Sophie, with her husband Simon, and sons Duke & Ace.
"I love to explore HK and find beautiful cafes (with Wifi!) during my lunch breaks."
NAME: Sophie Marshall
COMPANY: In Grey Space
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Passionate, honest, impatient, driven, multi-tasker
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
I started working at a surf shop at 15 and have worked 2 jobs pretty much ever since. After high school, I quit teaching at University to work as a full time buyer at a surf shop (much to my parent’s disappointment). I spent time in Hong Kong early on during some modelling jobs for Chanel, and from there I wanted to see more of the world. At 18, I traveled on my own to Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and I developed a confidence to pursue what I wanted in life.
Whilst working at the surf shop, I set my sights on being a sales rep for Rusty, as I could see how much fun they had. It was a job that combined what I loved most - selling clothes and surfing. This was a defining moment, as it was a lifestyle and not just a job! This was the start of a 17-year career in the surf industry.
I set my sights on moving away to the big smoke of Sydney at 23, knowing only one friend. I worked as a road rep for Rusty living week to week in an expensive city. From there, I ended up working for Roxy whilst studying Marketing at night school. I did some serious miles on the road back then having looked after the sales area from Port Macquarie to Merimbula.
I then moved back to Perth where I did a stint for an agency that looked after One Teaspoon and Havianas. Around the same time, Rusty rang me up and wanted me back as Product Manager. To top things off, during this time I also got married, and had a baby. I ended up back at work after 5 weeks with my son Duke.
When Duke was 2, we moved to Melbourne after I was offered the role of National Sales manager for Roxy. Not long after, I went through a divorce.
This was an extremely challenging part in my life, becoming a single mum by choice. I never missed a day of work during this time.
A year later I landed a job. Not just any job; THE job of my dream career - Head of Product for Roxy for Asia Pacific. I was also one of the only female executives at Quiksilver, all whilst managing as a single mum.
I travelled a lot – there was a period where I did 14 international legs in 21 days, and I was constantly commuting to Indonesia, USA France and Japan. I then met my new partner at work, Simon, who was in Roxy Marketing. By this time, I was severely burnt out from work as the new globalisation strategy had started, and I had to make my design team redundant.
Working in a new way I didn’t believe was going to work, I decided to leave ft to start my own swim brand with one of the designers (whom I had just made redundant). I also started a kaftan brand, which I ran for 3 years, along with styling on the side to hustle some living money.
In typical universal timing, my new partner was then made redundant from Quiksilver at the same time that I was pregnant. Oh, and we had just bought a house. With the uncertainty of his work, and lack of income for me, I made the hard decision to sell my share in the swim brand, as well as selling the kaftan brand to go back to work.
I then took a job at Ripcurl as product manager when my second child, Ace, was 4 months old. This was such an amazing job, and my team was one of the best I had ever worked with. I also had a great work/family life balance.
Simon was then made redundant after a year with his new job. Shortly after, he was offered an amazing opportunity with a luggage brand called Pacsafe in Hong Kong. I was devastated to leave Ripcurl. It was a job I loved, as it gave me a life balance I hadn’t had previously. I organised a wedding in 3 weeks, and we moved to HK the week after, and I took a job alongside my husband.
8 months into my role in Hong Kong I was at the point where I missed my Ripcurl family and the surf industries I had been a part of for 17 years. This is when I created “In Grey Space” blog whilst living in an actual “Grey Space” of my own.
The best part of this story? Last week I was given an incredible opportunity to rejoin Ripcurl as the women’s Product Manager based here in HK, commuting once a month to Australia- the best of both worlds!
What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
As a product manager I am responsible for the product start to finish. I love having the accountability of a role like this. I work closely with the Head of Design to deliver amazing products and I specialise in business processes, range planning, range assortments and overall brand direction.
My passion and side project is my blog called “In Grey space” which is in reference to those weird spaces in your life where you feel something’s not right and you have hard decisions to make.
It’s a space that is relatable for the modern women.
It’s a raw and honest reflection of my past and present experiences; navigating separation, divorce, co-parenting, leaving a dream job, and setting up a brand.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?)
I’ve always had flexibility in my expectations, so I’ve learned not to be disappointed in anything I wanted to do. But 10 years ago, I would have been working hard in the hope that another door would open, with no real clear idea of what job I was aiming for.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
The best thing about this question is that we are all free to choose our own definition of success. I think I am successful, as my definition of success is having the whole family happy (including myself), and raising good humans.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally
People connecting and relating to my blog, and professionally, to be a part of a team creating amazing products
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
Not really. I am self-taught and 99% has been learned from experience. Emotional intelligence is my key for my career progression. I did study Marketing at night school (Tafe) when I was working in Sydney. With my blog I am now learning the craft through Podcasts.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
Coming into a business and inspiring designers/creative’s to produce commercial and successful products to meet top line business goals. Launching In Grey Space whist working full time with a toddler and a 7 year old has also been my latest achievement.
