Linda Cox, AQUEL

Linda Cox, AQUEL | Retailer Interview | Sydney | Travelshopa

When I met the ever so stylish LINDA COX I was reassured that a good career cannot get in the way of true passion. In 2016 a burnt out Linda threw in a solid corporate career in a male-dominated industry and took a job at one of her favourite boutiques in Woollahra, Riada. There's no rest for the wicked; before long she acquired the business and was back in charge. After a swift brand refresh, AQUEL continues to carry an elegant curation of European labels and stays true to providing everyday luxury for women who love to dress in a stylish classic timeless look. On the eve of the store's seasonal sale and preparations for her next buying trip, we sat down with Linda to discuss her journey so far in the business of fashion.

How did you get started in fashion? What were you doing before you took over the boutique?  

For more than 25 years I had a corporate career. I have a law degree. Prior to moving into fashion I worked primarily inside companies in the company secretary role and advising boards of listed companies on governance issues. I also ran my own consulting business for a few years. However, I have always loved being well dressed in a classic timeless style rather than necessarily following the latest trends.  

What inspired you to take over the boutique in August 2017?

After a particularly stressful period in my last corporate role, I decided to take a break from corporate life. I was really tired of the politics of corporate life and I was tired of the constant juggling of motherhood and career. I saw a sales job advertised at Riada Boutique and I applied. It was a complete contrast of course to my previous life. Having spent my career working almost solely in a male-dominated environment, I moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. It took some getting used to but I have no regrets. I had spent a lot of money in the Boutique over the years and always had a strong affinity with it, especially when it was owned by Laura Tramontina, who sold the business a few years ago now. So, I was known to the staff at the Boutique. I had only been there a few months when the previous owner approached me about buying the business from her. The rest they say is history.

If asked to describe AQUEL to someone unfamiliar with it, what would you say?

AQUEL is about every day luxury for women who love to dress in a stylish classic timeless look.  Clients have built beautiful wardrobes with us over many years.

What was the original concept for Riada and how has this vision transpired to become AQUEL?

The original concept for Riada has never changed.  I am simply carrying on what was started by Liz Jones more than 15 years ago.  

Apparently, the name AQUEL was created on your first night of the first buying trip for the Boutique. What does AQUEL mean?

Yes, I was on my first buying trip, before the sale transaction had actually concluded, so I was with the previous owner. I woke up one morning and my husband said to me, ‘you need to come up with a new name’ and I replied immediately that I had thought of one during the night. It just stuck. It resonated very strongly with me. It’s meaningful to me, it’s feminine and a single word is great for branding. It took until Easter this year to finally launch it. There was a lot to be done when I took over the Boutique including implementing a new cloud-based retail management system, a refresh of the shop interior which had been unchanged for 10 years, getting branding collateral ready and building a website. We are now ready to move to some online selling.

Linda Cox, AQUEL | Retailer Interview | Sydney | Travelshopa
Linda Cox, AQUEL | Retailer Interview | Sydney | Travelshopa

You probably have customers that have been shopping at the boutique for 15 years. What factors do you feel have contributed most to the longevity of AQUEL?

There are a lot of customers who have shopped at the Boutique for many years. The shop has had a strong local clientele who have a need for stylish classic timeless pieces. They have loved the brands that we stock, most of which, we are the exclusive stockist of in Sydney.  They also love the personal service that they get from long-standing staff members.  We have some customers who just stop by to say ‘hello’ to us every week. I have brought back 2 staff members who worked in the Boutique many years ago for Liz Jones. The customers all know them and we create a happy relaxed vibe. It is also important to me that the shop is merchandised beautifully every day. We work very hard in that area to constantly update the window displays and shop merchandising. We also stock clothing in a wide range of sizes and this is important too as most luxury boutiques only cater for smaller women. This is not the case for AQUEL.

You have a very European (Italian, French and British) aesthetic. Can you tell us a bit about the brands you curate? And why?  

I focus on continuity of labels as well as finding new ones. We have very long-standing relationships with our suppliers but in my spare time in Milan and Paris, I like to look for new labels. We have introduced a few new labels over the summer season and they have been successful. I focus on labels that are complementary and consistent with the philosophy of the Boutique but when looking at something new, I ask myself, ‘what will it add’ to the Boutique. Almost all of the labels are very established Italian labels, for example, Etro is celebrating its 50th year this year.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I always go to the stand alone flagship boutiques in Milan and Paris for the labels we sell in the Boutique. I think it is really important to see how the labels are sold and merchandised in their own stores. I follow all fashion, read all the magazines and online materials but at the end of the day, when I go to the showrooms, it is easy to pick up very quickly what the trends are for the season and I know what I like. We always like to have some showstopper pieces in every collection.

