Belinda Watson has spent a decade dreaming up and designing clothes which women love to wear. Her fashion brand, Binny, began in Bondi beach and is now run from South Australia, where she lives with her family on a spectacular rural farm...
Given Binny is the brand we go to for feel-good fashion, as we get closer to the festive season, it’s where we’re looking. And this year, Belinda has something new instore: Binny is launching a Christmas collection which blends her love of table napery and fashion. The joyful range includes two tablecloths with matching napkins (one in festive red and white gingham with sweet white rickrack ribbon and the other self stripe white cotton with beautifully hand embroidered red cherry motifs) and two midi dresses which complement the napery. It’s all wonderfully festive, and given the year we’re about to wrap up, this happy collection couldn’t have come at a better time.
“There is something special about cherry season to mark the beginning of Christmas,” says Belinda. “My cousin before embarking on an eight hour epic Christmas journey to her family’s sheep station in NSW takes a detour for an hour en route to get the best cherries known to mankind. Similarly the ham. The hung plum puddings. Mince pies. Brandy snaps. The prawns. The arguments over who makes the best cocktail sauce. Summer holidays is cherries, sunburn and weeks of getting the ham out of its calico ham bag, lashings of butter and thick slices on toast for breakfast.”
This year, says Belinda, let’s make Christmas 2020 unforgettable. “As much as this year will be forever marked in our memories. We want these to be treasured family heirloom pieces to be brought out year after year and handed down through generations,” she says. Indeed, despite the year we’ve had, Christmas is a time to get into the festive spirit, and these beautiful pieces will certainly help.
So ahead of Christmas, I got dressed up in the new collection and had a chat to Belinda about her journey over the last 10 years, what Christmas looks like in her family and finally, what’s instore for the year ahead.
“ Let’s make Christmas 2020 unforgettable. As much as this year will be forever marked in our memories. We want these to be treasured family heirloom pieces to be brought out year after year and handed down through generations ”
Georgie wears Binny ‘The Jingle Gingle’ ruffle maxi dress, $349. Table: ‘First day of Christmas’ tablecloth, in medium, 280 x 155cm, $329, and large, 350 x 165cms, $349. Binny ‘Rudolph’ Table Napkins, set of 4, 45cm x 45cm, $129. Alex And Trahana platter and bowl. Maison Balzac glasses
What are some of your most vivid memories of Binny since you started the company?
My first trip to India. I was so terrified! But then I found myself in design and colour heaven. Packing orders. I packed in a tiny shed all through the red dust storm that hit Sydney. I then upgraded from my tiny apartment where I’d run up and down massive flights of stairs, to a share office in Bondi where I’d annoy all my friends with sticky tape gun noises. Freezing open garages whilst pregnant in Barwon Heads and Robe, then packing orders in the tiniest old dairy at the farm. Manoeuvring and unloading pallets of stock through the pokiest of rooms. Now, we have a spacious lovely office, it’s so fun (and a relief!) to be looking back.
You live in the country in South Australia – what do you love about country life? And how does it inspire your work?
I love the space to think, be totally relaxed and be myself. When I start driving up the freeway, through the Adelaide Hills, I feel instantly happier and carefree. My shoulders drop at least a metre! It’s the wide-open spaces, grandparents casually dropping in for cups of tea and sneaking my 4-year-old off for shearing time, checking the mares, the crops. He absolutely loves it. Having space and time to think is so important for me, to get creative. I can get that on the farm.
The brand began in Sydney’s Bondi – what do you remember about those early days?
I started the brand in the garage of my share house in North Bondi and all my housemates would just settle in for wines and chat when I would be desperately trying to design. The day I resigned from my job and made the decision to take it full time was also a big heart in mouth memorable moment. Another standout was a fashion parade in the backyard of our office in Bondi, behind Aquabumps. We hired a giant lifeguard chair, a bamboo bar, some free vodka and seemingly the whole suburb turned up. I had a gorgeous group of local girls’ model and it was outrageously chaotic fun. The Sydney years looking back were so special – the friends I made and the relaxed beach lifestyle is something that will always be a part of the brand.
Georgie wears Binny ‘The Jingle Gingle’ ruffle maxi dress, $349
How did becoming a mother change the way you approached your work?
I’m much more efficient, faster at making decisions and trust my judgement a lot more. I have a rule that if I’m thinking about something for too long, then it’s not right. There is no luxury of time anymore to spend hours agonising over the tiniest details. I also definitely think more about what’s easier to wear, to suit the busy lifestyles of the majority of my audience, which may or may not involve chasing little people around!
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood for you and how have you overcome any challenges?
Right now. I’m trying to manage a growing team remotely from the farm, juggle stability and routine with Ollie, run the business on the days he’s at kindy, and enjoy the divine four-year-old moments. I can’t believe we’re starting school next year. I’ll love a little more time not to be in a constant frazzle juggling it all. Regardless of frazzle I have loved every moment of the last four years and don’t want school to start at all.
“ Summer holidays is cherries, sunburn and weeks of getting the ham out of its calico ham bag, lashings of butter and thick slices on toast for breakfast ”
Georgie wears Binny ‘A Cherry Cherry Christmas’ shirt dress, $379. Table: Binny ‘Holly’ tablecloth, available in two sizes: Medium, 280 x 155cm, $349; and large, 350 x 145cm, $429. Binny ‘ ‘Hark The Herald’ table napkins, set of four, 45 x 45cm, $149. Maison Balzac glasses
When it comes to time management, what are your tips?
