Mia Roberts breezes into the little inner west café in an all-white ensemble like a walking breath of fresh air. She spots me, introduces herself, and orders a chai latte. At 20 years old, she's an impressive mix of determined, convivial, confident and decisive.
Her brand Salty the Label launched this year, and she speaks of it excitedly and passionately, with the eagerness of a first-time mother showing off her newborn.
But how did a 20 year old manage to start her own label? That's what drew me to Roberts and to Salty, and that's my first question for her.
“Well, I've always liked fashion,” Roberts admitted. “I did textiles in high school and found it fun but it didn't really seem like a viable career.”
After two unsuccessful attempts to push herself into more reliable options - a year of real estate, followed by a semester of marketing - Roberts decided to give design a shot at Billy Blue College in Ultimo. Instantly, she knew she'd found her calling.
Making the leap to establish her own label, Roberts said it came down to creating her own future. “I was like, why am I working to build someone else's dream?”
With her focus switched back to her original passion, Roberts found everything else almost fell into place in creating her brand.
“My mum's a flight attendant, so I'm able to travel to Bali a lot, and when I do I usually get my own sandals made,” she explained as she pours her chai latte. “I always got comments on them, so I thought, why not make this into something?”
Inspired by her own sense of fashion - “a linen, flowy; casual yet dressy vibe” - and her beach lifestyle, Roberts decided to design a line of sandals. In particular, she was spurred by the lack of sandals that are simultaneously stylish, affordable and good quality. “You can only ever find them for like, $180, and they're not even full leather!”
That said, Roberts is not one to cut corners to reduce costs. Her shoes are made by a Balinese local named Wayan, with whom Roberts has developed a friendly relationship with and whose workmanship she trusts.
“I know that I could probably go elsewhere and get my designs made for cheaper, but I know and trust Wayan. I’ve visited her factory and it’s family run and it’s safe,” she assures me. In terms of pay, she consulted with Wayan to ensure a fair amount that could support Wayan and her family.
“I could be greedier,” she added. “But I don't want to be like that, I want to be fair. If you help someone else, someone else will help you.”
Once she had ensured a successful business partnership with Wayan, Roberts had eight samples made of her own design. From these, the selection was narrowed down to 5 favourite styles, for which three pairs were made in every size - in total 55 pairs that Roberts lugged back to Sydney.
Enthusiastic and rearing to get going, she enlisted the help of a few more family members. “My boyfriend is really tech-savvy, so he made me a website. I've got a twin sister so she models the sandals for me,” Roberts explained, laughing at the memory. “I was literally in my kitchen on the floor at night with these big building spotlights that my dad had in the shed, and I was just taking photos on my phone.”
Roberts’ initial promotion posts on Instagram had a good reception, but she quickly faced a reality check when the much-anticipated launch date arrived.
“I was expecting everyone would love it straight away and so it was a bit of a reality check, like - this is gonna take a bit of time. It's not going to be overnight,” she chuckled to herself. “You're not gonna be that big yet Mia, calm down.”
Robert admits that initial setback knocked her confidence back for some time, alongside the recognition of all the hard work involved in running your own brand. She says she put Salty on the backburner temporarily, what with all of her other commitments to stay on top of. “I was trying to push my sandals on insta, keep up with uni, and also working to support myself. It's a lot.” Luckily though, a supportive and encouraging network of family and friends helped her regain her mojo. Having a stall at a recent Avalon Market Day also boosted her spirits and inspired her to keep grinding to make her dream a reality.
“It's been -” she sighs. “It's hard. It's a lot of work, but I love it, it's my passion. It's hard work now, but it'll pay off eventually”.
The hardest part, Roberts tells me, is sacrificing her own savings. “I have to continually work towards trying to earn back what I've spent - it was what I was putting towards my own future, which is scary,” she shrugged. “I've kind of gotten to the point of knowing that if I don't make all of it back, its ok. If I'm doing something I love, one day it'll work out.”
Working towards establishing her own brand may be exhausting, but it's clear that it's Roberts’ true calling. “Other people my age are spending their time and money going out, but my hobby is building myself, growing myself, starting my own thing.
So, I asked her, what advice would you give another young person trying to start their own brand? She thought for moment as she drains her mug. “Just go for it. It's not going to be easy, but do it. Start something now, and learn as you go. Nothing is stopping you but yourself.” Roberts speaks earnestly and resolutely, with that same confidence I noticed upon her arrival.
“No-one else is going to give you a chance, you've gotta do it yourself. No what if’s - if you don't have the money, just grind for a year, and build it up.” She smiled proudly. “Everything I have is my own, and I'm building towards my own future.”