Tell us about your workspace, and what inspires you about your workspace?
I now work between my home and the Ripcurl office in Torquay, surrounded by creative and passionate like- minded legends!
When I’m writing for the blog it’s usually at the kitchen bench or on the couch. I love to explore HK and find beautiful cafes (with Wifi!) during my lunch breaks.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
Space to work. Knock backs. People not being honest, it's so much easier to problem solve when you know the problem!
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
My biggest meltdown to date is when I was terribly sick, and the weight of making my design team redundant had broken me. I was a mess. I accidentally ended up at a Reiki healer that day, she told me to quit my job so I took her advice!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
I have reduced the pressure on myself as I always say you cannot be good at everything. I’ve found my strengths and know my weaknesses which has allowed me to concentrate on what I am good at and get help for what I'm not.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships?
Absolutely. My career is who I am, as it’s not just a job for me. I would say that my love of my career did contribute to my marriage breakdown. I met my now husband through work and we now work with each other currently here in Hong Kong. I understand how people at work do start relationships, as there is a common ground especially when your job is your lifestyle. We don’t know any different as we have worked together professionally longer than we have been in a relationship together. He gets me, I get him and we always support one another in all aspects of family and work. He knows how important my career is to who and me I am. He supports this 100% and is a very hand on dad. I couldn’t be taking on this new role commuting home to Australia without his support.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?
Being a single working mum can be an incredibly lonely journey and that’s why I have created my blog, in the hopes of making someone else’s journey feel less lonely.
Also working from home with my swim brand was lonely especially after working with a team.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
School lunches. High-rise living with a toddler. Missing calendar deadlines
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
I don’t think I would. The time I started my career there wasn’t really the University courses around to support the direction my career was taking. My real life experiences have taught me so many lessons that have brought to me to this point.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Travel more, spend less on clothes and you should buy property!
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
Samantha Wills for so many reasons, both professionally and personally.
She has so worked so hard for many, many years to get to where she has. She has persevered and I respect her for making it work against all odds and letting her passion and vision guide her. She also started in the surf industry like myself. Back then we were all so naive and just wanted to create a job that was our lifestyle.
Her foundation she has created is also something I admire, as she is being selfless in sharing her journey also to help inspire others.
Jaime Blakey from One Teaspoon is again another an amazing Australian designer who has been so successful globally. As I have worked for her I have seen her brand has progressed through all trends and she has stayed true to herself and her brand.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
Creative. Positive. Not scared of some hard work.
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
Yes you can. But it doesn’t happen in a balanced way everyday. You need discipline to put your phone and computer away. Balance is there as a total overview and I think as soon as you accept that it ebbs and flows, then it’s ok. Some days I’m in work mode on the weekend while the kids are watching TV, while other days I am 100% focused on them.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
I have quit. And it hurt. Walking away from a brand I helped create from the start was devastating and I felt like I let my business partners down. I put my family first and what I wanted to do second.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
That it’s glamorous. 3 days in a spreadsheet and on Version 37 isn’t fun. Nor is working on 4 hours sleep.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Research your niche. Do a marketing course. Learn how to do a Brand Strategy document. Find a mentor and start working in a shop that sells your product that you want to produce. Don’t quit your day job, try and start off with doing your start up on the side until you are pulling an income.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
This is an amazing question. Yes, in a heartbeat. When I started out I had no idea where I would be and what I would be doing which has made getting to today so amazing.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
Help anyone who is currently in a Grey Space to feel like they are not alone. That’s what I want do. The first few posts I was worried I had put myself out there but the messages from women’s thanking me for writing what they could relate too has made it worth it and inspiring me to write more.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important/(why did you want to be involved in this interview)?
This is so important.
I honestly felt like I had failed when I had to walk away from my swimwear brand. I had no one to relate to, no stories from anyone on this subject - who wants to talk about failure?
I want to open the conversation of these topics that might not get discussed, as most people curate only the good and the positive. This then creates unrealistic expectations that women put on themselves. This is why I wanted to do this interview, so that someone who’s reading this might feel like they too can relate.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“Nothing short of right is right”
Mum told me this one. I used to laugh at her back when she said this but it’s been a good one to use. As soon as you think something isn’t right or could be wrong….it is!! This has always been my #1 quote
“Love Every Moment” – I have this as a tattoo. A good reminder to love the bad times, this is what makes the good times so much sweeter.
“She designed a life she loved”- It’s really up to us to make it happen. If you aren’t happy, CHANGE IT!