Deborah Symond O’Neil might have just opened her third Mode Sportif store, but for the mother-to-be, the most exciting next step is yet to come.
The 31-year-old is the founder of fashion retailer Mode Sportif and now lives with her husband Ned by the water in Sydney’s leafy Elizabeth Bay. “I love our home, it’s bright, welcoming and airy as well as being perfect for entertaining. We have an eclectic style and love colour,” she says. The couple’s home is about to welcome a new addition and unsurprisingly, the news that her own family was growing – she’s expecting her first child, a baby boy – was met with pure joy. “I always knew I wanted to have children. I am just so excited to be embarking on this incredible new journey,” she says.
Given she’s the owner of a dynamic and fast-paced fashion company, it’s a journey she’s well-equipped for. Ask Symond O’Neil what a woman’s greatest strength is and she’ll tell you it’s multitasking, an attribute which will no doubt come in handy once her baby boy arrives. If you’ve followed her path over the past few years, you’ll know Symond O’Neil moves fast. Mode Sportif began as an online store and was followed by a stand-alone boutique in Sydney’s Paddington. Two more have opened since, in Double Bay and, most recently, Mosman. Her clients range from teens to women in their seventies.
Working hard is in her blood – her father is John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans. “When I was growing up, both my parents worked full-time. They have an incredible worth ethic and maintained family balance and a stable home environment,” she says. “Hard work to me is linked to self-fulfilment, and I’m sure this is the result of their example.”
Here’s what the dynamic Deborah had to say when she welcomed us into her home …
What are some vivid memories of your childhood – where did you grow up, what was it like?
I grew up on Sydney’s north shore, which is green and floral and lovely for families. I was a dancer, and spent every spare moment dancing, teaching dance, competing or rehearsing, I absolutely adored it. I have a close and big family, life was never boring for us, our household was noisy and happy.
1) Take us through the last five years of running your business Mode Sportif – what have you learnt? And if you could go back to the beginning, what advice would you give yourself?
Owning and running Mode Sportif has been the most incredible learning experience. Every day we evolve, grow, change and learn. It is a difficult path, with high highs and low lows, but it is worth it, and interacting with my team and clients in stores is the ultimate reward. Being open minded and responding to customer needs is a very important part of my business, if I were to give myself advice it would be that change is ok, plan for growth and flexibility, in concept, in my team, in our brands and products. It’s embracing change and taking calculated risks that allows your business to flourish.
Have you always been ambitious? Where do you think your ambition comes from?
My parents both worked full time when I was growing up, with incredible worth ethics, whilst maintaining a family balance and stable home environment. Hard work to me is linked to self fulfillment, and I am sure that is the result of their example.
You started with athleisure - how has this market grown/changed since you started?
Our customers loved our unique edit of athleisurewear, so much so they wanted to see our selections of more fashion options and accessories. Our wonderful clients gave us the confidence to expand our offering, with ready to wear now being our strongest category. Ahtleisure is still the core of our brand and we have “The Mode Edit” to complete your athleisure wardrobe, whilst offering options for all occasions from day to night.
And how has retail changed in the last five years?
Retail for Mode has changed dramatically with an increased offering, expanded edit and more doors. We started as an online business, and whilst online is a key door for Mode Sportif, we now have three retail boutiques in Sydney, allowing our e-Commerce website to also translate into a physical experience for our clients. Customers want choice, and that is what we can provide with our exciting edit of International and Australian brands and shopping options, whether online, or in store.
What are some practical tips around running a business you can share?
Know your own strengths and weaknesses and build a team around you that supports your work style and skills. Don’t try and be everything to everyone, a strong and supportive team is key to a growing business.
What is your life motto and how do you action it in your life?
Being happy is extremely important. If I am happy person, I am a better business owner, friends, wife and I’m sure soon to be mother. It’s important for me to have a work and life balance and to follow my gut instinct, every day.
What impact does social media have on your business?
Social media is a fantastic tool and a huge asset to my business. Instagram is a way for us to showcase our products daily, to people who are interested and engaged. I can personally show myself wearing and styling the products and connect with customers on a personal level. It’s fabulous!
