Sissy is a Mount Eliza destination that whisks you away to somewhere exotic. When I step across the Sissy threshold after working my way through the wares out front, my mind turns to dreaming of indulgent holidays – every time. Sissy takes me to Byron Bay meanderings or a tropical island boutique, or our very own Mornington Peninsula design trails.
When I had the pleasure of soaking up a conversation with owner operator Belinda Stark at a local cafe, it wasn’t long before those Sissy inspirations were right with us at our table. Sassy Sister designer and retail owner Belinda Stark, is Sissy.
A love affair blossoms: Belinda and Sissy
On the 3rd of March 2014, Sissy Mt Eliza was unveiled by ecstatic new owner, Belinda Stark. Tones of predecessor Sissy Recycle prevail, that’s true. That’s because Belinda fell deeply for Sissy when she worked for previous owner, Jane Bertram.
Back in 2008, Jane opened a unique, beautifully presented retail outlet in Mount Eliza Way stocking carefully sought pre-loved clothing, as well as an eclectic choice of bohemian inspired labels and exquisite home wares. Belinda was already a fan before she started working at Sissy Recycle in 2012.
“Working with Jane was a perfect job for me. I believed in everything she did. I was among beautiful design pieces and talking to fabulous customers that appreciate good design,” Belinda said.
“From the very beginning I just loved working at Sissy. When the opportunity came up to buy the business, I knew I had to go for it.”
Belinda had already built fabulous relationships with customers over a couple of years, and had been listening to them the entire time.
A life saving decision and a welcome distraction
Belinda radiates warmth, creativity and optimism, and yet is very pragmatic in her approach to business and life. Sissy means a lot to Belinda. Only two weeks into buying the business and riding the wave of elation and anticipation, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Determined to throw her energy into Sissy, she almost cancelled a routine mammogram.
“I just wanted to focus on Sissy. I’m so glad I kept the appointment. It may have been a life saving decision,” she shared.
Despite the knock that such a diagnosis delivers, Belinda felt a strong sense of responsibility to honour the reputation Sissy had, and build on it.
“Sissy ended up being a very welcome distraction from what was otherwise a daunting health scare.”
With the support of her husband and the Sissy team, pragmatic Belinda continued shaping Sissy Mt Eliza through six weeks of radiation and a lumpectomy. Fortunately, the treatment was successful. I suspect raw determination was a powerful tonic in the equation too.
Belinda didn’t take her recovery for granted. Enticingly warm and generously open, it didn’t surprise me that in among all of this, she took time out to speak publicly to help raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
Design hunters at heart
With her health sorted, Belinda was off to Indonesia for her first buying trip as a retail business owner.
“So many of the major brands we know and love in Australia are manufactured in Indonesia. The attention to detail and the ability to source a manufacturer that is able to produce beautiful products in small quantities is perfect for Sissy.”
Belinda’s observations are that Indonesian manufacturers put a lot of care into what they produce. The attention to detail and eagerness to work with you, regardless of quantity, is what keeps Belinda going back for more.
Husband, Andrew Stark of Andrew Stark Garden Designs, has been hands on in helping build Sissy to the next level too. You’ll find Andrew’s horticultural design influence in the shop.
This is a family that want to travel to develop their businesses by discovering new ideas. They love to travel for leisure too and enjoy that the very act of traveling brings them all together. Belinda is a strong believer in travel being a great way to take a stretch out of your comfort zone, to grow. Ten year old son Max is a well seasoned traveller as a result.
A love of design means that Sissy stock is also sourced from Australian locations known as design incubators such as the Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne and Byron Bay.
This love of traveling in pursuit of exceptional design and to inspire new ideas brings the extraordinary and new to Sissy’s customers.
“We often have customers who have trawled shopping centres to find something without success. They come into Sissy, find something and wonder why they didn’t start their hunt here first.”
Belinda has always been creative with an art project of some description on the go.
Sassy Sister: a label inspired by listening to Sissy customers
Along with creativity, Belinda brings Public Relations and marketing savvy having helped build the profile of ex-husband and V8 Supercar Champion Mark Skaife. She applied some of what she learnt in building a global brand, to her new label.
Listening to customers was the inspiration for Belinda’s own design label, Sassy Sister. Mind you, Belinda has concluded that many of us are too hard on ourselves, and our image.
“I’ve spent years really listening to my customers. As women, we’re not very kind on ourselves and we owe it to ourselves to turn this around,” she said.
“Women who love what we stock at Sissy, have shared their clothing design priorities including beautiful, flattering fabrics; and designs that cover arms, or skim over tummies. I’ve listened and incorporated into Sassy Sister designs.”
Sassy Sister is standing out from the crowd. Queensland blogger and author Nikki Parkinson has a substantial following of stylish women. Her audience are women who align with Sissy Mt Eliza’s carefully selected, bohemian flavoured, unique prints and flattering clothing designs.
“I admire Nikki Parkinson’s sense of style and influence. I mailed her my first Sassy design, a t-shirt with a simple, sequinned design. She loved it! She wore it, posted a photo on Instagram and within 20 hours, Sissy online processed 20 online sales,” Belinda said.
Nikki Parkinson, loyal Sissy customers and a growing number of in-store and online customers have continued to support the Sassy Sister label.
Behind a great retail destination is a great team
On the day I met with Belinda, the Christmas tree windows were sparkling in the shop front and adding a fabulous pop of texture and colour to the Mount Eliza Way strip. Belinda revealed that this was the work of a great team willing to put in the extra effort to uphold our Christmas window reputation.
“I have the best local staff. Every day is a day of great laughs,” Belinda said.
“Andrew, Lisa, Susan and Melissa are all part of the Sissy Mt Eliza brand. We’re a great team that think alike and love a good brainstorm.”
The Sissy team don’t work for commissions and aren’t held to meeting defined sales targets. For customers, that means asking for an opinion from the fitting room, or about a product will result in getting honest advice.
A family venture, while Andrew is actively involved in contributing and bringing to life design ideas and horticultural flourishes their 10 year old son Max gets involved as well. Just recently he has helped price the Christmas decorations and Belinda proudly shared that he is displaying creative talent and artistic flair. Hardly surprising given the creative genetic bias on both sides!
Belinda’s 21 year old son, Mitchell Skaife gets in and helps out too.
“As a weights trainer with plenty of muscle to offer, Mitchell gets in and helps me with deliveries, lifting all the heavy boxes involved,” she said.
Sissy Loves Mount Eliza Loves Sissy
“In a store like Sissy, we get to know people’s stories and we love that people want to drop by and share them,” Belinda shared.
Belinda and Andrew’s son Max is at The Peninsula School. Belinda’s son, Mitchell is studying Arts and Business at Monash Clayton, an easy commute from their Mount Eliza home.
With the shops two minutes away; a choice of great schools and universities in easy reach; freeway access to the city, the airport and to the world; and options of walks to the beach or through leafy bush reserves, living life as Mount Eliza locals, is cruisy. Lucky for us, this design savvy family is here to stay so that we can all bring Sissy into our homes!
When I asked Belinda what was ahead, here was her response.