Step inside the home of Australian expat in Singapore, Simone Jackson and you’re instantly enveloped in a calm yet energising space that feels both like a relaxing tropical retreat and the perfect spot for an impromptu party. Which is much like the duality of Simone herself - mother to three girls, Milly, 11, Florence, 9 and Clementine, 7 - she is focused in business, committed to self-care and is a renowned entertainer...
Jackson has built a long and impressive career in Public Relations which began in her hometown, Brisbane after university, where she admits she was “so young and naive.” “One of the first movies I worked on was Shine, which was opening the Brisbane International Film Festival. I had to drive Noah Taylor around in my dad’s car for two days. He asked if he could smoke a cigarette inside, I was in such a panic. I think I said sure if you hang out the window.” Continuing the star run in London where she was based for over a decade, Simone then took some time off while having her children (and moving between London, Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore!). After a brief stint working at her children’s school (“cherish your teachers, they are amazing people!”), she has come full circle and launched her own pr, brand & retail consultancy business. Shop Girl is much more than the name suggests. Simone offers a bespoke service aimed at helping local and expatriate Singapore residents to launch and evolve brands and businesses. Working with a category mix – from fashion to swimming schools to school shoes – Simone is connecting and driving so many women and helping them follow or re-ignite their entrepreneurial dreams. On her daily inspiration? “My clients inspire me. They are all mothers who have changed their career path and set up their own businesses while bringing up small children. I am so grateful for them giving me a chance so I want to do the best job possible. They have all incorporated a way to give back to society in their businesses and the ones with teams put so much effort into creating a positive workplace culture. It really is true every time you buy from a small business they do a little dance.” We caught up with Simone in her gorgeous home to talk raising girls, career changes, time management tips and life in the tropics. Make yourself comfortable, it’s an inspiring and entertaining tale (this mama loves a chat)… Photography: Clare Barker Wells
What are your most vivid memories of your childhood?
I grew up in Brisbane in the 70s and 80s with my sister who is three years younger than me. Running through the sprinkler, riding bikes, making up endless games, creating It’s a Knockout obstacle course, putting on shows, backyard cricket, and swimming – it was like an endless summer. Looking back my childhood reminds me of the cartoon Charlie and Lola in that we had so much freedom you barely saw your parents. I remember building a marble run from a garden hose one day. I thought it was such an amazing idea I called Wombat to tell them about it. My first pitch. I couldn’t believe they never called me back. So much to learn. I also spent a lot of time talking on the phone to friends – I did, and still do love a chat. Once Telstra had to intercept a call as my Dad was needed for a medical emergency. Think I had been talking for two hours! Prank phone calls to our parents at work were also a favourite.
When did you move to Singapore? Where else have lived abroad before?
We moved to Singapore in 2011. Prior to that, I had lived in the UK for ten years where I met my husband. We then lived in Sydney and Melbourne for two years where he completed surgical fellowships. Each child was born in a different country providing three very different experiences.
Tell us about your career before you set up Shopgirl?
Upon finishing university I was very lucky to land a job with The PR Company in Brisbane. An agency specialising in rock ’n’ roll and film publicity, owned and operated by the formidable Suzanne Snape. Working with Suzanne was like another three years of university. She taught me everything. There was no such thing as I don’t know or that’s not my job. If you didn’t know the answer you would find it and you had to be prepared to jump in wherever necessary which often meant stuffing 300 envelopes with media releases at all hours. I am so grateful for this training. With no email, I used to drive precious publicity photos to media outlets and pick them up again so someone else could use them. I met some incredible people during this time – singers, tour managers, actors and directors. One of the first movies I worked on with Suzanne was Shine, which was opening the Brisbane International Film Festival. I had to drive Noah Taylor around in my dad’s car for two days. He asked if he could smoke a cigarette inside, I was in such a panic. I think I said sure if you hang out the window. Suzanne used to send me to do the meet and greets when the bands arrived at the airport as she hated small talk. I remember talking to the Sex Pistols about the weather and asking Neil Finn how many times he had been to Brisbane (grabbing at straws here) and he answered about 30. I was so young and naive. I had always dreamed of living and working overseas so off I went to London with one of my good friends. We temped and travelled, having a blast. One temp job turned into a permanent job with another boutique company called iLUKA who provided hospitality for sponsors of sporting events, primarily the Olympic Games. This was four years of meeting more amazing people, travelling, long hours and lots of fun.
Tell us about Shop Girl…
Shop Girl just launched this year. I had fallen into working in early childhood assistant teaching (cherish your teachers, they are amazing people) which I really enjoyed but as my children were getting older I was finding the juggle of the set hours and location more challenging. As my girls entered their next stage I felt it was also time for me to think of a long-term plan. I knew I couldn’t go back to working for a company as I needed flexibility plus so much had changed on the technology front. I went on a social media course and completely freaked out. It was like an entire university subject in two days. I put it on the back burner until I had a conversation with my neighbour who owns Hanway, an online menswear store. I love their product and as we talked about social media and other ideas I thought “I can do that”. I talked to another couple of friends who own small businesses (Swish Swimming and Ten Feet Tall). As small business owners with families, these women were wearing so many hats. I have created my business model to be flexible to their needs and to look for “creative”, budget-friendly solutions. I describe myself like an interior designer who works with what you already have. So far the business is going well, I am very clear with my clients if you need to scale back or change track we can do whatever your business needs at that time.
