When we recently featured the beautiful family home of Phoebe Simmonds, she took a moment to reflect on how much her life has changed on Instagram, saying: ‘three years ago I was in a flatshare in Fitzroy, so you know… take the blind date.’
That’s how the Melbourne entrepreneur (who founded hair salon The BLOW) met her now-partner, Shaun right at the start of the pandemic. It was great matchmaking by Shaun’s business partner, and ‘terrific timing’ for both of them, who admit they’ve ‘packed a lot in’ to the time they’ve been a couple. Just the year before, former beauty buyer Kate Casey approached Phoebe with the idea to start The Memo — a modern and curated alternative to the the traditional baby industry inspired by a shared spreadsheet where Kate’s friends had started compiling their must-have products for new mums.
But like all good things in life, her trajectory hasn’t been without hardships, and Phoebe is all about keeping it real when it comes to the difficulties of juggling her many hats as stepmum, mum, and business owner. Which is exactly why we couldn’t wait to talk to her about all that and more below!
Hi Phoebe! What inspired you and Kate to start The Memo?
My business partner Kate had the idea. When she first became pregnant, she was so excited, then quickly became overwhelmed when she entered big box retail and was met with thousands of options and a noisy, unsophisticated experience. We felt there was an opportunity to create a brand, a destination, an experience that cut through the crap and the clutter and served up the best products in one feel good location. Kate’s background in beauty and fashion buying meant she could curate a quality assortment of the best brands that would solve important problems for parents. Then my job was to create the brand.
At the time you weren’t a mother, how has your work at The Memo helped you with your journey to motherhood, and similarly, how has your journey as a mother helped your work at The Memo?
It was interesting because I was single and didn’t have kids of my own at this stage, and so I’d never had much involvement with the baby industry (I had bought way too many cute but, let’s be honest, useless soft toys for new mums) and when I started looking into it I was shocked! It felt like a really outdated space, heaving with heavy discounting, infantile language, too much choice, and not a lot of catering to the actual customer, considering who they are, what they need.
I think it was helpful that I could put myself into the perspective of the actual customer who was coming to the category for the first time. My method and a key part of our DNA was ‘no assumed knowledge’. I asked and broke things down for our customer and could relate in a personal, direct way.
So when I became pregnant I felt like I had a good grasp on the industry, but even that couldn’t prepare me for motherhood, the emotions, the challenges, the adjustments you have to make, the identity shift. But what I did know was that I was part of the most incredible community of parents who had understanding and experiences to share. And so I leaned into that personally, and then professionally, as we have built out our brand with a big emphasis on ‘beyond retail’ — focusing on content that will help parents feel good, prepared and supported.
What gaps in the market have you seen since becoming a parent yourself?
Finally, brands are beginning to invest in women. One example is the incredible YouHa Embody pump, which is cordless and wearable and enables you to pump from a cafe table, the car, the footy, work, anywhere. We’ve also seen a big rise in products to support women’s health, with greater awareness around postpartum depletion, and we’re building this category out more this year.
More consistent, grounded support for a family’s fertility journey also needs to be provided by the industry. Of course, pregnancy is so much more than a book, a pillow and a stretch mark cream. So we’re looking to round out our assortment there too.
You’ve been very open about finding out about your pregnancy complications at 20 weeks. How did this impact your pregnancy experience after hearing the news?
I had a very difficult high-risk pregnancy, with a condition called Cervical Insufficiency, which impacts one per cent of pregnant women in Australia. This meant that my cervix had shrunk to such a low rate that my body was essentially getting signals it needed to go into labour at any time. I was able to receive a cervical stitch at 21 weeks, which miraculously held my baby in until he was viable. Amazingly, I lasted to term. I was very lucky. But the initial news was crushing and incredibly scary, a huge shock.
I went from doing everything to doing nothing and living in fear that my baby might come too early. I was put on bed rest until around 30 weeks, and could move with caution after that. We literally counted down the days and every week passed was a milestone. Many women I have heard from since weren’t as lucky and I would like to acknowledge that, and their strength. So much is down to chance. Pregnancy is hard.
How did you feel about having to be on bedrest for 10 weeks, and how did this change your family’s routine?
It impacted everything. My teams at both businesses had to adjust and be flexible. Meetings happened at home. Shaun had to change his schedule to help with pick ups and drop offs with Tyler. Friends and family rallied. It was a huge shift. I felt useless.
I still worked from home during this time and it was hard to stay focused the first two weeks while we had all the appointments and changes to our schedule. But after that, we could settle into a routine where meetings would come to me, I’d dial in to calls, and luckily, a lot of my work involves writing copy, which can be done on the couch, horizontal. And the first time I could go back to The BLOW for a Blow Dry was incredibly satisfying!
You’re also a stepmum to Tyler. How did you find taking on this role initially, and has your approach to motherhood changed since having Remy?
Being a stepmum is hard. Being a mum is hard. I met Tyler when he was three and a half, and it had been three years since his mum Sam had passed away. Despite some funny but harsh, sometimes personal, toddler-isms, I think he did an amazing job adjusting to me and we’ve taken every new day in our stride. I feel very lucky that I got to be part of Shaun’s family, and that we could bring Remy into that, it’s definitely changed the dynamic and made life even more interesting!
Tyler’s been a beautiful big brother. At first he was a bit ambivalent because babies can be pretty boring. But since Remy started to interact and play, Tyler has had a lot of fun with him and Remy searches for his face as soon as he hears Tyler’s voice. It’s really special.
You have two businesses! How do you balance motherhood and your work now?
I don’t! I find it really hard. Some days I feel like I’m doing a bad job at everything, never present for anything. Getting Remy care has really helped. It means not only that he is expanding his world a little more, but it’s also meant I can focus on my work, which is important to me and to others. When we’re together as a family before or after work, I try to be present, and I’m learning that work just has to wait.
Follow Phoebe on Instagram for more, and shop The Memo here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.