Just say no. If you don’t really want to do something, don’t pretend you do and then spend days wasting time worrying about ringing up to say no. Just say no very nicely at the start! I feel with small people and a business I just have to be brutally honest with myself about what I else I can fit in and enjoy.
My other latest time-saving discovery/mum hack is that I’ve found a family-style home meal service, that delivers fresh or frozen meals within two hours. So, in stressful, busy times I can order a mountain of far more delicious healthy and interesting meals than I would make. As an ex-chef, I feel slightly guilty, but it gives me more time to play outside, enjoy life and just have fun. It’s like being thrown a life ring, as the office is so busy, with so much going on, I feel like I can’t breathe let alone do a supermarket run. I also keep a very tidy ship and email inbox at home and the office. Even slightly on the manic of tidy side, but I can’t think if the house or the office is messy.
Tell us about your new Christmas collection? Where did the idea for the two dresses and matching table linen come from?
I love table linen. I spend hours looking at vintage linens and novelty cocktail napkins. I dream of hosting enormous dinner parties purely so I can set the table (instead of passing out in Ollie’s bed at 7pm). During the first lockdown of the pandemic, I was thinking how this Christmas is the one we will never ever forget and how can I make something truly special that will be kept forever. As a keepsake and a reminder of this time.
What does Christmas mean to you?
As the farm breeds thoroughbreds, it’s the busiest time of the year and we have a huge influx of young international staff. So, it’s very much about giving them a family Christmas and making them all feel welcome and not too homesick. I have been randomly over the years seated next to a very rigid Ukrainian on one side and a drop-dead supermodel type Nordic one on the other. Not a lot of English spoken. We always have a (lethal) Christmas cocktail which makes conversation a little easier.
Can you share any Christmas rituals you have in place?
As we live between two houses, I’m such a tragic, I decorate both. One of my favourite things are these plastic giant candy canes I stick in the garden beds (they sound hideous, but I love them). I also collect felt Christmas decorations. The latest purchase is a sausage dog and a felt nativity scene which I am dying to set up. I’m hunting for the perfect advent calendar and then worry I’m a bad mother encouraging eating chocolates. I love hanging the stockings from the fireplace. I even bought us all matching pyjamas last year but with a high polyester content in the +40 South Aussie summer, they were not a success. I draw the line at reindeer antlers on the dogs. Just.
How do you spend Christmas day?
Mainly exhausted from Christmas Eve drinks and then last minute wrapping until midnight, putting out carrots for reindeer and biscuits for Father Christmas. As it’s my son’s birthday only two weeks before, as well as the farm and office work parties, I’m generally nearly in a coma and drink the Christmas cocktail quite heavily just to stay awake. We always have croissants and stockings in the morning with the immediate family and then go to my brother’s for more opening of presents and the big lunch with all the rest of the farm. Boxing Day is reading books and eating leftover ham on toast.
How do you like to dress up your Christmas table?
I love to use some sort of greenery (lots of strands of jasmine last and look great), green pinecones and fresh cherries. I always get the children to do handwritten table places. Crackers of course. I wish I was organised enough to get amazing Liberty or incredible American crackers but normally it’s just the local IGA.
Tell me about your love of gingham – why do you love gingham? And tell me about the inspiration for your gingham dress and tablecloth and napkins?
Gingham seems to be an enormous trend right now but it’s always a favourite of mine. Country upbringing! It’s just such a cheery and timeless fabric along with rickrack.
What about the cherry motif/embroidered dress and table linen?
These were inspired by one of my ridiculous cocktail napkin collections. I love embroidery of any kind and a crisp white self-striped shirt dress with a beautiful flared skirt, is as timeless and classic as Christmas.
Which one will you be wearing on Christmas day?
The shirtdress as I like to wear white. It’s always boiling and with a table of 20+ the aircon doesn’t work that well. It’s perfectly semi-fitted and the tie can cinch in or out, depending on what course you are up to, so will be super cool and comfortable.
What is the most challenging part of running a fashion brand?
Production at the moment is so hard. Lead and shipping times everywhere are changing like quicksand. Our whole industry has gone through huge, exhausting but also positive changes which hopefully will stay in place. I really hope we don’t ease back into the old ways just because it was what we were used too.
And what is the most rewarding?
Receiving my print strike-offs from the printers and the first prototypes coming in from initial concepts are like opening presents. Getting a fabulous immediate positive reaction from wholesale clients. It’s always a heart-stopping moment in case they don’t like it! Photoshoots are like making a tiny piece of magic. I love how others style and interpret, just as much. I have always loved The Grace Tales photography, it was such a pleasure to see these images. The best of all is when I see someone who looks gorgeous wearing the brand on the street. I always want to walk up and say hi and thank you but then I get scared and just think, leave the poor woman alone.
What are your plans for 2021?
Getting some work-life balance back and trying to look after myself a little more. (Translated to less BBQ Shapes, Schitt’s Creek and more walking with podcasts, meal prep Sundays.) I’m also really enjoying planning and slowly putting into play our new ways of working with my awesome little team and just having a lot more fun with the brand. Less enormous collections and more such as this Christmas shoot which has been very much about things I really love.