When meeting Tara Thivolet, a deep travel yearning is instantly reignited, mind and heart racing with all the places you've always wanted to go. The super chic and well travelled Tara grew up in Geneva, studied in Boston, worked in New York City, and has journeyed almost everywhere in between. This mother of three has an adventurous and creative spirit that is truly infectious...
“Whilst trekking in Nepal I came across the most exquisite pashminas, back in 1999 they were still a rare commodity and promised myself that I would come back for them,” recalls Tara. “Once my tour of Asia was done I set up a pashmina business, basically a very good excuse to head back several times to Nepal, a country I love. I think it was then that I found my favourite work combo: fashion and travel, the backbone of ZOJORA.”
Tara has been based in Singapore for over 8 years with her husband, teenage daughters Zoe and Rose and 12-year-old Oscar, loving her everyday life in the tropics while constantly travelling around Asia to create her beautiful upscale bohemian label. “In the beginning, ZOJORA was my perfect excuse to jaunt off for a couple of days on my own to explore the backstreets and markets and meet local artisans in the hope of filling my suitcases with new found treasures,” says Tara. “Getting away from family life for a couple of days was/is my way of recharging my batteries.”
Tara launched ZOJORA with her childhood friend (the name ZOJORA is an acronym created from their children’s names). Travel is at the heart of the label, sourcing beautiful block-printed fabric and authentic product, and promoting local artisans and fair labour. Much of the beautiful staples are made by women in Vietnam. “The social enterprise I work with teaches prostitutes and sex slaves to become accomplished seamstresses and their attention to detail is faultless,” says Tara.
From the now-famous napkin bundles (US Vogue hailed them as a ‘hostess gift idea that will win you ‘best guest’) to sarongs, pyjamas, kaftans and jewellery, ZOJORA has an earnest following around the world. Tara now runs the business herself from her beautiful home office – a happy place displaying inspiring mood boards, samples, postcards, trinkets from all corners of the globe, and gorgeous pink walls!
ZOJORA is also now a family affair: “I am constantly trying to develop new products and my daughters Zoe and Rose are a huge inspiration,” explains Tara. “My daughters are definitely my finest and harshest critics. I love that they are involved with ZOJORA, even coming along to India with me to source and spending endless hours sitting on the floor of un-airconditioned ‘showrooms’.”
Since the first and subsequent US Vogue features, ZOJORA has naturally been on many wish lists and Tara’s friend Amanda Cutter Brooks – they met during the fun New York days – carries the label in her store Cutter & Brooks in the Cotswolds (one of our favourites here at The Grace Tales).
We caught up with Tara at home in Singapore and had such fun talking about travel, teens, fashion and family life. This is a colourful and inspiring tale that makes the world feel smaller and yet reminds us there are still many places to discover and dreams to follow…
On growing up in Geneva….
I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland in an ultra-sporty family. My brother, Mark, 18 months younger, was/is a big sports freak and my parents spent most weekends on the soccer pitch, baseball field and various ski slopes around Switzerland encouraging his exploits. I on the other hand was much more of a homebody preferring to ‘babysit’ our house in Geneva and loved being on my own doing arts and crafts, at the time I was known as the queen of Brazilian friendship bracelets that I used to sell, loved baking, chatting on the phone for hours on end and hosting friends at home. Needless to say that today I am not nearly as good a skier as my almost 80-year old mother. My father is from Toronto, Canada and my mother from Zurich, Switzerland. They met on the ski slopes of Zermatt. The story goes that he was so impressed with her turns in the powder that he instantly fell in love. Together as a family, we travelled a lot and at a very young age. We would visit my father’s family in Canada at least once a year and at age 10 we all moved to the East Coast USA for a year. There I learned how to read and write in English and from then on attended an English speaking school in Geneva. Dad was so relieved that his children finally spoke English at home. He lived for more than 40 years in Geneva and yet never mastered the French language or actually couldn’t be bothered to learn as almost everyone in Geneva, home of all the international headquarters and organisations, speaks English.
On education in Boston and starting her career as an art dealer in New York City…
After graduating from the International School of Geneva, I attended Tufts University in Boston and majored in Art History. As an international student at the time, you were granted a one-year work visa and there was no doubt where I wanted to go: MANHATTAN. Actually, I had wanted to go to school there, but Dad felt that for an innocent young girl growing up in protected Geneva, New York City was too much for me to handle. Well by now I am 22 and no one is going to stop me. My first job experience was a glorified 6 months unpaid internship at Sotheby’s working in the Impressionist and Modern Art Department and I loved every minute of it: attending the most entertaining auctions, learning how to expertise paintings and doing research for upcoming sales. That internship helped me land a job at the world-renowned Gagosian Gallery. I worked at the gallery headquarters located on Madison Avenue just opposite the Carlyle Hotel where almost every other evening we ended up sipping Pinot Grigio. Working for Larry Gagosian was fascinating, stressful and scary all at once, but I think one of his biggest forces was to hire people that ‘clicked’ together and were there for one another even after closing hours. Twenty-five years later I still have Gogo Girlfriends, that was our nickname: Gogo Girls and today I even collaborate with one of them.
