Our founder and creative director Julia sat down with The Inarra, a new online shopping and lifestyle destination designed to support mothers and mothers-to-be. 35 weeks pregnant at the time of the shoot, Julia and her husband Tom have since welcomed their second child Lou in August of this year. The feature covers everything from Julia’s journey to motherhood and the importance of her female friendships, to her approach to dressing during pregnancy and best style advice.
For as long as she can remember, Julia McCarthy wanted to be a mum. But the journey to parenthood wasn’t easy. We sat down with the Friends with Frank founder at her Melbourne studio to talk IVF, female friendship, and bringing up her two children: a daughter, Sibella and son, Lou.
Julia and her husband Tom’s love story began at school. The pair became fast friends aged 15 and have been inseparable ever since. “Tom and I have been soulmates from the beginning, so starting a family was always on the cards for us,” Julia tells The Inarra.
But when the couple started trying for a baby after getting married in 2016, their dream of becoming parents didn’t come easy. “After a year of no luck, we began to feel deflated and increasingly worried about why it wasn’t happening for us. We were eventually diagnosed with unexplained infertility,” Julia explains. “Which is a painful diagnosis because it means there are no answers.”
The couple embarked on a two-and-a-half-year journey of IVF with many egg retrievals and transfers followed by some non-viable pregnancies before eventually getting pregnant with their first child, Sibella (Sibbie).
"It was a gruelling process, one that I believe changed my perspective on difficult times and made me even more grateful for motherhood," Julia reflects. "(but) I am so grateful for the IVF process because we may never have received our two beautiful children otherwise.”
Now, the couple are navigating the joy, magic, and chaos of parenthood with son Lou joining the family in August 2023. "We're really in the thick of it. We're sleep-deprived and constantly being tested by our toddler, so tensions are sometimes high!" Julia says. “But we’re trying our best especially in these early years to be really present as a parents.”
She admits however that finding balance as a parent can be tricky.
"My journey to motherhood was a challenging one, so I was really excited to finally join 'the club', but what surprised me the most was how much I initially struggled with my identity as a mother," she continues. "I had this idea that motherhood would naturally dominate my identity – and that would make me happy. But what I’ve realised is that I still have to find time for all the things that make me who I am. I think that’s what helps me be a better mum and more content in myself.”
Julia founded Melbourne-based fashion brand Friends with Frank in 2012 as a side hustle whilst working full-time as a buyer. She began designing and selling jackets and coats online and the business slowly garnered a following.
“When I began to receive wholesale enquiries, I knew that I was gaining traction and made the scary decision to leave the security of my full-time job,” she says. “In that year, I employed my first employee (who is still with me to this day) and began to grow the brand. I established the brand with a key focus on outerwear but in the last few seasons, we have introduced head-to-toe dressing. I’m so proud of where Friends with Frank is today, it’s a true extension of myself.”
Fashion undoubtedly plays an influential role in Julia’s life, so it was important that she maintained her personal sense of style during both pregnancies. “I didn’t buy one thing that was maternity-related. I’m a confident outfit repeater and would workshop five to six looks for each stage of pregnancy to accommodate my growing bump.”
In fact, Friends with Frank is heavily inspired by Julia’s own experiences of pregnancy and postpartum, as she names the brand’s cult Cleo Knit Dress as the item she reached for the most during this period of change.
“At Friends with Frank, I'm essentially designing pieces that I want or need myself! I like to invest in classics that I'm going to wear every day. So at the moment, high-quality casual pieces that make me feel good even when I’m just at the playground is where I’m seeing the most value.”
But juggling the business with parenthood can often be challenging. Julia runs and owns Friends with Frank with her husband Tom and the couple divide parenting duties depending on the week’s schedule.
“Although Tom is my soulmate and other half, he’s also my business partner and father to our kids so he can’t be everything to me,” Julia says. “I owe so much to my female friendships. Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, my friendship circle has become smaller but tighter. We have a friendship that is honest, we don’t pretend we have it all together. We celebrate each other’s wins, keep each other’s deepest secrets, and never judge.”
With son Lou recently joining the family, Julia and Tom have been focusing on making new memories while also squeezing the odd date in where possible. “It’s definitely a challenge, but (going on occasional dates) is a bit of advice we received from trusted mentors, and those few hours really do make a big difference. They’re a time to appreciate each other and have chats that don’t involve anything work or child-related.”
"Being a mother is incredibly hard, but the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s made me a more decisive, resilient, and brave person. It's a privilege to be a mum and something I'm so grateful to experience."
Has your experience of motherhood influenced how you approach design for Friends with Frank?
I design pieces for Friends with Frank that I want to wear and experiencing the garments for myself while pregnant really helped. I wore our Cleo Knit Dress for most of my first pregnancy and our Willa silks collection during my second pregnancy. The bias-cut shape drapes well over a growing bump, it's effortless and chic.
Being pregnant in winter also meant an oversized coat was a great piece to style over my bump. I often wore our chocolate or biscuit Camilla Coat tied up over my bump. Even if I’m wearing activewear underneath, I still felt put-together.
How can women make sure they feel good in what they wear?
Dressing well doesn't have to be complicated. You could be wearing the simplest of outfits, but what will set you apart is how you're wearing your clothes. Sizing up, getting pieces tailored to your body or simply wearing a piece that works for your body shape will instantly elevate your outfit.
One of the hardest parts of postpartum dressing is wanting all your clothes to fit you again straight away. Rather than reinventing your style postpartum, get comfortable sizing up in a piece that makes you feel yourself. I think it's important to stay true to your style rather than fill your wardrobe with cheaper interim pieces. It's about workshopping some foolproof postpartum outfits so you don't feel your style is slipping.
Which pieces from the Friends with Frank spring/summer collection would you recommend for women who are pregnant or in the 4th trimester?
Our spring/summer collection focuses on simple everyday pieces. Our stretch waist pants, like the Willa or Helena, will take you from pregnancy to postpartum. For example, something simple like our Amelie Tunic Top over the Willa Pant is a great look.
Do you have any tips on how to style Friends with Frank essentials?
I love our relaxed Felicity Denim Trouser paired with our classic white Husband Tee and our Friends with Frank x ESSĒN Essential Belt in black. When I’m heading into the office, I’ll throw on a blazer and an ESSĒN foundation flat to finish the look. If I’m going to the park with Sibbie, I’ll tie a jumper over my shoulders and add trainers.