What do Charles Darwin, Joseph Banks, William Dampier, John Bartram & Peter Collinson all have in common? They are all major players in the inspiration behind one of the coolest boutiques in St Peters, Sydney.
Today we kick off our Life Instyle Retailer Series by chatting with the creative brains behind the operation – Sibella Court – all about the story behind The Society Inc, the challenges they face and their number 1 business tips.
Prior to residing in New York, I would stay at The Gramercy Park Hotel (pre-Julian Schnabels refurb!) for long stints whilst working on photo shoots and loved to wander this old-fashioned leafy pocket of NYC. Even though I didn’t have a key to the park (still desperately want one!) I would peer in the huge first floor parlour windows of the brownstones that line it – many of them are old members clubs and you could see people milling, scheming & conspiring – I wanted to create a ‘society’ where people of the same ilk could come & go, exchange ideas, experiment & toss around crazy ideas, more imaginarium than brownstone, forever changing & never finished, full of magic & fantasy.
My love of history, particularly the year 1856, The Royal Society & its ‘experimental gentlemen’ are key in the concept of The Society inc. They include some of my favourite historical figures: Charles Darwin, Joseph Banks, William Dampier, John Bartram & Peter Collinson, who were either members or were desperate to be members!
At The Society inc you do not have to be independently wealthy or be a gentleman, our membership is free & everyone is invited – it’s BYO ideas, outlandish as possible please, however you do have to adhere to The Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ meaning ‘take nobody’s word for it’.
The mid-1800s were a-changing with the understanding of curbing scurvy, sophisticated new navigation tools & the charting of the tradewinds led to a flurry of English seafaring exploration from the mid 18th century on. The oddities&curiosities, botanicals, animals & bird specimens & other treasures that were carefully transported back, began to spark the imaginations of the general public as well as the exciting travel journals of seafaring adventures & far-flung exotic places being published. The traditional religious understanding of how the world was created began to be questioned with the opening of Kew Gardens in 1840, The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851 and the publishing of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859 amongst other world-altering events. This was a great time of change, excitement, experiment, discovery, and imagination; the world & how it was viewed was in the process of changing forever!
Upon returning home to Australia after 10 years in NYC I found & bought a beautiful 1860’s corner terrace in Paddington, the perfect clubhouse for The Society inc. It housed my shop downstairs & my design studio upstairs. Today The Society inc is to be found in a rambling 300m2 warehouse and imaginarium that plays host to my shop which hawks my favourite treasures as well as our very own product ranges: furniture, textiles, books, homewares, art, oddities&curiosites are sourced locally & by traversing the globe seeking treasure. I celebrate the master craftsmen. I seek them out & pop them in my pocket; I showcase their wares in my shop, collaborate with them to make ideas outstanding and constantly admire their fine skills on my building sites. Throughout any given day I will have visitors from far&wide visit the store, to my ‘members’ stopping by: my blacksmith dropping of my new sign, a draper showing me apron samples, the signwriter finishing his gold leafing on mirror, dyers & I nutting out the process of painting leather, samples arriving from India, all hand-tinkered & smithed amongst many many other people & projects. It’s part hardware store, part haberdashery, and total make-believe.
My design studio is at the end of the warehouse, to visit you must walk through the shop & get immersed into my world on the way. A sense of discovery & adventure is what I always hope for, & strive to build it for people to enjoy in any of the spaces I create. In the studio is where we make the magic. We specialise in hospitality interiors, product development, branding & global sourcing. It’s elements of retail, wholesale, books & interior design and captained by me, Sibella Court.
The chaos is my calm, it satisfies my part pirate, part gypsy spirit.
Out of all the products and ranges you carry: What is your personal favourite product? Your cannot live without? Your best seller? Undiscovered Treasure?
The Trouvé Clip fits all of the above. It’s a favourite for me and the customers, and there’s nothing quite else like it. One of the most versatile clips, made from humble metals (it comes in zinc and brass), beaten and shaped in India. It has a multitude of purposes and I have then throughout the studio, the store and in my own home. The Trouvé clip can be hung from picture rails to display artwork or a textile such as a wall hanging, keep your big bundle of papers together, paired with a light cord and clipped on a shelf… it is adaptable in so many spaces.
What challenges have you faced with retail moving more into a digital space and what advice would you give to still maintain brand image across multiple platforms?
Due to the multi-purpose use of my shop/design studio, I have preferred the idea of being a destination shop since the beginning. For this reason, I have always embraced the benefits of social media & it reaching a global audience that are dedicated to my brand & goings-on and not dependent unfit traffic however it is always with genuine pleasure that we greet customers from all over the world that have The Society inc either as their reason for visiting Sydney or high in their priority list to stop by.
What is your number 1 social media tip?
We dedicate an enormous amount of time & energy into our content that we release on our blogs (up to 3 per week), weekly newsletter, Instagram, Pinterest & Facebook platforms. We are virtually an online shop!
Keep the content fresh, updated & current that relates directly to you & your band and expands your community.
Pinterest – sibellacourt
Sign up to our newsletter here.
What have you learned about your customers over time?
Customers love to hear the story behind a product; what inspired its creation, where in the world it was made, who made it. Whether it be a found piece of vintage glassware from a flea market in France, leather wrapped sea stone talismans from an artist in LA or hand-tinkered hardware from the craftsmen of India.
What is your top tip for other entrepreneurs?
Learn to wear many hats! Starting a business requires becoming many different kinds of people – creative director, accountant, logistical manager, social media manager, shop buyer, curator… But as things start to get bigger, you can delegate and focus on the fun things!
What have you learned through past failures?
Not everything you love flies out the door but do not lose faith & work on your visual merchandising to inspire customers.
What excites you most about the future of retail?
At the end of 2016, we launched The Society inc decorative hardware range and am loving that we are having a solid bricks & mortar to display it in. Whilst online & virtual stores gain traction, people still continue to be inspired by & visit destination shops, and value the importance of the bespoke and the story of the maker.