From house parties to light travel fashion
I enjoy shopping at friends' houses. House shopping is a form of direct marketing. Usually the business representative demonstrates and shows off her products - and the hostess puts on snacks and drinks and invites her friends. It's a fun opportunity to meet with other women (and occasionally a few men), to chat, network - and shop.
In the past couple of years, I've been invited to a lingerie party, a scents party, a tupperware party, a cooking party - and most recently - a clothes party.
Silk n Things
A friend invited me to visit Sonia Burke for a house viewing of Sonia's Silk n Things clothes collection. I was delighted by the range of quirky tunics available - all beautifully displayed on racks in Sonia's attractive, light-filled house.
Speaking with Sonia
I was interested by Sonia's business and her range of clothes, so I asked if I could interview her for Planepack.
Listen to the interview as Sonia and I chat about clothes, light travel and the pleasure of meeting other women:
Read the interview transcript
Slobodanka: Hello, Planepack. Welcome again to another episode. I'm sitting here today with Sonia in her beautiful house surrounded by her lovely art works, gorgeous garden, and we're going to be talking about something really special today, so welcome, Sonia.
Sonia: Thank you.
Slobodanka: So you are a textile artist, and tell us about your Silk n Things products. What are they?
Sonia: My product range at the moment is really about women's fashion. Fashion for women of more mature years.
Slobodanka: Like me?
Sonia: Yeah, because I think that as we mature, our body shape changes, and I don't think that fashion houses necessarily accommodate that change in our body. They don't cope with it very conveniently for us, so we're looking for garments that are comfortable, fit us well, and are stylish.
Slobodanka: Well, that's right. I've seen your garments, they were lovely. Can you perhaps describe something? Like you're wearing a top I would imagine that's your own if you can describe to the readers how they look?
Sonia: All of the garments are, as I said, designed for comfort, so they're fairly loose fitting, long in line, and I use fabrics that are soft draping and easy care.
Slobodanka: Actually talking about fabrics is easy, so how do you source the fabrics, because when I came to your house to see the clothes, I noticed a real range of textures and fabrics?
Sonia: Yeah. The textures, fabric, and colour are my forte, and I source the majority of my fabrics through shopping trips to Sydney and Melbourne, and I'm very fortunate that I have contacts where I can check out end of designer rolls, so my fabrics aren't necessarily available from regular fabric stores, which gives that uniqueness.
Slobodanka: That's lovely. That exclusivity, which is very nice.
Slobodanka: How did you start the business, and when did you start it?
Sonia: I've had a business for about 25 years now.
Slobodanka: This particular one, Silk n Things?
Sonia: Yes, there's always been Silken Things, but when I first began I actually worked with masses of silk, but silk ribbon. I was the silk ribbon embroiderer, and I hand painted silk as backgrounds, etc, and the over the years I've gradually progressed into other things of textile design, primarily because with the embroidery I was rather concerned that I'd develop RSI, so I thought I needed to do something that used my machine a lot more and not ...
Slobodanka: Your hand as much.
Slobodanka: Oh, that's interesting. So I noticed you don't even have a website?
Slobodanka: Where do you sell your products?
Sonia: Can I just say first off that I used to have a website, but I closed it down because the one thing about my clothing range is that every single garment is a little bit different, and as a consequence to operate my website, I would be endlessly taking photographs of the garments, so I found that I have a big enough following for my satisfaction to sell at the old bus depot markets in Canberra each Sunday, and then I also take part in special event type activities, some in Sydney and some in Canberra and Wagga.
Slobodanka: Wagga, my old hometown. That's lovely. It is.
Sonia: Love the Wagga ladies, and I'll be going there very soon. Then, like I had the other day, the special event at home.
Slobodanka: Well, that's right. I came to one of those. I would call it a house party, which I thought was fantastic. It's really a lovely sort of safe and friendly atmosphere. How often do you hold them?
Sonia: Well, to tell you the truth, this was my first one.
Slobodanka: Oh, really?
Sonia: Because I'm in this beautiful brand new home.
Slobodanka: So it's a party for you as well as the other people.
Sonia: Well, yes, and it was to, I suppose allow all my friends and their friends to come and see what I'd been talking about.
Slobodanka: Isn't that amazing? And here I am as a result of it.
Slobodanka: Could you describe to the listeners what you did with that house party? How did you manage? What was the process?
