Mel Colman

Mel Colman

General Manager / Zulu & Zephyr

Fashion

At 29 years of age, Mel Colman is the General Manager of  Zulu & Zephyr, an Australian lifestyle brand based in  Byron Bay – coveted the globe over for their relaxed silhouettes, bold statement pieces, unique prints, textured fabrics, and clever design. 

Mel is a magnet for cool. Take a scroll through her Instagram Account and you will find a babe not only rocking the bob of your dreams, but living the life of a woman ‘always’, doing what is right for her. From the word go, Mel has been surrounded by strong, encouraging and fearless women. 

Mum is one of the strongest women I know, She always encouraged us to go forward and dream big. It’s only now that I’m older I can appreciate all the sacrifices she made for us growing up. I also love that I inherited her spice – you need to be a little spicy in life.

Today’s #careerstory is like a summer holiday break, to your midyear, info peaking brain. It’s your new best weapon in your career journey arsenal… seriously. Through her experiences and never back down attitude, Mel has given us all permission to live our greatest lives. 

If you’re stuck, scared, confused or simply over it, then this is the interview for you. Life is such a journey, it’s time to meet one of her biggest adventurers. 

Best coffee in byron bay

Coffee, always coffee!

Hey Mel, thank you so much for joining us here. We can’t wait to ask you ALL the questions about your career, including how you got your start in the fashion industry. Where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?

My childhood was full of adventure and travel. Born in Melbourne but spent most of my time growing up in a small country town on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, Echuca/Moama – experiencing the best of both worlds, city life with dad over the school holidays and country side with my mum and siblings.

I loved being raised in the country – my family operated a thoroughbred farm so I was forever outside riding horses or motorbikes. After school we helped out on the farm with jobs that needed to be done so from a young age I was very independent with a strong work ethic bred into us.

Mum also took my brother and I out of primary school and we travelled around Australia for a year, which was full of wonderful memories. My country roots certainly instilled the importance of community and family values, which I feel I have carried with me both personally and professionally.

What an incredible upbringing. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?

I went to a public school in Echuca. I enjoyed high school – perhaps the social side more so than the academic. But, I’m also the practical type – street smart over book smart.

fashion industry in byron bay

Mel in the Zulu & Zephyr HQ in Byron Bay.

Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?

I was fortunate enough to have some great leaders in high school, who encouraged my drive and passion to just go for it, no limits.  We didn’t have the same job opportunities as the kids in the city, so in my experience, if you wanted something, you really had to work hard for it.

Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.

Year 10 work-experience was compulsory – we didn’t have much opportunity within the creative industry, so I completed a week of nursing at the local hospital. It definitely helped me to decide that it was not the career path for me – hats off to the health care industry, they’re phenomenal.

Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?

I completed my real estate licence by correspondence whilst working full time as a trainee in the industry and then a few years later, I obtained my full agency licence whilst managing a boutique real estate agency in Noosa.

Mel, doing her thing on a Zulu & Zephyr campaign shoot.

Ahhhh Noosa, my favourite! Can you take us to the very beginning? Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.

I guess you could say my career journey has been far from traditional. I dropped out of high school after completing Year 11 and started working in real estate at a local agency.  After obtaining my licence and finishing my traineeship, I packed my bags and drove myself 22 hours to Noosa Heads. I had zero money, used what money I did have from my tax return that year, and paid for a rental deposit on a shared house.

We had travelled to Noosa as a family growing up and I had come across a boutique agency in Sunshine Beach, the dream, only high-end, multi-million dollar properties. No job advertised, I cold called them and asked for a job. A week later, I met with Karen the founder. I was everything she didn’t want in an employee, I wasn’t local, I didn’t know the area and I was 19 years young.

fashion shoot

Overseas on a shoot for Zulu & Zephyr

I worked with Karen for many years as her Personal Assistant, moved overseas for 6 months travelling and returned to the company as Office Manager. Karen and I remain friends to this day and she continues to be one of my business mentors. I relocated back to Melbourne for a short time continuing my career in real estate before the ocean was again calling my name.

I had worked for a small local surf company growing up (my first job when I was 14, working afterschool and weekends). We have remained friends throughout the years and they were now operating on the Gold Coast. We had talked about working together again, so when they approached me to come on as a Buyer – given this was the third time I was offered the job, it was now or never.

