Watch the film below discussing raison d'être with Blue Illusion CEO Donna Guest
Blue Illusion’s reverence for all things French developed organically during the business's many evolutions, but the French value of ‘joie de vivre’ and infusing passion with work have always been core principles for co-founder Donna Guest and her late husband Danny. In French form, family was an integral part of this process. The husband and wife raised their brand and their four children simultaneously on this philosophy of embracing life.
"I suppose if you could have it all, we had it all."
Donna Guest - Creative Director & CEO
“We built a business while having a big family, and we were very young,” She tells us. “From the age of twenty-seven, I came into the business full-time. I had just given birth to Indiana, our second child, and she would sleep on a pile of fabric, and her Nonna would be on the machine sewing garments and rocking her at the same time.” The mother and daughter laugh as Indiana turns and says, “I was two weeks old when she took me in.” Donna sits in her living room where family photos hang in sleek black frames. She is surrounded by her children.
Blue Illusion was always a family business. It began with Danny Guest and his mother, whom the family calls Nonna. Nonna was an energetic woman who always insisted you eat a second helping of pasta and treasured her family above all else. After Nonna retired, she warmly told Donna that it was her time.
That was when Donna and her husband began to really conceptualise the brand. They chose the name Blue Illusion, a label of their original brand Patches, and shifted their focus towards womenswear. At the time, they had four employees—Donna, Danny, Ruth, who would pick and dispatch, and Louisa, a designer fresh out of university. Although they were a small business, they were ahead of their time in their dedication to natural fibres, like raw cotton and hemp. Despite being early in their career, Donna and Danny never compromised on their ideals, and their shared passion for what Blue Illusion could be was transformative.
"We had a strong belief in setting goals and achieving those goals.”
That was in 1991. In 1998, they opened their first store. For ten years prior, they had been a wholesale brand, selling their garments to 300 boutiques that would purchase and resell their clothes. When they finally opened their own boutique, they knew that they wanted to do something different with retail in Australia.
When Donna was pregnant with Indiana, she and her husband first sponsored a child through World Vision. When she realised that she was about to give birth to a child who would never go hungry, yet there was a child somewhere else starving, she felt determined to make the changes that were within her power.
From there, they sponsored a child for every store they opened. Each of the store managers had a hand in the decision-making process. “That was how we initially brought charity into our concept.” Blue Illusion continues to be very involved in several charity projects, including World Vision’s FMNR sustainability project, Bali Life, The IDI Baker Institute, the Smith Family and the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund. The store managers are also free to organise in-store charity events that they are passionate about in the boutiques they run.
“I expect everyone in Blue Illusion to work hard, play hard, and live life to the fullest. And my husband was the same."
- Donna Guest - Creative Director & CEO
Raised by a determined mother, Danny felt strongly about supporting others in achieving their empowerment. As a businessman, Danny also recognized the value of running a brand that customers and employees could earnestly participate in. Through Blue Illusion, he engaged employees and customers in a collaborative effort, while also allowing employees the freedom to navigate their impact. “It’s motivating as well,” Donna adds, “I think we attract the right people within the business because of that aspect of generosity.”
Danny and Donna’s decision to share their enthusiasm for the business with their children from the very beginning also instilled in them a sense of purpose around the brand and a strong work ethic. “We would sit in a row in December and wrap presents for the staff and our top customers.” Donna reminisces.
“Family holidays were always kind of a holiday, kind of a business trip.” Shafaye muses, “Even from day one it feels like we've always been a part of the business.” Work was seamlessly interwoven into their everyday lives. “It’s deeply inspired me, the way they always managed to marry their passions with their career,” Indiana notes.
Now grown, three of Donna’s four children, Zach, Shafaye, and Indiana are officially part of the company and continue Blue Illusion’s mission of connecting work and pleasure in a way that not only brings them together as a family but also creates impact in the wider world.
“Danny left behind an incredible legacy.” Donna proudly states. “He showed us where north was and what we could all achieve. We’re living that legacy now but in our own way. Everybody is passionate, everybody is committed, and although challenges arise, we’re family, and we get through difficult times together because we love and support one another.”