Sonia: Well, my main thing was I had to lots and lots of pre-work as far as designing and stitching, which I did over the winter to have ready for my friends my new spring range, so I did lots of sewing, but to let people know about the event, I simply went through my database, so I personally emailed friends, and they passed on to their friends.
Slobodanka: So it went viral in a small sort of way.
Sonia: Well, yes. I gave out lots of flyers to people that I knew, and then spoke with regular clients that I have at the markets as well.
Slobodanka: Well, I really liked it on the day. I liked the way that you exhibited the clothes. There were, if I remember, one, two, three. Three racks? Four?
Sonia: Three racks, yeah.
Slobodanka: So there was plenty to choose from, and we were able to browse, and of course there were lovely nibbles as well and a great opportunity to meet other people, so I thought it was a great formula. Were you happy with the amount of things that you sold?
Sonia: I was absolutely blown away. I really was. I think part of the success of it was that my friends brought their friends, and as a consequence, when women get together ...
Slobodanka: Magic happens.
Sonia: It sure does. Someone puts something on, and then there's, "Oh, that looks fantastic. Try this colour." All that sort of camaraderie comes forward.
Slobodanka: Certainly nicer than shopping online.
Sonia: Absolutely, because you have all this interaction, and on the day women meet other women that they hadn't known before, like I've met you.
Slobodanka: That's right.
Sonia: So there's a whole lot of unintended networking as well, so we may see each other somewhere else, and I know it's you, Bobby.
Slobodanka: That's right. Would you hold an event like that again?
Sonia: Absolutely would. I've already had friends ask when's the next one. Maybe it was the bubbly.
Slobodanka: But I guess preparing for that sort of event takes, as you said, quite a lot of time and effort, and if I remember correctly, you produce all the clothes here in your house? You have a sewing room?
Sonia: Absolutely. Yes, I design and sew all of the garments, because then I've got full control. That's how I can have each garment be a little bit different.
Slobodanka: And maintain the quality and the style.
Slobodanka: When we met that day, you mentioned to me that some of your customers love your garments, particularly those ladies that go on cruises. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Sonia: Yeah, so I have a big following particularly at the market with ladies who are going away on overseas trips particularly, and of course many of them are cruising these days, and particularly my long line sleeveless vests, they absolutely love because they're soft and draping, and they serve very many purposes. Very flexible sort of garment in that women can wear them during the day with a quite casual outfit, and it's just the little pop over thing when the day might be a bit cool when they go on their excursion when they first step off the ship for the day.
Slobodanka: Or a stroll around the deck no doubt.
Sonia: Absolutely, when they promenade, but that same vest, they can coordinate it with a different top and soft pants or a long line skirt and wear it to dinner that night. Some different jewellery or a different undergarment and a bit of lipstick and off they go.
Slobodanka: And off they go. Isn't that lovely? What about the packing aspect of your clothes?
Sonia: All the garments, all the fabrics that I tend to use are either non-crushable or crush very minimally, so they might unroll their garment and just simply hang it when they arrive at their destination, and within a couple of hours it's dropped out. But they all fold up and then roll into a small ball. Perfect for hand luggage when the air con is a bit cold on an aircraft or in a bus or however they're travelling.
Slobodanka: Would you say that it'd be suitable for light travel? I'm interested to know how much they weigh if you have any idea of that?
Sonia: I've never actually weighed any of the garments, but they're very easily held in one hand.
Slobodanka: Yes, and they don't take up much space.
Sonia: No, not at all.
Slobodanka: No. Are you a light traveller yourself?
Sonia: Over the years I've certainly become lighter. I don't know whether I would be an actual light traveller as in just a piece of hand luggage. Maybe if I was going to Sydney, but a six, eight week trip to Europe, not at this stage.
Slobodanka: No. But you'd be fully kitted out in Silk n Things.
Slobodanka: Absolutely. Sonia, it's been a delight talking to you. I don't know if there's anything else that you'd like to tell the listeners about your clothes, promote them?
Sonia: I think probably the best thing is for them to come and see me at the Bus Depot Markets in Canberra, Wentworth Avenue each Sunday up until Christmas. I have a break and then I return in March.
Sonia: Look forward to meeting anyone.
Sonia: I'll have a lovely surprise.
Slobodanka: Yes. Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
Sonia: My pleasure.
About the author
I'm Slobodanka Graham, blogger, light traveler and tunic wearer - but sadly not a sewer.
I'm pleased small business owners like Sonia Burke create comfortable and wearable clothes - in Canberra - for women like myself. Remember to visit the Old Bus Depot Markets for Sonia's Silk n Things collection.