What are the pros and cons of expat life?
The pros are the people you meet and their stories. I love learning about different cultures and having a greater understanding of the world. Singapore is extremely safe and easy to navigate. Changi airport makes travel a pleasure. The cons are the great people leaving, but I am so grateful to have known them for a short while. Constantly living in rental houses has meant giving up on my dream home, however, it does make us keep on top of the clutter. It is hard being away from old friends and family, especially missing special celebrations or when they are having a tough time.
Who or what inspires and motivates you on a daily basis?
My clients inspire me. They are all mothers who have changed their career path and set up their own businesses while bringing up small children. I am so grateful for them giving me a chance so I want to do the best job possible. They have all incorporated a way to give back to society in their businesses and the ones with teams put so much effort into creating a positive workplace culture. It really is true every time you buy from a small business they do a little dance. Being a role model for my children also motivates me. I try to focus on the effort rather than the results and to help them understand things only happen through hard work.
What’s been your favourite age and stage with your children?
I love toddlers. Seeing their first experiences, what they say, still being able to dress them and their curiosity around simple every day things. They are so funny, but wow are they testing too.
How did you find your pregnancies and early days with a newborn?
I loved being pregnant, especially the first time around. By the third, it was beginning to take its toll. The first few days were such a blur with Milly and it took a long time to establish breastfeeding. I remember my husband and mother trying to wake me up to feed her… it was a long labour – I was in shock for a few days. With Florence and Clementine, I had moved six weeks prior to giving birth so I was hitting the ground running. Clementine was five weeks early which was such a surprise. She was then in hospital for eleven days when she was four weeks old which was tough, but amazing how you just get through these times.
How do you self-care – what are the things you do to take care of yourself?
I am a big believer in self-care, no one can take control of this but yourself. Ultimately through self-care, you are considering your family and the community. If you can look after yourself you will take the pressure off health services down the track. I place a lot of importance on going to bed at the same time each night and avoid going out during the weeknights. I have morning and evening routines involving quiet time to myself. Without coffee and exercise, I am never fully awake. Luckily I have an in-house barista (my husband). The exercise doesn’t always happen, but I am so much better when it does. Singapore has foot masseuses on every corner so if I have a spare half an hour I pop in for a quick break.
What has motherhood taught you?
Recently, that I am like a wolverine – according to my animal loving seven-year-old wolverines never stop and neither do I (she is asleep when I am relaxing in front of Netflix or reading in bed). It really blows my mind they let you go home from hospital with a baby. 16 hours after giving birth to Milly I was home again, wondering shouldn’t I be made to sit an aptitude test? I felt in no way qualified. I still feel the same way and often close my eyes and cross my fingers that I am sending a functioning human being out into the world. A friend once told me having a child is like having your heart walking around the streets. It can be so hard to watch them go through challenges, but I try to remember this will make them more resilient and empathetic. I rely on instinct and my trusty friendship network both in Singapore and around the world.
What did your own mother teach you about life/being a mother?
I often describe my mother as the Margaret Thatcher of Brisbane. She survives on very little sleep and rarely sits down. She is often astonished by my need to sleep and eat regularly. She had her own business for 30 years with one of her good friends, always helped to organise school events, packed delicious lunches and put on some great parties. She is fiercely independent – upon finishing nursing training she moved from Melbourne to Brisbane in the 60s where she went on to be the first female pharmaceutical rep in Queensland – she would spend the entire week driving through country towns visiting GPs for Pfizer. Mum bought our first family home and was often the one doing the DIY around the house. In retirement, she seems even busier. Last year she spent six weeks walking the Camino d’santiago, a 660km pilgrims trail in Spain. I joined her for four days. I could barely keep up (she was 71 and I was 43). I think it was probably the first time in her life she only had to worry about herself.
Has your fashion style changed since you became a mother? What’s a typical look for you?
I have had a few incarnations. In the early days, it was all about playing it safe, being comfortable, breastfeeding friendly and easy to be on the floor. When I moved to Singapore I moved away from neutrals and started wearing more colour. Now the girls are older I feel I can wear what I want to. I operate on a no dress code policy meaning if I feel like getting dressed up for an average day I will, whereas, other days I might be more casual. I swing between urban street style to floaty maxis. I can’t help but think if I didn’t live in Singapore I would dress quite differently. I am very particular on fabrics to reduce the sweat factor. Some days I feel like rebelling and put on something completely inappropriate for this weather. I love going to the movies so I can wear jeans. I have fully embraced the trainer trend to make a feminine dress not so over the top.