I supply block print table linens for my girlfriend Amanda Cutter Brooks, who just opened up the most beautiful and chicest store in the Cotswolds. During those five years at Gagosian Gallery: I met the most fabulous artists, Cy Twombly was my favourite, Richard Serra scared me and Francesco Clemente was the sexiest, every New York & Hollywood celebrity visited the gallery, Jack Nicholson was our favourite seconded by David Bowie, gallery openings were crazy parties, the most memorable being Damien Hirst’s first show in the US with his severed cow in formaldehyde and a giant ashtray called “Party Time” that guests used throughout the evening. Basically every night after work I had one more crazy story after another to tell my roommate. Then I decided that I had had enough, I was exhausted at 25, if that’s possible, and decided to head back home to Geneva, oh and the fact that I had also rekindled with my high school boyfriend, (hubby today) was a very good reason to call it quits.
A love of travel and the beginnings of ZOJORA…
However, the contrast between fast-paced NYC and quiet Geneva was a bit much so I decided the next best thing to do was to backpack around South East Asia for almost a year. At times I travelled alone, other times I met up with family or friends and at one point my boyfriend quit his job and we threatened to never come back, but in the end parental pressure won.
However whilst trekking in Nepal I came across the most exquisite pashminas, back in 1999 they were still a rare commodity and promised myself that I would come back for them. Once my tour of Asia was done I set up a pashmina business, basically a very good excuse to head back several times to Nepal, a country I love. I think it was then that I found my favourite work combo: fashion and travel, the backbone of ZOJORA.
Prior to setting up ZOJORA, I worked in Geneva for almost 10 years as a women and kids fashion buyer. Twice a year and sometimes more I would go on buying trips to Europe’s fashion capitals: Paris, Milan and London. I loved the travelling part, often meeting up with New York girlfriends that also worked in fashion, seeing if my choices would be a hit with our customers or not, trying to figure out the next big trends and introducing brands such as Vanessa Bruno and Antik Batik to Geneva. I loved being a shop girl but that all ended when we moved to Singapore in 2010 with our children Zoe, Rose and Oscar then aged 9, 7 & 3.
Arriving in Singapore…
I had never set foot in Singapore and was dumbly convinced my hubby that this was only a two-year adventure and that it was so much easier to travel light with just our five suitcases, big mistake. A house is definitely not a home. Those first few months were hard, we basically lived in an Ikea showroom, I fell sick early on with a tropical disease and knew no one but then somehow I got the hang of being an expat wife. I signed up for all those classes that I had never found the time to do before, sewing, tennis and golf to name a few and met really fun women along the way but most importantly we started travelling often returning to places that I had loved on my Asian tour and exploring them now in a new way with kids in tow. Inevitably, I would pick up and source artefacts along the way and bring them back in my suitcases for my girlfriends in Geneva. My souvenirs were a hit and more were demanded, so that’s how ZOJORA came to be.
The ZOJORA story so far…
Originally I set up ZOJORA in 2012 with my lifelong friend Candice, ex NYC roommate, but now based in Geneva. Our concept was simple: source in Asia handicrafts and textiles, tweak certain products, make table linens with found textiles and sell them online and in stores in Europe and America and it was also a perfect excuse for us to stay in touch every day. Prior to setting up ZOJORA, Candice and I had talked about developing other businesses that never saw the light of the day, so many that our kids didn’t believe that we were ever capable of coming up with a concept that we would stick to, so to prove them wrong and make them part of our new adventure we used the first initials of each of their names, hence ZOJORA. We believed at the time that since all items were sourced in Asia they were of no interest to people who lived here in Singapore or close by, wrong again. Very quickly my girlfriends here in Singapore told me that they did not ‘see’ the same items that I found. In the beginning, ZOJORA was my perfect excuse to jaunt off for a couple of days on my own explore the backstreets and markets, meet local artisans in the hope of filling my suitcases with new found treasures. Getting away from family life for a couple of days was/is my way of recharging my batteries, does that sound terrible?
Six years later, I have less time to explore as have my established suppliers and know which products I need to produce and stock. Mainly I source cotton fabric from India, my favourite being hand made block print fabric, that I have made into a multitude of products: shirts, bed quilts, pillows, kaftans, table linens, you name it. A lot of the sewing gets done directly in India but from the beginning, I have also worked with a social enterprise based outside Ho Chi Minh City. The social enterprise I work with teaches prostitutes and sex slaves to become accomplished seamstresses and their attention to detail is faultless. They produce most of my table linens and pyjamas which are a big success during this Holiday Season. I am constantly trying to develop new products and my daughters Zoe and Rose are a huge inspiration. My daughters are definitely my finest and harshest critics. I love that they are involved with ZOJORA even coming along to India with me to source and spending endless hours sitting on the floor of unairconditioned “showrooms.” You will often see one of my daughters helping me out at local Pop-Ups or modelling new products on my Instagram feed.
On social media for small business….
Instagram, I have found is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to promote new products, inform people of upcoming events and show the backside of my sourcing trips, but since I am a mother before all my followers also have to bear with occasional pictures of my kids. I find it too time-consuming to separate accounts: business and personal so for now I only have one account and in the end, I think I’m going to keep it that way. I realise I get very easily bored with accounts that only showcase products regardless of how beautiful the pictures are.
I believe Instagram should be spontaneous – I don’t want to overthink it too much and waste hours on the perfect comment and photo and have to worry about posting on a daily basis.