to ask for help or to share your troubles with someone. Sometimes, just having someone to listen to your problems and talk through things can help."
Try to Find a Silver Lining
They say when one door closes, another one opens, and Bayley has found that to be true. In the process of rebuilding what they've lost, Lovestar is currently relying on other businesses to do their machining, a big hurdle for a company that prides themselves on handcrafting with love and integrity. ("It's not ideal. Nor is it cost- or time-effective.") But that shift has allowed Lovestar to do some housekeeping of their business and explore new ways to do their thing.
"We are basically building the business from scratch again," she says. "That is powerful. We can implement more efficient systems that will ultimately make things better for all of us."
Bayley is also using all this unscheduled apres-machine-fire free time to develop new lines of bags, textiles and accessories for Lovestar.
"This is something I have been wanting to do for years, but just haven't had the time to work on," she confessed. "All of this has definitely been important for not only the continued longevity of the business but also in helping me personally to keep pushing forward. It is actually very exciting!"
Always. Have. Insurance.
You never think you need it. But you do. Bayley revealed to me that the week before the fire, they'd spoken to their insurance company to inquire about insuring the warehouse. The. Week. Before.
"It was going to be so expensive that we made a decision not to go ahead with it!!!!" Bayley wrote. [The exclamation points are hers, and absolutely necessary in this case.]
"I would say to any small business owner and anyone who owns something of any importance that insurance is a necessary expense that you can't afford not to have," she insists. "Yes, chances are that nothing will ever happen; that was my mentality. But it did, and we lost so much."