Influencers & Profiles

How former The Bachelor star Laura Byrne is proving her jewellery brand ToniMay isn’t a “fad-driven label”

Dominic Powell /

Laura Byrne ToniMay

Alisha de Graaf and Laura Byrne. Souce: Supplied.

The last season of feverishly popular Australian reality TV show The Bachelor left many Aussies baffled and bewildered, as curly-haired heartthrob Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins departed the show without picking someone to be the love of his life.

Watchers across the nation (this writer included) were stunned and appalled and quickly channelled those emotions into anger, riven with disbelief anyone appearing on a prime-time reality television show could do something so unexpected.

Cummins was quite literally chased out of Australia, and the Bachelor’s attempts at reconciliation with the shaken Australian public have been poorly received. Any efforts on Cummins behalf to wrangle his appearance into further promotional efforts will likely be met with significant hurdles, with the former rugby pro recently cancelling book signings across the country.

Though all will likely be forgiven and forgotten by the time another muscled hunk appears on The Bachelor’s next season, Cummins’ story can be seen as a cautionary tale for businesses who think any publicity is good publicity. As the Honey Badger himself would say: “Holy tomorra. How good? Bloody, you beauty”.

Or whatever that means.

But Cummins’ tale isn’t representative of all former The Bachelor contestants and is actually in stark contrast to the story of Laura Byrne, the winner of the 2017 season who was chosen by Cummins’ predecessor Matty Johnson.

And as the pair’s relationship has continued to thrive, so too has Byrne’s jewellery business ToniMay, which the entrepreneur and influencer had been running for a number of years prior to her The Bachelor appearance, telling SmartCompany the business started almost by accident back in 2012.

Byrne says at the time she had been selling her products at the local Bondi markets in New South Wales for a couple of years, and only considered the brand a side-project and a hobby.

“That was a pretty formative period in my career, but at the time I was still grappling with how I could turn my hobby into a business. It wasn’t until I entered a competition with Grazia magazine and Westfield called ‘launch your label competition’ that things really changed,” she says.

“I didn’t think I stood a chance in hell of winning but the judges must have seen something in my vision for what I wanted to create and this really gave me the confidence to launch ToniMay.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and the business recently opened the doors of its first flagship boutique store in Paddington, NSW. The company, named after Byrne’s grandparents, has gone from strength to strength in recent months — due in part to organic growth and in part to Byrne’s success as a reality TV star.

A Bachy success

Byrne says she gained a love for jewellery making thanks to her mother’s experience as a silversmith, with the founder attributing her mother’s “insane creativity” and drive as the reason for her pursuing the business and turning it into what it is today.

In the early days of ToniMay, Byrne describes it as a “slow organic burn”, saying having never taken on any investment meant the business was a “serious day-to-day hustle”.

“It wasn’t until I opened our first kiosk store that we started to see some brand recognition, and from that, happy return customers, which is really where the growth started happening,” she says.

However, it wasn’t until Byrne’s appearance on The Bachelor that the business hit its next stage of growth.

“This experience thrust every facet of my life into the public domain, including ToniMay,” she says.

Reflecting on her time on the show, Byrne says she was lucky in the sense her experience was “wonderful” and there was little negativity which came from it (much unlike Cummins’ experience). She says the public interest in her life definitely flooded over into interest into ToniMay.

“When the show was on TV we would receive emails asking what necklace I was wearing, or where can someone buy the earrings from last night’s episode,” she says.

“It was a really positive experience for ToniMay, but I think the most rewarding thing is the number of return customers we have maintained over the past year since the show has finished. The returning customers are such a testament to our quality and that we aren’t a fad-driven label.”

Since the dust settled after Byrne’s The Bachelor appearance, the entrepreneur has also turned ToniMay into a family business, recruiting her sister Alisha de Graaf to manage the business side of the brand. Byrne says de Graaf does a fantastic job pulling her “head out of the clouds”, and allows her to focus more on the creative side of the business.

Be prepared for growth

Looking to the future, the founder says she’s keen to open up new channels for the business, looking into wholesaling as an option to keep expanding the brand both locally and internationally.

Despite the recent shutdown of iconic designer jewellery brand Samantha Wills, Byrne says the independent jewellery market is stronger than ever before, and the competition “fierce”.

“To survive and thrive as a brand you really need to have a point of difference in your design aesthetic in order to attract a cult following — and you also need the quality and customer service to maintain it,” she says.

On that note, Byrne advises other business owners to always be ready for growth, even if you don’t think it’s on the horizon. Thinking ahead is the most important thing business owners can do, she says.

“It’s not feasible to grow a business if you don’t already have the processes in place in order to fulfil larger quantities,” she says.

“Instead of trying to figure out problems when you are blindsided by them, instead anticipate how your business can be scaled to cater for that huge wholesale order that is just around the corner.”

NOW READ: SmartCompany’s date with the small business Bachelor Sam Wood

NOW READ: Meghan Markle, an Aussie jewellery brand, and Instagram: Inside the mysteries of influencer marketing

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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