We chat with JO PARADINE, owner of new fashion brand Coco Sand in Tanglin Mall, to find out about her and the story behind the launch. We also take a look round her beautiful home off Grange Road at Christmas time.
Meeting Jo for what initially I believe is the first time, we quickly realise we’ve met before at a friend’s party, and have already chatted about her life in Bermuda before coming to Singapore. I remember feeling the pang of jealousy; I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in an idyllic white-sand paradise? However, after 17 years of living there, Jo was definitely ready for the family’s move to Singapore.
Originally from New Zealand, Jo’s career began in the airline industry, and as a result she lived abroad for much of her adult life, from New Zealand to Dubai and Bermuda, and plenty of other places in between. “I’ve got New Zealand, British and Bermudian passports, but I’m a Kiwi girl at heart!”
Meeting her husband Jon in Dubai, they spent 17 happy years in Bermuda, where they had their three children. Jo worked as a corporate travel agent, before being approached about a job by the chairman of one of Jon’s competitors to help source office space and organise the company’s marketing trips. “I tend to micromanage, and, after going on these types of trips with my husband’s company, I always felt I could do better. You realise these executives are tired of the fancy dinners and just want to let their hair down while still entertaining and building relationships with their clients.” The family then moved to Singapore five years ago with Jon’s job in re-insurance. Jo was already familiar with the city, having stopped over and visited on many occasions. “I was so happy to come here; I felt I really knew the country well, and I’d always loved it.” They’ve lived in this Tanglin house since they arrived in 2012. “I’d have been quite happy in a condo, but Jon and the boys need the grounds – we had space in Bermuda and didn’t want to suddenly lose that. Our lease does renew every two years, and I’ve always looked around at other places out of curiosity, but they never quite match up. I wouldn’t consider a black-and-white house as snakes are one of my biggest fears!”
Feel for Fashion
The fact that the house is walking distance to Tanglin Mall is another big plus, particularly given Jo’s Coco Sand label has recently launched on the second floor of the popular shopping centre. The idea for the label came to her just over two years ago, while she was struggling to find clothing that ticked all the right boxes in terms of style, shape, size and price. However, with her father sadly passing away, and her mother suffering from dementia, all initial plans to move anything forward were put on hold – “I couldn’t commit to anything emotionally or physically at that time; my parents were my priority.” Another year passed, and with an invitation to a wedding in Cyprus looming, Jo struggled again to find something that would be fit for the occasion. “I couldn’t find anything that was fun but still sophisticated, yet could be casual and pulled out of a case without creasing!” The fire to launch a fashion brand was reignited, and came to fruition over the ensuing 10 months.
“I’m learning all the time, about fabrics, the weight of beading and how that effects shape, different sizing – this whole thing has been a huge learning curve.” The collection includes a clothing range in fabrics such as linen and rayon crinkle, with prices ranging from approximately $90 to $180. The brand also includes bags, jewellery and shoes.
“I’m not really a designer, but after years of being a constant consumer and listening to women, I’ve developed styles that cater to the beautiful shapes that make us all different.” Not only does she design a variety of pieces to suit most shapes and sizes, but she’s adapted more traditional products, such as her snakeskin clutches, which have gold piping added, or bag straps with tassels. “We’ve also made sure that every flip-flop we sell is non-slip. Being a mum, you know there is a danger with that kind of very simple design element; my aim is to make things just that little bit better.”
Asked how she feels about the new launch, Jo finds it difficult to put into words. “I’m feeling everything about it – it really hasn’t dawned on me, to be honest.” The business has clearly taught Jo a lot about herself, and her friends and family around her. “I’ve found out I actually do love different patterns and colours. I usually veer towards more muted tones, but my friend Sue has taught me to open my eyes to other aesthetics. I also know that I could not have done this without my amazing group of friends supporting me, or my husband Jon, who has been behind me all the way.”
One of these “rocks” in her life is her friend and mentor Victoria Currie, who also owns Tatty Marsh. “We hit it off at a Tanglin Rugby Club tournament in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago. She’s my type of woman: very strong, and with a different way of looking at life. You just have to say, ‘I can’t’ to her, or ‘it’s not possible’, and that’s her trigger point – she will find a way.”
Jo says that without Victoria, or Sue, she could not have managed to start her business. “I absolutely need these two women. I’ve been so lucky to have such honest, good mates – we can laugh and cry together, and also annoy each other! That’s why I don’t feel like I’m doing this on my own; I’m doing it with some fantastic women.”
Having lived in so many different countries growing up, Jo counts Christmas as a time to really reconnect with her immediate family. Before Christmas Day, she makes a trip back to New Zealand to see her family and friends, alternating between taking her two boys, or Sophie. Jo’s brother Bobby, cousin Andrew and a long-term childhood friend back home are huge influences in hers and her children’s lives, and they take the boys out on plenty of adventures.
Then, after she returns to Singapore just before Christmas, Jo’s mother-in-law will fly in from Bermuda. “Christmas Eve is a mad rush as we sit there wrapping presents and chatting.” Christmas Day in the Paradine house is spent with family and no other guests. Jo admits she’s a terrible cook, although her nod to a Christmas tradition is baking Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, as well as putting together a pavlova. “My husband is an amazing cook, so he does the dinner, and we spend the whole day together as a family, phones off, uninterrupted attention.”
More traditions include the family ordering their real tree from Princes, and using Jo’s grandmother’s ivory-handled cutlery set over dinner. “I also do a tour of Singapore with Sophie, taking her on the Singapore Flyer, the river cruise, and down Orchard Road to get an ice cream and sit and take in all the lights. For Sophie and me, it’s our ‘thing’.”
With the business only two months old, Christmas will also be a time for Jo to focus on the brand, and to continue to move it forward. Asked if she could pass on one tip to others who might be thinking of starting their own business, she says, “It’s so important to find people around you who aren’t scared to tell you when you’re wrong or encourage you to keep on trying.”
Bed Bath n’ Table (various locations) B1-41/41A/42 Parkway Parade 80 Marine Parade bedbathntable.com.sg
Coco Sand #02-22 Tanglin Mall 163 Tanglin Road 6235 0060
Photography: Michael Bernabe; Styling: Victoria Currie, Tatty Marsh; Hair & Makeup: Ellie Sakrzewski, The Big Blow
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