The fork in the road. It’s a moment many of us face in our careers. When we stop, take stock and consider the two dramatically different options that now sit in front of us. Do we sit tight and hope it all turns out for the best or take a leap of faith and head off towards a new and exciting horizon? Caroline Di Russo’s fork appeared a couple of years ago.
A successful and experienced senior associate at Herbert Smith Freehills specialising in complex litigation, Caroline reached the point where she was looking for a new challenge, but didn’t relish the idea of taking an in-house role. “Many companies are cost cutting and this means there’s a lot of pressure on in-house roles these days,” she says.
Fortunately, she had an alternative: a side project that she loved and that had been taking up more and more of her time. It was a genuine left fork into a completely different way of earning a living, but Caroline decided the time was right to take it.
Now her day job, as the founder and director of a company called The Daily Luxe, sees her spending her days sourcing, repairing/restoring and selling vintage luxury goods – particularly handbags.
You could say that Caroline faced two forks at the same time – for not only did she change careers, but she also faced the dilemma of loving clothes and luxury goods while also being very aware of the unsustainability of the fashion industry.
And despite saying that when she started out she “didn’t plan on trying to save the planet or anything like that,” she has found that her new direction has a wonderfully eco slant to it. One of the most positive things about The Daily Luxe is its intrinsic focus on reduce, repair, reuse, recycle. While many of her customers come to the brand to replace a vintage piece that is perhaps no longer made or have economic imperatives for not buying brand new luxury goods, there is a significant group of people who love The Daily Luxe for its environmental sustainability.
When she first started buying pre-loved and vintage luxury clothes, Caroline says she kept it quiet, because sustainability was not then valued. This was years ago when “the view was only people who couldn’t afford to buy new bought second-hand garments,” she says. Not only has this view changed radically, but it was inevitable. “Fashion waste is a massive problem. Not only in manufacturing, but also in disposal and this is due to the rise and reign of cheap trend-driven fashion. We all know the vicious cycle – we buy on trend, maybe wear it once or twice and, at the beginning of the same season the following year, we are throwing out a pile of dated, barely worn or new clothes.”
Caroline was also caught up in this cycle in her younger years, but hated the fact. “It was expensive, it was wasteful and it made me mistrust my own judgement. We create a huge amount of fashion waste,” she says. “And there’s absolutely no reason for people to buy to the extent they do, particularly on-trend items, because in 12 months they have served their purpose.” On her website, she recommends the documentaries The True Cost and Out of Fashion for further information on the pernicious nature of fast and cheap fashion.
Her own wardrobe is about 98 percent second-hand she notes, and she rarely buys new, even when she goes off on one of her regular overseas trips. Travel has always been important to her, both as a lawyer and now. “My advice to my juniors was always to go travelling. ‘Come home in a year and you’ll be more useful. You’ll have better judgement’,” she recalls. “It helps you grow a lot.”
She hasn’t left law completely behind. “I still love my work and I couldn’t quite let it go, so I consult a couple of days a week,” she says. But it’s The Daily Luxe that is her driving force now.
It’s an interest she has had all her life, she says, referring to her mother as an Italian city girl who married a Western Australian farmer, but would always pull out the red lipstick and black leather pants when going to town. “I come from a family of ladies who have always dressed impeccably. Legitimately, from the day I was born, it was a passion, and so I started restoring bags from my own collection. Then I bought a bag, restored it and flipped it. And I thought, ‘hang on, I can make money out of this’.”
She wasn’t wrong. Last year alone she restored and sold over 600 bags. And she’s completely self-taught, albeit with some invaluable advice from very kind local leathercraft experts. In the early days there was lots of trial and error as she turned her attention away from work that required deep thinking and analytical skills to a hands-on craft. “I’m quite practical and a problem solver,” she says. “So I like the problem solving side of restoration. Obviously, there’s the whole business side that goes with it. It’s different to litigation, but a lot of the skills are very transferable.”
Specifically, she says it was her legal background that helped her to set up the website for The Daily Luxe and put together the small print. “It may not seem like a big thing, but in a small business if you have to put aside a wad of money to draft terms and conditions, that’s expensive,” she says. “So I sat in my pyjamas and drafted my own.”
Never one to back down from a challenge, Caroline says she thrives on taking chances. “I like a bit of risk,” she says, “I think risk is healthy.” This ties in neatly with why she took to law in the first place. She can’t remember what really drew her to the practice, other than the fact that she knew she needed to be challenged. “If I get bored, I’m a disaster, so I always need to be stimulated,” she explains. “I was the 10-year-old who wanted to be a stockbroker.”
Caroline picked law simply because it was hard “and I didn’t like science”. Perhaps to her surprise, the further she went with it, and the harder it got, the more she loved it. “Hence the complex litigation stuff, which a lot of people hate because it’s so intense. But I just thrive on it.”
She doesn’t see The Daily Luxe growing any further than it already has – it’s niche and she likes it that way. She has recently launched another new business and has a third, which will launch shortly – the first an online luxury goods authentication platform and the other an ethical (fair trade and organic) children’s wear brand. Both will be online businesses, which should help her to achieve her primary goal of being able to spend three months in Europe every year, and avoiding the Antipodean winter.
When she isn’t totally consumed by business or law, she still loves being an “analytical nerd” and is a columnist for the Spectator Australia and a contributor for Sky News Australia.
Clearly, the fork she took a couple of years ago was the right one for her. “I think a lot of the time we go through life without thinking about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and where we’re going.
“Look, I’m not living the dream just yet,” says Caroline. “But I’m getting there.”