Do you ever feel exhausted/overwhelmed by social media - do you have digital downtime?
Never. As individuals we have the power to choose what to engage with and when. I love connecting with people and other businesses. If I need a break from tech, I put my phone in another room and walk away ;).
What are a woman’s greatest strengths?
What’s something that most people are surprised to learn about you?
People who I haven’t met before, but have seen me on social media often have a preconceived idea of who I am or my values. I often have people saying, how different I am to what they imagined. I’m hoping that’s a good thing! Haha.
What makes you laugh?
When it comes to your clients, how would you describe their approach to fashion?
We have an amazingly diverse range of clients, ranging from 16 to late 70s. Our women are all different, but what they have in common is their love of fashion, newness and “The Mode Edit.”
What are some of your favourite brands right now?
Rotate, Anna Quan, Rejina Pyo and Self Portrait.
You currently have two brick-and-mortar stores in Sydney’s Paddington and Double Bay – as more and more women turn to online to shop, what is the future of brick-and-mortar stores?
I am thrilled to have just opened my third bricks and mortar store in Sydney’s beautiful Mosman. Whilst our online platform is a strong and important part of our business, and allows us to ship both Australia wide and internationally, many of our clients in Sydney value the traditional retail experience, along with omni-channel retail benefits like the click and collect service.
What’s the most challenging part of running your own business?
Never having a break. It’s something you can’t switch off or pause, even for a couple of days. The most challenging element for me is the 24/7 nature of the business, but I am learning the best ways to balance work and life, and that it is important to prioritise both the business and myself.
Where do you see Mode Sportif in five years?
I’d love to see Mode in 5 years thriving in both retail and e-Commerce, with an incredible evolving offering that is relevant and exciting.
Have you always known you’d like to be a mother?
Absolutely. I have also known I wanted to have a family and children, I am just so excited to be embarking on this incredible new journey.
What excites you most about becoming a mother?
The joy, love and learning that I imagine comes from having a child. Being able to grow our baby, and see him grow will be life’s most precious gift.
So far, how has your pregnancy been?
I have been very lucky and had a fairly normal pregnancy so far (I imagine!). The first trimester was quite difficult, I had morning sickness, exhaustion and many work commitments including a buying trip to Paris. Juggling how I felt with work for the first few months was a challenge, but by 14 weeks my nausea subsided and I have been able to really love the journey so far. A friend told me to make sure I enjoy the good and the not so good days, I’ve been embracing it and feel extremely fortunate to be in this position.
Have you had to change the way you dress – how are you approaching maternity wear?
Absolutely! It is incredible watching my body grow and change daily. I have loved learning about maternity dressing and how to keep my personal style whilst complimenting my new and constantly growing shape. Every stage of my pregnancy so far has required different cuts and shapes to flatter. I am embracing “the bump” and the curves along with it. At the moment I am loving anything with a seam under the bust that then skims the body. Dresses are my best friend right now!
What beauty products are you using?
I have been using Mama Mio Skincare for stretch mark prevention and moisturising which I love. I have also been embracing body brushing to try and combat increasing cellulite and promote circulation. Self love goes a long way during pregnancy, so my Estee Lauder face masks and night time routine are working wonders to achieve a pregnancy glow. I also got some fabulous Tummy Oil and Belly Masks from Hatch Mama.
What about cravings – have you had any?
Yes! Lots of fruit, bananas, mangos, raspberries, apples. I normally don’t eat fruit so that has been a surprising one. I also don’t eat red meat, but have been craving it since I have been pregnant so have added it into my diet as well. It is crazy what your body wants, my diet is very different to before and I am focused on eating a balanced and nutritious diet with less eating out and more healthy home cooked meals.
Tell us about your home – do you have a favourite room? How would you describe the style of your home?
I love our home, it is bright, welcoming and airy as well as being perfect for entertaining. We have an eclectic style, and love colour. We are about to do a small renovation before the baby comes!
Have you started on the nursery yet?
We are starting the process now and it is SO exciting.