How long have you lived in your home?
We have been in our current house for 18 months – it is a black and white, a remnant from the British influence in Singapore. Apparently, the university dons used to live in it. We have moved every two years in the past ten years. I actually love having a blank palette and to change things around. I have the pain of moving condensed to five days. The good thing about rentals is you can choose the house which suits your family at that stage.
Talk us through the inspiration behind the interior of your home?
With so much greenery and jungle around I have tried to incorporate a touch of tropical flair (as I write this a jungle fowl is pecking around the garden and monkeys are sitting in the trees). We came with no furniture when we moved here. It has taken a few years to bring everything together, but I have loved slowly buying from small businesses in Singapore.
What are some of your favourite interior pieces in your home?
My Hacienda Blue pale pink inlay chest of drawers in my bedroom is such a piece. I deliberated over the choice of colour but so glad I went a little out of my comfort zone. It makes me smile every day. With the constant moving, you need to try and make sure pieces can work in different areas. I have also just bought a Singapore Shophouse print from my friend Sally Roadhouse and some gorgeous Indian block print napkins and a tablecloth from The Cheerful Pig.
How do you keep your home tidy/organised with children around? Any tips?
It is getting easier as they get older and more responsible. I used to tear my hair out. We have an edit every holiday. The older two like keeping things tidy, the younger one likes to create animal worlds out of shoe boxes which we are not allowed to touch. I keep offering to get a vintage basket or suitcase, but she is stuck on the shoe boxes. The girls have a playroom which I throw everything into when bits and pieces start creeping out into the living room. I rarely go into the playroom as I cannot bear the chaos.
What are your time management tips? How do you get everything done in a day?
I try to plan out the week in advance, putting in my non-negotiable exercise groups on Tuesday and Thursday. These are the cornerstone of my week for my mental health and to see my friends… group therapy. I try to plan errands, shopping and meetings – all my running around on the same days then have days when I am completely locked in my home office. I think it is important to know how you function – I cannot work at night, once everyone is bed I am a starfish. I have recently started getting up earlier which is a game changer. I try to plan chunks of times to do work and personal admin and volunteering responsibilities (often I do this when the girls are doing their after-school activities).
What are your favourite travel destinations?
Where to start? We are a bit limited living on an island that we cannot jump in the car and do many road trips, however, we have access to some beautiful private island resorts – Nikoi, Batu Batu and Telunas. There are so many places in Asia I would like to visit, so far I have loved Hoi An in Vietnam and skiing in Japan, lots more to explore there. I don’t think I will ever get tired of Europe, coming from a “young” country the history will forever fascinate me. One of my closest friends lives in New York which I love visiting, it is such an exciting city. I love trips back to Australia for the air and the sky.
Favourite thing to do with your children?
I love to take them to movies or shows. Also to sit and have a coffee or go for a walk with the dog. Last week we did a pottery class in the jungle – a great lesson in learning about imperfection and how that is ok.
What would you recommend as must-dos for families visiting Singapore?
1. Gardens by the Bay – built from scratch on reclaimed land a few years ago it is a testament that Singapore can do anything. The domes are great for a break in the air-conditioning. 2.Chinatown… and remember to look up. The shophouses are full of character. Singapore is such a modern city, I really hope they keep these character-filled buildings. We love eating at Yum Cha – great Peking Duck pancakes, noodle soup and fried rice. 3.Future World at the Arts Science Museum
What are your day-to-day Singapore haunts?
The Botanic Gardens for my exercise – I instantly relax when I get there. If I need a second coffee I will go to Plain Vanilla at Cluny Court – the pottery mugs are so nice to drink from and I will often run into a friend for an impromptu catch up. I love eating out – most recently I have enjoyed Don Ho, Oxwell & Co, and The Dempsey Cookhouse. Chop Suey is our go-to for group lunches.
Simone's little list of loves:
I cannot stop listening to A Star is Born soundtrack and I have seen the movie twice in one week (possibly also started following the Bradley Cooper hashtag – what a talent). It is making me consider getting back into music and film. I have just added celery juice to my morning routine which is strangely energising. Reading The Daily Telegraph each night – I worry about living in a bubble and becoming irrelevant so this helps keep me up-to-date (I love Monocle magazine too). Prior to the aforementioned A Star is Born soundtrack I listened to a variety of podcasts including Conversations, The Design Files, Goop and How I Work. I have also just bought Kikki K’s book about creating your dream life. Time is going so quickly I am trying to make a conscious effort to think about things I would like to do and how to spend my time. Travel destinations are at the top of the list. I am forever trying to incorporate more interesting meals to our weekly menu – I recently discovered Mr & Mrs Wilkinson which has provided some great inspiration. During the northern hemisphere summer, I met up with my friend who lives in New York at Babington House in the UK. A big bucket list tick and quality time. Getting ready for Christmas in Australia – I really need to see my family and friends. Plus means I can buy a new diary – I love paper diaries (and planning).