Christie Bavage is no ordinary entrepreneur. She's known as the 'Chief Sparkle Queen' and CEO at statement accessories brand Dented Diva, who proudly credits her former career in the Australian Army for her business acumen.
"It's funny - looking back, without having been in the military, I probably wouldn't be where I am today," she told Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.
"The determination from the military taught me to never give up regardless of how hard something might be, or how much people say 'you can't do it'."
"If you put your mind to it, you'll definitely get through and that has rolled across into Dented Diva."
Christie's statement design aesthetic is unique, fun, and retro-cool that guarantees a trip down memory lane.
Even though the 38-year-old has now forged a new path as a creative in the fashion industry, her brand 'Dented Diva' is a nod to her previous career in the Australian Defence Force.
"I'm a 'diva' because I do like the finer things in life, of course, I like champagne, I like sparkles, I like shopping - I love being girly, but I'm also a little bit 'dented around the edges' because of my military career."
"I'm not perfect, so I thought, Dented Diva, that's it! That's how we're going to roll," Christie said.
Growing up in a family of five as the eldest of three children on a sweet potato farm in Cudgen, in Northern NSW, Christie revealed that she was 'a bit of a tomboy' in her youth.
"I used to go and help out on the farm during school holidays - a complete contrast from where I am now."
"I was always unique and different, but at the time, I didn't think I liked that about myself," she said.
"Looking back, I wish that I did."
Christie cultivated her creative flair while studying Art for her HSC, but decided to enlist in the Army soon after graduating high school.
She returned to civilian life after proudly serving in the Australian Defence Force for eight years. She took a quick detour in the corporate world as a medical sales representative and account manager, before rediscovering her creative side once again.
"It just goes to show that the artistic flair was there,"
"I think being in the military, it was repressed for eight years and just jammed into this corner," she said.
"It's like this 'colour explosion' has happened since I've left the Defence, all that built-up colour and sparkle - here it is."
Humble beginnings with 'Mr. Dented Diva'
Before moving business operations online, Christie originally made the first Dented Diva earring collection by hand from polymer clay on her kitchen table in early 2018.
"What I didn't realise at the time, it [creating] was a way of me dealing with my mental health," she said.
She never would have thought that her creative outlet would one day evolve from a hobby to a bustling small-business one day. Luckily, Christie's husband Hendrik a.k.a 'Mr. Dented Diva' backs the business and provides operations support.
"My husband is such a good hand with Dented Diva, even though he has a full-time job, he still helps in the background."
"He does all the fiddly stuff after a 12 or 13 hour day at work," she said.
"He'll come home and do that for me."
Christie launched with an Etsy store and went on the market rounds to get the word out about her new brand.
"We [Christie and her husband] would go to markets every weekend - rain, hail, shine, you name it, we've been through it," she said.
"From Byron Bay, out to the Hinterland, to the Gold Coast, we would be there and I would be spruiking my wares telling everyone how amazing Dented Diva was."
"It was a really hard slog but it taught me the true value of loving your own business, you've got to get out there and give it a go regardless of what people think."
Dented Diva has evolved since then. The collection is still handmade, but, Christie's sparkly statement designs are now in acrylic - paying serious homage to the '80s and '90s.
The Poppy Collection
Christie was an Army Medic and had been posted on deployments to the Middle East during her eight-year military career. She met her husband Hendrik while he was serving in the Army as a Soldier, driving a range of specialist military vehicles.
"My husband also did 20 years [serving in the Army], so between us, 28 years of service."
Christie created Dented Diva's Poppy Collection in remembrance of friends, colleagues, to help military charities that support veterans and their families. Every year, Christie adds a new design to this special collection.
"I've lost friends in combat," she said.
"I still see a lot of [veteran] friends dealing with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, marriage breakdowns..."
"We [my husband and I] have our own issues as a married couple both being veterans."
"If the poppy earrings can bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one in combat and for those who know somebody that has been injured in combat, or [if the poppy earrings] help somebody deal with whatever they are going through - that's huge for me."
"I was told once, if you can give back, do it and I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I am able to do that so, every little bit helps."
"The Poppy Collection is therapy for me," Christie said.
Movin' on up
Dented Diva has come a long way since Christie began building her business from her kitchen table with her spare time, every evening after work, dreaming of seeing her creations worn by celebrities one day.
It finally happened for Christie last year when MasterChef Australia judge Melissa Leong wore Dented Diva earrings on the show.
"Melissa wearing my earrings on Masterchef Australia was a huge tick in the box," she said.
"You know, I had a goal and that was to have a celebrity wearing my earrings, so I was like - wow."
Christie admits that seeing WHO Magazine's Sexiest Person of 2020 wearing her Dented Diva designs on national television was a career high-point, but affirms that there have been many highlights that 'tick the box' in different categories.
"I think the War Memorial taking on the Poppy Collection, for me as a veteran, that was massive," she said.
"That made all the hard work and effort worth it when I first started."
"I hope that continues for a very long time, they've been so supportive towards Dented Diva."
The values of mateship and camaraderie are very much entrenched in the veteran community. Dented Diva has thrived through a loyal fan base, bolstered by support from other veteran-owned small businesses and the wider veteran community.
"Everybody I have come across who is ex-military has been happy to grab Dented Diva accessories and have supported the business by telling people about it."
"The fact that they're willing to get on board and do that for me means so much," she said.
"There's definitely that love from the veteran community, that's for sure."
By the end of 2019, Dented Diva was on track to be stocked at airports nationwide after travel retailer Australian Way Pty Ltd (AWPL) approached Christie. Unfortunately, the COVID outbreak threw a spanner in the works and the new business opportunity has had to be put on pause.
"We were literally about to roll out Dented Diva, then COVID hit."
"That's still going to happen - the AWPL contract is signed and ready to go," Christie said.
With everything lining up to take Dented Diva forward, Christie says that the most rewarding part of being a business owner is hearing from the customers.
"I feel like my achievements aren't... 'I've made this money this week'," she said.
"To me, it's when someone can put on a pair of Dented Diva earrings and they send me a message saying... 'Christie, your earrings are so amazing, I didn't want to get out of bed this morning but I put them on and I've just conquered the world' after they've had a really bad day'."
"That, to me, is achieving what I set out to achieve - to me, that just trumps everything."
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