Paula Marks – creator and founder of Hali Boho Co – talks about her life story and how she opened her dream business.
I’ve always felt creative from a young age.
As a young child, I remember making mud pies and decorating them from the wattle tree, before I’d take them in to my mum to show her what I’d made. I’d make photo frames out of thick cardboard and colourful fabric.
There was something about putting things on display for the world – to brighten up a space – that really lit me up. We didn’t have a lot of money so I found ways to work around things and make things more pretty or creative.
Over the years this love of the fancier side of life grew into new hobbies and creations. I’ve made pinatas for friends’ birthdays, fancy dress costumes, cakes, cookies, sewing, you name it – anything in which I can use my mind and creative side.
Childhood, inspiration and resilience
It was my mother who most inspired me. Regardless of all the challenges, she gave her everything to her kids. She was the best listener in the world. I’ve never come across anyone like my mum, and I’m not just being biased.
She had this special gift.
She didn’t tell you what to do – she just listened with an open heart and gave her unconditional love and support. And now I can see that’s all I ever needed to become who I am today.
But it was a rough journey to begin with. My dad left when I was about five years old, and I was the youngest of seven. Despite this, and despite not having much money, we had a really good childhood. We had so much fun together. Mum would take us on these outings together into the city.
We lived in the Western Suburbs and we didn’t have the most fantastic of homes, but it was what was required, and it was just fine.
We would all pile onto the train to go out for a day at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The caves were open back then, and it would be a day full of exploring and quality time with mum.
She did the most amazing job – I don’t know how she survived financially while feeding all us children such decent meals. We all played sport, and she was always there cheering us on.
I got a lot of my inspiration from my mum. She supported all my quirks and creative impulses.
Creative growth and hurdles
At school I was never top of the class, but always excelled in arts, needlework, anything involving my hands and visuals.
My first job after school was at Spotlight. Measuring material, learning about patterns. I learned a lot from the ladies I worked with.
But things suddenly changed. I became a single parent at 20, unfortunately, a victim of domestic violence. My career became secondary – for now, I had my child, my very own magical creation, despite the hardships that were going on.
I had a lot of support from my mum and sisters, and after a while I really wanted to get back into the workforce.
A new life in retail
Soon I found out there was a job going at Myer, and it seemed perfect. I loved fashion, and I’ve always been pretty friendly and approachable, so I went for the job and got it! I was there for ten years, and it taught me a lot about merchandising, fashion trends, buying strategies, and colour blocking.
The part I was most passionate about was merchandising. I had the most fascinating conversations with my late brother at this time, who was quite a successful fashion designer. I would often speak with him about the latest trends, and he would give me insight into things that you wouldn’t see in Australian stores. He would talk about European fashions at least a year ahead.
I miss those kinds of conversations. My brother hasn’t been with us for 16 years now, but he was a huge inspiration for me.
A few jobs after my retail days, nothing has really filled me up in quite the same way as that feeling of arrangement, colours, artful décor, and connection with people.
So… I started thinking more seriously about a business venture, and a new life that would light me up.
The coast life calling
When my son was a teen, I felt the coast life calling me. I had a great urge to move to the Central Coast, one hour north of Sydney. There was something about it for me – stunning beaches, chilled-out people, vast beauty, holiday vibes and relaxed atmosphere. I moved temporarily there with my son for a while, but we returned to Sydney for my son’s friends and schooling.
But the coastal bug had taken hold.
Soon I met my wonderful life partner in Sydney. Things started to really fall into place for me. We had similar dreams, and we spoke about moving permanently to the Coast.
However, in late 2018 I found a small lump in my left breast. I was told that I had Stage 1 breast cancer. It’s hard talking about it still – I was not expecting that. I had my left mastectomy surgery in May 2019. Once recovered, well, the aesthetic side wasn’t a major concern at my age, it was more the question – Will it come back?
The result was that I became very interested in taking back my life and bringing more joy into my days.
Sadly, my mum passed two months after my breast surgery. This was the most devastating part of the story for me. After my own trauma, I really needed my mum. But then she was suddenly gone. All I could think about was how much my sweet mum loved everything about the beach.
So we moved up to the Central Coast in May 2020, and never looked back. It was time to build the dream in tribute to my mum. And it was time to live my best life. She would have wanted that.
Seeds of creative hope
So I was in my late forties. I was a cancer survivor. I’d lost my mum.
But I had also raised a beautiful son, found my life partner, and moved to my dream location. I realised through all this that I just wanted to put my creativity, heart and soul into my dream business.
Just as in childhood, just as in my early retail days, I wanted to make and merchandise beautiful things to make life feel more like “home”. I decided in an instant that I’m going to try really hard to live a life of happiness that might inspire others to live a life of happiness, too.
And for me, learning, growing, being inspired, and in turn offering a sliver of inspiration for others, gives me so much joy in life.
The start of Hali Boho Co.
Soon I began stocking and selling beautiful, coastal-inspired boho homewares as a side project.
Just as I started the seeds of my new business, I decided to invite a few of my close girlfriends to my new coast home. I didn’t realise what a pivotal moment this would be.
My friends felt so at ease and at home in my home! Which I guess is no wonder, because I had so much fun putting it together. I also had a few items of stock on display, some cute clothing, and some nice tropical melts burning. My friends were so in love with the vibes, and wanted to order so many things!
Many people have inspired me over the years, but that particular weekend my friends came up to stay, I inspired them. What a wonderful feeling to share with the world!
It gave me a little bit of confidence – maybe I can really do this?
Things went from there. Hali Boho Co was fully born, and I started selling at markets, stalls, selling online, finding a space. This is my passion project and I’m so proud to watch it grow.
Life is short – make it beautiful
I don’t want to be in a mundane job that I’m not passionate about. Life is too short for that.
What I’m passionate about is creating a way for people to love their life – and love their home the way I love my home.
I think we all have creativity inside us. And we all need nurturing and communication around our passions. The whole idea of learning when you’re 60, 70, 80, really excites me. There have been so many things I’ve learned about my creative side. I don’t get everything right the first time, but the whole process is beautiful.
What gets me through when I’m having a tough day is this: Life can’t be all smooth sailing, and it’s all those ups and downs that make it what it is. Hopefully, when you come into my store, you’re reminded of how we can take back the beauty in our lives. We can make it what we wish. Small seeds of happiness in each beautiful thing we place in our daily life.
That’s the ultimate ripple effect. Because when we live the life of our dreams, we inspire others to live the life of their dreams too.
Situated on the magical beaches of Central Coast, NSW, Hali Boho Co offers beach-inspired boho homewares at humble prices, because we truly believe that anyone should be able to make their space their dream home. You can order online at www.halibohoco.com.au