Being a mama doesn’t mean giving up your dream job! This week’s mamapreneur, Sonia Jackson, has managed to do it all, running a successful furniture business while raising three adorable kids, not to mention traveling around the world! We talk with her about her best interior design tips and balancing work and mamahood:
Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to Hong Kong?
My father’s job took us to various countries as children — Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Chile and England. After University, I spent as much time as possible fulfilling my craving for adventure with research projects in the Amazon rainforest, climbs up Mt Kilimanjaro and travels through Latin America and Africa. I joined News Corporation’s National Geographic/Fox which based me in London, Madrid, Lisbon, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and then Hong Kong. My daughter Georgia (6) was born in Madrid, and then we moved to Hong Kong where we adopted Ollie (4), and then surprisingly had another little girl Lucia, now aged 22 months.
How was IROCO started? What was your inspiration for the company?
While my husband Alex had a solid career in finance, his natural entrepreneurial spirit and love for design took over and he was itching to start something up. He would insist on ‘brainstorming’ lunches to come up with ideas for something new… I never took it terribly seriously but that’s how the idea of IROCO Design began! Our business started when we were constantly surprised at how often our simply decorated home was being used for shoots, when there was really nothing too special about it. We began to realise that the beautiful designer products we had become accustomed to in Europe were simply not available in Hong Kong. Or if they were, they were priced above the odds and took months to arrive. So Alex and I began the quest to introduce more designer brands into Hong Kong. In September 2011, we bought several containers of product which were stored wall to wall in our home (the children thought it was fantastic), we mailed out a catalogue and we waited. And fortunately it worked!
Read more: How To Go Green With Your Furniture
Do you mostly rent your furniture?
At IROCO Design, we do ‘Design for Rent’, so we rent designer furniture brands to companies for events like exhibitions, trade shows, fashion launches and weddings. We can provide you with creative ideas, fabulous furniture and a flawless delivery, set up and collection service. And what we’re trying to do is introduce more and more designer brands that previously had no voice in Asia. By giving customers access to the best in modern design – including iconic works that have been in production since the mid-20th century as well as innovative items designed today – we have made new brands available in Hong Kong. Our clients so far have included Louis Vuitton, Piaget, Bulgari, Nike, Mont Blanc, Coca Cola, Moet and Chandon, BAFTA, Design Shanghai and HK Art Basel.
What are your favourite pieces of furniture at IROCO?
For me it has to be the Pasha Chairs by Pedrali and the Voido Rocking Chair by Ron Arad – a classic piece that was inspired by an old Mini seat in a scrap yard.
Can you describe your personal interior design style? How did you decorate your own home?
Styles vary depending on what stage of life you are at – with little ones we need to make it a home and not a showroom. So at the moment the style is versatile, with clean colours and pieces that work well with the goings on in the house. I also love pieces that have a story – vintage and collectibles. I found some gorgeous vintage throne chairs in a scrapyard in Madrid and reupholstered them. I love them. We are between homes at the moment but the next one ought to look fantastic given all the pieces we have in stock!
Read more: The Best Homeware Stores in Hong Kong
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m obviously inspired a lot by travel — places like Laos, South America, Sri Lanka and Africa are so rich in colour. I also draw inspiration from design shows, magazines and the fantastic design websites out of Europe which show the latest trends.
Can you give us your best furniture / interior design tips?
Furniture, unlike fashion, is not something you can change every six months. You should look at it as more of an investment so plan on spending a bit more and getting good furniture that lasts many years — furniture that is comfortable but also beautiful to look at.
How do you balance work and being a mum?
When I was in my previous roles I traveled a lot and work was a priority. Now with children, things have to change. Working for oneself allows for far greater flexibility which is good. Knowing my limitations and being able to delegate and ask for help are very important. Also, a sense of humour and the ability to multi-task are essential. I make tons of lists to try and make sure nothing gets forgotten. And I couldn’t do it without my super-organised helper, Didi.
There isn’t really a right way of balancing work and being a mum but you have to find what works for you. Being there for my children is the most important thing so I try and make sure I drop Ollie at his kindergarten in the morning, and collect Georgia from her school in the afternoon. Once I’ve picked up Georgia from school, the afternoons are for the family and as much as possible I try to be the one who puts them to bed. That means my evenings are often spent working, but that’s my choice. I do like the kids to know what we do — they are quite involved and know everyone in the business, and love to come to the office where they use the delivery team’s trolleys as skateboards and hide amongst all the furniture!
What are your favourite activities to do with the kids in Hong Kong?
One is kayaking with the children to the magical islands nearby in Sai Kung, and the other is Long Ke Wan beach (my favourite beach in HK). I can think of no better day than to hike to the beach with the kids and have a picnic – it is so pure and special.
Why do you think Hong Kong is such a good city for entrepreneurs?
It really is easy to start up a business in Hong Kong. Everything works – there is a good legal and financial framework, low tax rates and a lot of ready support – and people are enthusiastic and willing to help you.
Any funny anecdotes from starting a family business?
Working with my husband has been extremely interesting! It was never in my wildest dreams that we would end up working together. I have learned a whole new side to him – almost like getting to know him all over again! But it seems to have worked and we’re still together so that must be something. Also, when the business first started we had no cleaner so I would do it myself and the kids would love to help with buckets and mops. I’m still not sure how but a photo of them doing exactly that popped up amongst the images I was presenting at a meeting with one of the big luxury brands – it looked like child labour!
I wish I had more time for?
Everything. I never feel I have enough time in the day to do all the things I want to do. And of course I wish I had more time for sleep… and exercise.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
Since the noisy hamster vanished, unless someone wakes me up having wet their bed I never, ever wake up…
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Breakfast. The kids get up so early that we manage to have a sit down breakfast all together every morning. I have banned Alex talking about work at breakfast, which has finally worked! And it’s a lovely moment for everyone to share the activities of the day ahead. And bedtime – I love that moment just before sleep when they’re desperately trying to keep you from going away where they chat and chat and chat.
Read more: 10 Bedtime Books to Put Your Kiddos to Sleep
What’s your best advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Always assume the business will go slower than you believe and that funding will be harder to find, but never give up. It’s not going to be easy – it can be exhausting – but it will happen! Network (something I’m not very good at) a lot, don’t be afraid to ask advice and most importantly love what you are doing.