I had worked various retail jobs, but had no real backend experience, joining the team at a fundamental time when the company went from 0 to 100 real quick. It was here that I learnt the ins and outs of the retail game, uncapped scope of the industry and at the forefront of an expanding business. Fast forward I’m 23 years old and I’m working directly with the CEO as Buyer/EA, importing a handful of 40ft containers of product a month, buying across 150 brands, regularly travelling nationally and internationally on buying trips across three independently owned bricks and mortar stores, a warehouse/head office, overseas factory and 80 plus employees.

Mel and Lara Worthington on set.

I was the CEO’s right hand woman – it was one of the most challenging roles I’ve faced to date, it certainly pushed me to my limits, taught me to be resourceful and hold my own in a male dominated industry – but in hindsight one that I am grateful for, as the experience I took away was invaluable and led me to the position I am in today.

OMG, that was amazing, thank you for going there Mel. So let’s jump to present day. How did you get your job at Zulu & Zephyr? 

Surprisingly, I have never applied for an advertised job.  I had heard through a friend in the industry that Zulu & Zephyr was relocating their Headquarters from Bondi to Byron. I reached out to the Founders and introduced myself – I met with the girls twice, they didn’t really have a role for me, but fortunately they created an office role and within 6 months of joining the team, I was appointed General Manager.

What is the hardest part of your current job as General Manager?

Learning when to let go and delegate. Thankfully we have a team of hardworking and collaborative women behind us and I have a PA that helps me stay on top of my game. 

Hahaha, delegation is so hard. So, what does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?

Coffee, always. I can’t do mornings without it. My partner and I grab a coffee from our local beachside café and check the surf before we both hit the road. I’m in the office by 8:30am and I’ll go through my emails whilst sipping my second coffee!

As GM, I oversee the day-to-day running of the business, which can be anything from working with our design team forecasting timelines or managing samples for sales, preparing national and international sales schedules and budgets with our sales team, marketing events and calendars or touching base with our warehouse and online team to discuss stock management, online sale and promotions.

fashion lookbook examples

Lookbook creation

We release three collections annually and we can be working across all three at any one time – planning campaign, look-book shoots, location scouting or model casting and the logistics behind it all.  Everyday is different and I love that. 

Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?

I’d have to say both my mum and dad for different reasons.

Mum is one of the strongest women I know, She always encouraged us to go forward and dream big. It’s only now that I’m older I can appreciate all the sacrifices she made for us growing up. I also love that I inherited her spice – you need to be a little spicy in life.

And my dad – he taught me work ethic and that you need to work hard to achieve your goals – you can’t expect anyone to give it to you, you need to work for it.

What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?

Prepare to get your hands dirty – you have to be dedicated and want to work hard.

Surround yourself with the right people – find a mentor. Having a mentor guide you through and share advice can make all the difference. 

how to get a job in byron bay

List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?

  • Favourite Websites: Vogue.com, whowhatwear.com.au, Ragtrader.com.au and smackbang.com
  • Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: Oh this is hard! We work with some amazing creatives – photographers, models and fellow entrepreneurs and businesswomen so I always love to see what projects they’re all working on – but my daily addition would have to be @christinecentenera, she is next level. The Zulu & Zephyr team also inspires me on the daily – we all have such creative roles so they’re my first go-to.
  • Favourite Podcast: GOOP, Fat Mascara, Girlboss and Oprah’s super soul conversations.
  • Favourite Netflix Series: I rarely watch free to air TV, so I’m a sucker for a good Netflix series – The Sinner, Ozark, The Defiant Ones and I just finished The Handmaids tail on SBS on demand – so crazy!
  • Favourite all time book/s: I’m more of a magazine girl – however, I’ve just started reading The Collaborative Way by Lloyd Fickett and Jason Fickett – worth the read.
  • People: Our Founders Candice-Rose O’Rourke and Karla Rose – the duo successfully built an empire from the ground up, creating a company culture where everyone genuinely loves coming to work everyday, and between juggling it all they’re amazing mothers. Jessie Andrews – the ultimate girl boss, self-made entrepreneur, five brands and counting. Lara Worthington – I had the pleasure of working with Lara across our Cami Collection earlier this year – Her work ethic is inspiring, she’s very hands on and real, which was refreshing.

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