‘Resilient’ is the word that comes to mind when you get to know Melissa Condo. To those who know Jac and Mooki’s founder, the balancing act of businesswoman, business owner, and mother is a very fluid one, it comes very naturally. What life throws at her through motherhood and work doesn’t phase her, just as long as the family is always first priority.
Never one to complain (“it gets you nowhere”), she’s always been a survivor, a trait which rings true in her son, Preston. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we sat down with Melissa to chat about the trials and gifts of motherhood, running a business, and everything in-between. As Melissa says, “We keep it real.”
Tell us how your life changed when Preston was born.
Dramatically, to be perfectly honest. Being a full-time working mum, I used to be very social, the girl about town in Melbourne - out every night of the week. Then when I had Preston, it was a big reality check. I realised my old life was over and my new life was beginning. I couldn’t do the simplest things that we all take for granted, like rushing out to the shops when you’ve got a baby in tow. It was going from wearing high heels every night to being a mum in sneakers. It was the changeover of everyday life, and being a career girl it was a shock to the system.
Preston was an amazing baby, so I would take him to work where I ran my agency. I’ve never been that textbook mum, I’ve always just done what’s right for me.
Take us through your early journey with Preston?
Preston had many complications as a little boy. He was diagnosed at 18 months with mild cerebral palsy down his left side. Before the diagnosis, he couldn’t walk or talk and we couldn’t understand why. Being a first-time mum, I didn’t know if this was a normal thing or not. My brother actually brought it to my attention, that he was on his tippy toes and couldn’t put his feet flat down. And he was struggling to chew his food too.
We took him to a neurologist who put him under a general anaesthetic. As a mum, this is quite a traumatic experience to hold him through this. Then they did the MRI, and it came back that he had scarring on the brain, despite being born a healthy baby.
He then had to get botox in his legs at the children’s hospital so he could start walking. It was then in the waiting room surrounded by child patients, I said, “Preston you are so lucky, we’ll get through this.”
He was then diagnosed with Autism and ADHD at the age of 3, at 6 he developed Tics, and over a year ago he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.
How did it shape you into the person and mother you are today?
I’ve always been a believer that special children come to special people. Because you have to be extremely strong to be able to cope with it. It isn’t what you expect as a new mum, but I took the challenges in my own stride. I’ve brought this gem into this world, I’m going to do whatever I can to give him the best chance at life, and give him the best opportunities.
Also, I wasn’t going to take no for an answer from the doctors. I was constantly told he was going to struggle and I wouldn’t swallow that. I did what I needed to do, he then started walking and talking, and then I put him in mainstream school. All the while with occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physio on the side. I was determined to give him the best chance.
He doesn’t stop talking, and he runs around all day. He could come first or last in the race, I just love that he’s just himself. In a nutshell, he put everything into perspective, what mattered to me before I had Preston, doesn’t mean anything now. Your thinking changes, your child is your first priority.
Do you and Preston have a daily routine? Or is every day different?
My son is not the easiest child to get to school. He is 10 going on 14… and I’m reminded that school gets in the way of sleep! I still lay his clothes out, I then prompt him to eat his breakfast. We pack his lunch and off to school, then I’m back and into meetings.
How would you describe your parenting style?
When he was young, I was the biggest helicopter mum. Because, I was always panicking, thinking through all of his challenges. Couldn't even go to the supermarket because if I turned right down an aisle, and he wanted to go left, he would throw himself on the floor and start screaming. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do when he was little, so I would have to think twice about what environment we were in. Whereas now he is older it is getting so much easier so I am more relaxed with my parenting style.
How did Jac and Mooki come to life?
I always wanted to create a brand. I'd been a fashion agent for 20 years and loved what I did but was passionate for more. I could see the market gaps for myself, and thought, this is my time to finally make it happen, and fill those gaps. I loved the idea of building a capsule wardrobe for women my age, building a capsule of clothes around practical needs with a fashion sensibility.
I’m constantly inspired by the evolving everyday life of women, from metropolitan cities to coastal and country towns in Australia, and all around our changing world. There is a need for simple and functional clothing that is kind to both people and the planet.
How did the name Jac and Mooki come about?
I wanted to create a capsule t-shirt brand, but I’d never thought about a name. Preston one day, being very intuitive, said, “Mummy, you're having a baby.”
I thought, am I? I said, “What's its name?” He said, “You're having two, Jac and Mooki.”
It was at that point that I had to make a decision, as I was pretty much a single mum with my husband having been in the army and posted away from us for 7 years of Preston’s life. So, do I be selfish and have another baby? I decided I’d rather give my all to Preston. It was almost like I gave birth to my other children, “Jac and Mooki”. Sounds bizarre, but it was my new baby! That’s when the brand began with the first line of t-shirts in 2015.
What kind of input does Preston have now in Jac and Mooki?
Comfort and fit are Preston’s go-tos. He’ll always let me know what is comfortable, whether a t-shirt is too tight, where a sleeve needs to be looser. Every now and then he’ll tell me the colours that he likes. And he feels so proud wearing it. “He constantly reminds me that he is the Founder”.
Why is Jac and Mooki perfect for the modern mum?
We modern mums are time-poor. We don’t have time in the mornings to think about what we’re going to wear that day. The way that I design each capsule Jac and Mooki together is all outfitted and considered in wardrobe foundations, in timeless colours and seasonal colours. It doesn’t matter what age and shape you are, you can easily pair pieces together and create a personalised look from a capsule range. It’s comfortable, high quality and easy to outfit.
What are you looking forward to sharing with Preston as he gets older?
I look forward to sharing my family values and fostering his independence. Due to Preston’s conditions there are going to be challenges, but I want to give him the blueprint and knowledge to know that he’ll always be safe and never alone.
J&M: What’s the easiest way to make your mum smile?
Preston: I made a joke last night! She said, “if you did your homework that would mean the world to me”, so I went to my bedroom and got my world globe to give her [laughs].
J&M: Imagine you just won a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Preston: I think I would pay mum’s bills. Electrical, wi-fi bills… whatever she needed.
J&M: What about something for you?
Preston: A car! If I could buy any car it would be a Lamborghini in maybe, yellow. Red’s more of a Ferrari colour.
J&M: What do you think your mum would do?
Preston: The same as I said, without the cars. Definitely bills. Maybe then she’d go on a holiday? I’d like to go on a trip with her to Canada or Japan.
J&M: If you had a time machine where would you go?
Preston: Maybe, 2009? Or when I was born so I could enjoy the music from back then.
J&M: What are you planning on doing for mum on Mother’s Day?
Preston: We haven't planned it yet, but we’re thinking of going somewhere, maybe the Mornington Peninsula. My auntie has a house there, and I love playing tennis on the tennis court.