“Kate, I just had the strangest dream. I dreamt that Italy fell on your head!” My dear friend Caroline, 2002.
Like many young Australians, I decided to spread my wings in my twenties and see the world. I travelled solo most of the time, meeting locals and other travellers along the way; the USA, Malaysia, Holland, The UK, Thailand. Other times I travelled with friends, and once my mum and I had an around the world adventure. Each time I returned to Melbourne I found my feet again and settled back into my life there. I had worked in the hospitality industry since I was 15 years old, so I was always able to find a stable job quickly. Despite having a degree in Archaeology, I made hospitality my career and worked my way up in various venues to be assistant manager and manager. My last job in Melbourne had won my heart. I loved the venue, my team, my bosses and above all the South East Asian cuisine the kitchen served up, service after service. But after a trip to Italy in 2009, I knew it was time to make a lifestyle change. I gave myself two choices, return to University to do a Masters or go back to Italy, do an English language teaching course, and make my way to Thailand by December, where I had family at the time. I chose Italy.
I started my life in Italy a little later than most. I was 29. I spent time in Rome and Sienna, where I did an intensive Italian course, then I moved on to Florence. I completed an English teacher training course, thinking it would support me along the way to make some cash and help me find a job in Thailand at the end of the year. However, the day I finished the course, I met my future husband.…
I originally had no intention of staying in Italy, let alone marrying a Tuscan man and having a child with him. But hey, things change! Sometimes destiny takes over your plans. And now eight years later, I am married, living in Prato, 20 minutes from Florence, and we have a beautiful Italoaustraliano toddler.
As many people discover here, finding work can be a challenge. It’s often necessary to completely reinvent yourself. I was fortunate though, because I possessed the golden ticket, a British passport. I had fewer hurdles and hoops to jump through than many foreigners who move to Italy. I was legally able to live and work here. The English school that trained me offered me a job and through colleagues I was able to find private students. I loved this new life and happily plodded along, earning my €150 a week and lapping up the Florentine way of life.
After two years I bit the bullet and opened my Italian VAT number which, despite the costs and paperwork headache, enabled me to create my first business here as a professional freelance language consultant. That’s when my new career really started to take off. I was able to work directly for companies and unions and no longer had to worry about the low pay of English schools. I was a language consultant, but I was also learning how to be a businesswoman…in a foreign country. Reinvention number one.
It was after I had my baby that I decided to make some more changes. From being a full time language consultant, travelling every day from one company to another, I had become a full time mum. I had registered for maternity leave and had replaced myself in three of the companies I had contracts with. I was organised and happy and I knew eventually I’d be able to return to work with little hassle. However, unfortunately one of the teachers I had replaced myself with didn’t initially leave one of the companies and had quietly taken over my contract with another. I was angry. I felt betrayed not only by him but also by the companies I had spent so many years building relationships with. An ex colleague had once told me that she felt no loyalty here when it came to work as a freelancer, and in that moment I really understood what she meant. Business is business, but it hurt. Nonetheless, I was able to pick up other contracts and recommence work part time.
So, I was working part time and a new mum. Wow. Life had really changed. But so had my work mentality. I was happy teaching and translating, but I needed something else. Reinvention number two? A new world had opened up to me. Mothers and mumtrepreneurs. I started following women who were mums and business women. I could see so many businesses in the States, UK and Australia that just didn’t (and still don’t) exist in Italy. I had dozens of new business ideas whizzing around my head; organic baby food; toddler play centres; a family friendly café….but then the hurdles….so many hurdles, started to emerge. Baby food requires a food license and an industrial kitchen. Play centres require buying a franchise and hiring staff with degrees in education etc. Back to square one. Then my friend in the UK fell pregnant...
When I was pregnant, a dear friend of mine bought me a bag full of products I needed for my hospital bag and I did the same for my friend in the UK. Through Amazon, I ordered products and had them sent to her house, so easy. And that’s when I had my idea to create a pre-packed maternity kit! I researched and could see that they work in Australia and the States. So I started shopping. I did a test run by compiling essential items from the supermarket and farmacia, to get an idea of regular retail products and costs. I set up a meeting with my midwife. I was so excited to show her my idea and get her feedback, I could really see this working. Then, she shut me down…... The one person whose opinion really mattered to me, who had brought my child into the world, who was almost like a mother figure, told me that no Italian woman would buy this maternity kit. According to her, Italian women have time to go out and buy their own things and prepare everything themselves. Looking back at it now, I think in her way she was trying to protect me, but I was devastated. However, I wasn’t convinced. I set up a WhatsApp focus group with local and foreign mums, and I started firing them with questions. It was the support from these amazing women that made me pick myself up and continue this project.
I met reps, so many reps. I had meeting after meeting in my terrible Italian and set up deals with these people, who may or may not have been taking advantage of me being a foreigner, I’ve decided not to worry myself with that, and I created my kit. Then the real work started. Through my husband I hired a product development team. They LOVED my idea. They created my brand, convincing me to call it after my own name. I was mortified. The last thing I wanted was to call my brand after myself. I spent two weeks brainstorming with my focus group. But then it was decided. My company name became the first name that the developers had suggested. Mamma Kate.
This amazing team created my logo and brochures. We did a photo shoot of the products and of me. It was during the photo shoot that it really hit me, “These people are working FOR ME”. What had been a fun idea was now reality. These people were taking my brand and running with it. They believed in me. My friends believed in me. My husband, my family, my in-laws. It was an exciting time. Reinvention number two was well underway.
A year after the disappointing meeting with my midwife, my maternity kit was ready. I had created a beautiful, professional looking, pre-packed maternity kit for new mums. It was a really special moment when I put the first kit together. I had three pregnant friends at the time and I was able to proudly gift each of them a kit. I have since created a Facebook page and an Instagram account and have opened three shops on Amazon. I have had help along the way, but most of it I’ve done alone, and still am. I did it! My idea and my hard work paid off. Mamma Kate is slowly building. It isn’t an easy market as it isn’t always a gift that can be given. But it’s special and people like it, and most importantly, mums to be like it. Plus, two weeks ago my midwife contacted me. Somehow she had caught wind that I’d continued my project and had opened the Amazon shops. She sent me a message saying she had seen the kit and “Brava.” That was another really proud moment for me.
Mamma Kate Post-partum Maternity Kit
So, as many people know. Italy can be a hard nut to crack. And I’m sure many other countries are too. But, with perseverance and support from our nearest and dearest we can do anything, even in a foreign land. Forza!!!