lady startup

Chelsea wanted women to enjoy shopping. So, she started a modelling agency.

Mamamia is supporting women who are running their own race with #ladystartup. Meet the faces behind the businesses we’re celebrating…

Chelsea Bonner is the daughter of two particularly prominent Australians.

Nola Clark and Tony Bonner.

Her mum was a famous model during the 1960s and 70s, and her dad came to fame on the Australian TV show, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, and also starred in The Man From Snowy River.

But, Chelsea isn’t – by any means – defined by her parents.

She is the proud founder and owner of BELLA Management, a modelling agency that grew from Chelsea’s desire to diversify the industry.

The business she has created is even something Chelsea didn’t expect, and the influence she has had is immeasurable.

Read her interview with Mamamia.

What is BELLA Management?

I started BELLA 16 years ago when I saw a huge gap in the market for fashion models who represent the average dress size of the female population in Australia.

It was a combination of a personal mission to help change women’s health and self-esteem issues around size and body image, as well as my love of the fashion industry and skill set I had as an agent of many years.

chelsea bonner bella management

Chelsea Bonner. Image: supplied.

So I felt I could put those skills to better use by encouraging body diversity throughout fashion and media; showing retailers and designers that by booking models who more closely represented their customer, it would be a win-win for everyone.

Sales would increase for the retailers because the customer would feel worthy of purchasing that item and accepted as a part of the brand, rather than not spending money on herself until she looks like the unrealistic sized models in the campaign photos.

What were you doing before you went into business for yourself?

I was an agent most of my adult life. I started working for my mum when I was 16 in her modelling and deportment school and went on to get a job as a junior booker in a big modelling agency in Melbourne, before moving into representing photographers, hair and makeup artists and stylists. I also took time off to model 'plus-size' in between and on holidays.


How did you come up with the name?

I wanted something that didn't have a size connotation attached to it. I love Italy so to just call it BELLA models felt right.

Why do you think so many women are starting their own businesses?

I love this new wave of women who are dreaming big and going for it.

In the younger sector, a lot of it is driven by seeing their own mums have to make compromises to fit into ‘traditional’ marriage roles and having career regrets.

Amongst my friends, divorce often leaves women who give up their careers in a shocking situation, where the financial split is uneven and her skill set is outdated. It’s very hard to get back into a career you left 10 or 15 years ago to raise the kids.

What's the single best piece of advice you got?

This would be a toss up between my mum who always said "you don't have to be an a-hole to be successful" and Oprah who says "every failure is just the universe pushing you in the right direction, towards your ultimate goal."

At Mamamia we have an expression "flearning" - failing and learning. What have been your biggest flearnings since you have started BELLA?

I was way under-capitalised and didn’t think about things like emergency funds. If everyone pays on time it all looks good on paper, but this is rarely the case. Most of the cheques I banked I had to pay extra on for a ‘special clearance’ every week because I had no cash float!


What is the smartest thing you've done since starting BELLA?

The smartest thing I ever did was learn to delegate. I was absolutely hopeless at handing over jobs when I first started employing staff. I’ve now mastered it.

Check out some of the models that BELLA represents. (Post continues after gallery.)

Alre there any pieces of technology or software, apps or systems that have made it easier to do what you do?

I invested in a model booking system from America a few years ago that has changed our lives. And also currency converter because we work all over the world and I'm constantly calculating rates.

What can you recommend to women to get their own hustle going?  

Make it something you enjoy. In all businesses, there are days, weeks, even months sometimes where you are so over the pressure, yourself and everything about it.

If you don’t enjoy your work you won’t last through those periods, especially in the first two or three years while you are working towards being financially sound.

What are your non-negotiables?

Walking my rescue dog, Billy Bean, is really my only non-negotiable. That walk can change my whole day. Her happy little face running around chasing birds or jumping around like a puppy in the water resets my head space.


Listen to Mia Freedman speak with George McEncroe, another incredible woman who started her own business. (Post continues after audio.)

What's the biggest misconception you had about starting your business?

I thought I would always have to work from home and have a second job to pay the bills. I was so concentrated on the work, year in year out, that I looked up one day and realised I have an office full of staff!

I honestly didn’t have any idea it would be the business it has become.

It’s the work that’s important to me, but I have to say I’m pretty proud of how far we’ve come and that I can provide a living to so many different people because of it. 

How much sleep do you get every night?

About four to six hours. I’m a really bad sleeper and often have to knock myself out with a handful of magnesium tablets on top of a magnesium bath to get any proper rest. I’ve been like that since I was a kid.

Since we’re in the #LadyStartUp spirit, what Lady Start Ups do you recommend?

Hear Us Roar is a new clothing platform for women over size 10 who want cool, edgy, on-trend designs collated from all over the world.

Iridis Cosmetics was founded by a friend of mine who had a big corporate job and left it all behind to follow her heart and passion. Peta-Gai is a complete dynamo and her products are beautiful. One to watch for sure.

You can see more from BELLA at their website or Instagram. If you have a #LadyStartUp or want to recommend one for us to cover, drop us an email:

Got January-Dread at the thought of a new year in your current job? Keen to take control of your life and be your own boss? Come and join Mia Freedman for the Lady Startup Activation Plan, an online course where she personally takes you through every step and gives you every resource to go from idea to launch. Enrolments are open for just a few days. Details here.