Natalie Norman Turner is the founder of Growbright, by Natalie, and Millo, as well as a member of the Turner family, which owns The Comfort Group, the largest bedding and foam manufacturer in Australasia, whose brands include Sleepyhead and Tattersfield. She completed a two-year diploma in fashion design and a two-year business diploma at Auckland University of Technology and spent almost a decade working for the family firm, focusing on its Asia-Pacific product segment. 

After having her first child in 2016, she founded Growbright with the intention of developing the safest baby cot mattress in Australasia – one that is also breathable, washable and reusable. Starting initially as a small online business, the company now sells its range throughout New Zealand and Australia and has won multiple awards for its maternity pillows. Of the other businesses she has established since, by Natalie sells nightwear and sleep accessories and Millo produces luxury foam lounge pieces and cushions. She and husband Greg are parents to Amelia and Liam.

I had a happy childhood growing up in Auckland. I lived with my mum but had a strong relationship with my dad. I have two sisters and three brothers, and there were also some animals in the mix. We didn’t all live together, but it always felt like a rolling party, with always someone to annoy. Our family life was full-on, crazy and fun.

One of my fondest childhood memories is riding up and down the beachfront on my bike with my cousins at Manly on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula. Life was simple being so young with no worries in the world.

Natalie Norman Turner, centre, with her sister Felicity and mother Clare. (Image: Supplied)

School feels like a lifetime ago. It’s hard to remember before third form, but I do recall being friendly with most people and having great relationships with most of my teachers. I was a bit of a people pleaser in the early years because, as a middle child, I was used to trying to keep the peace.  

I wouldn’t say I was an academic in any way, but I really loved school. I was into doing everything from rowing to choir. I was best in the creative areas, which were fairly few and far between in those days, so I had to do them outside school hours. I always found it fairly hard to concentrate in class and was eventually diagnosed with ADD in my later years. I found being aware of it and making sure I sat at the front of the class really helped, as we decided it was best for me not to take anything to support it.

When I was a child, I really wanted to be a florist. I have no idea what inspired me, but I do remember being quite clear on that. Around the age of 11 or 12, I started sewing and learning from my grandmother, who was an amazing sewer. 

I remember very early on making flannel PJs for my brothers. That’s where my love affair with fashion started and I knew I wanted to do fashion design, which I went on to study alongside business at university. I used to design clothes during the week and make them that weekend; I just loved spending hours in the fabric shops and coming up with new designs.

My parents taught me to love the people important to you and solve problems rather than cover them up or leave them to someone else, and to understand what’s important in life and try not to take on emotionally what you can’t change. Also, to enjoy the people around you, and stress less.

Fresh out of university, I was lucky enough to get a job at Petrena Miller Design. Petrena sold to most of the women's fashion retailers around New Zealand and it was the most amazing opportunity to learn about the industry. I came on as the design assistant, which led to me taking on the role of production manager. It was very busy but very rewarding.

Petrena taught me so much and I owe a lot to her as she really gave me a chance. It was right at the time when many New Zealand brands were moving to China, so I was able to manage the New Zealand production, and then also learnt how to deal with Chinese suppliers, which is so much easier now.

I left Petrena Miller Design with plans to go overseas, but then I met Greg and never left. I took up a part-time role at Beds R Us before I started working at my family business, Sleepyhead, in product development for anything that wasn’t beds. Then I started Growbright, my first business.

I’m most proud of launching Growbright around the time I had my daughter, Amelia. It was a juggle, but it was a lot of fun and became a very personal brand for me, filled with stories of birth and what I was going through. It really helped me to connect with our consumers.

After the first lockdown, I felt the pull back to my first love – fashion. I launched a brand I had dreamt about for a while, by Natalie, selling the most amazing luxury New Zealand-made pillows and sleepwear. Then, earlier this year, I launched the conscious furniture brand Millo. But, as much as I love fashion, it's product design and dealing with different technologies that drive me.

I love to be busy with lots of things on the go, and I have had to be quite strict with myself to make sure my two children don’t suffer as a result. I love meeting new people and trying new things. I’m a people-pleaser but I’ll also be upfront about what I think. I’ve always loved work; sometimes the lines blur between work and personal time because it's all one. 

I really value my team being happy in the workplace. Although we’re here to work hard and meet goals, if we’re all happy, the business will perform better – and it’s just good for everyone’s wellbeing. 

Celebrating the wins is not something I have been that great at over the years. There’s always something that gets in the way – the next thing to get on to, kids needing something, or being hit by a pandemic. It’s something I am working on to ensure life doesn’t fly by.

My biggest failure is not listening to my gut when developing products for our brands. We have many fantastic suggestions that we incorporate into range planning, but sometimes there is something that doesn’t sit right with me and we will still go ahead. It always comes back to haunt me. It’s really taught me to trust my gut and my experience to help grow the brands, as well as finding ways to teach and grow team members without it causing a big hole in the pocket. 

My best piece of business advice is to not rush with decisions you are not totally comfortable with. I love the saying, “Don’t just do something, stand there."

The best advice I have been given personally is that if something isn’t working, it’s not a failure, it’s all part of a bigger picture. 

I don’t manage stress very well. I used to thrive on stress, and it was when I performed at my best. But I’ve found it harder in recent years with having kids, as you can’t put work before them. If all else fails, don’t make that a stress point. Just start again the next day. 

The things that used to really upset me pre-covid I don’t seem to bat an eyelid at these days. There have been so many unknowns, I have got better at dealing with things I cannot change and getting on to find the solution.

My ambitions at this stage of my life are to take my businesses to the next level. When I launched Growbright and by Natalie, I was in the thick of the early stages of motherhood and covid, so I haven’t pushed them as far as their potential just yet.

Enjoying a picnic with Amelia and Liam in April 2020 during the first covid lockdown. (Image: Supplied)

My weekends are a mix of time with my kids and friends. I love being social, but I try to have a bit of downtime, too, as the weeks are very full-on and I find the kids thrive when we spend quality time playing with them. Luckily, our long-term friendship circle all have kids who get along really well so we try to foster those friendships, which can sometimes be challenging, given how busy lives get, but it's so fulfilling and makes us all feel good.

We have a beach house at Algies Bay on the Mahurangi Peninsula that we try to get to as much as possible. It's a great chance to unwind, have a swim, a nice meal. and try to sneak in a game of golf. Our kids are finally at the age where they can last nine holes.

My kids are most important to me. I’m trying to teach them to honour themselves and know their value, and to be well-rounded, kind people who work for what they believe in. It's fair to say there’s a lot of work to do here with them still being so young. Keeping harmony in the home is extremely important to me to ensure health and happiness for all of us.

I spend most of my money on travel. Travelling has always helped me unwind and recharge – it drives my creativity and pushes me to strive for more. It's so exciting to have the world open up again.

My favourite thing about New Zealand is the summer holidays. I just love the time away with friends and families at any of our beaches. I have so many different fun memories and there is always something new to discover.

This interview has been edited for clarity.