What do you think the future holds for AQUEL and the local area, Woollahra?

AQUEL has a strong future but we will continue to need to work hard to distinguish ourselves.

If you could give one piece of advice to the youth, or someone starting out in their career, what would you say?

Always do what you love and you will be good at it. If you don’t love what you are doing, find something else.

Linda Cox, AQUEL | Retailer Interview | Sydney | Travelshopa

Explore more about AQUEL

107 Queen Street
Woollahra 2025 NSW

Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets

Through her curated online store Temples and Markets, Sydney-based entrepreneur Judith Treanor transports shoppers to South East Asia. She has an interest in artisan-made fashion accessories and homewares. Find out how this has gone from idea to reality in just 2 years.

Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

There’s something about buying a special item from your travels – whether it is the memories attached or the sheer craftsmanship behind the item, these pieces become treasurable gems that last a lifetime.

Awestruck by the creativity of the people she met in South East Asia, Judith Treanor’s love for the region is represented through her online-curated store, Temples and Markets. The store showcases artisan-made fashion accessories, jewellery and home décor, unique to the region. Each product is ethically and personally sourced from Judith’s travels and come with stories of its creators, giving a human element to the often cold world of eCommerce.

We can’t help but wonder what sparked her interest in creating Temples and Markets. We asked Judith to share how she has gone about building Temples and Markets, snippets of her favourite countries and what’s at the top of her travel bucket list.

Tell us a bit about Temples & Markets. What is it? What are you aiming to achieve?

I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively and often to South East Asia over the last 20 years. During those travels, I’ve been awestruck by the creativity of the people I met, their stories of resilience and their creations. So often they have come from marginalised or poverty-stricken areas and use traditional crafts and sustainable materials to hand make unique and gorgeous items that one would never see elsewhere. I wanted to expose those designers and artisans to a wider market outside of the region and make their products available to consumers who wouldn’t otherwise have found them unless they were travelling.

In addition, I aimed to bring back the memories of travelling to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam through the website. I know I’m not the only one who comes back from trips reminiscing about all the things I wished I’d bought, but due to budget or luggage constraints, I’d left behind. The aim is to make these pieces available once travellers have returned home.

I proudly support emerging designers, artisan groups and social enterprises in Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, and the work these organisations do to empower locals through training, by showcasing their products in store.

The wonderful thing is my customers can literally make a tangible difference to the life of the Artisan when they shop. In essence, I aim to create an ever-increasing international circle of women who are affecting each other’s lives in a positive way through trade. In other words I have made one woman in Australia feel good about herself when she wears a beautiful piece of unique jewellery or bag I’ve sourced, consequently, that same woman can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing she has contributed to the increased prosperity of the talented woman who made it in Vietnam. That’s a win-win for everyone.

How did you start out? What was your light bulb moment?

I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively and often to South East Asia since the region found its way into my heart during my backpacking days in the 1990s. I would come back from trips wearing a piece of jewellery or a bag and literally be stopped in the street and asked “where did you get that?” There would be expressions of disappointment when I answered Thailand, for example.

From here I conceived the idea to make it no longer necessary to travel to Thailand, Vietnam etc to find these unique pieces that people back home seemed to love as much as I did.

The light bulb moment came when I first visited Siem Reap in Cambodia in January 2015. I was sitting in a cocktail bar at the end of a laneway when I noticed a boutique window a couple of doors down exhibiting seed jewellery; different to anything I’d seen before. The boutique was Graines de Cambodge owned by local designer Rany Som, whose own personal story of survival blew me away. I knew there were many more stories like hers and I decided at that moment to turn my concept into reality. It was time to share her story and her designs and those of other artisans and designers in the region I loved.

How do you curate the brands?

Firstly I have to love what I sell. I was an interior decorator prior to Temples and Markets and I gravitate to bold colours and distinctive designs so that plays a big part in product choice.

Secondly, the brands and or their products have to have a story and be following ethical practices. Their pieces should be unique and handmade and preference is given to items made from sustainable or recycled materials.

I curate brands that I have come across when literally pounding the streets/markets or who I have found from online research. Similar to Travelshopa I now have brands who approach me through word of mouth but they have to fit the brief if they are to be included.

"I’ve been awestruck by the creativity of the people I met, their stories of resilience and their creations. So often they have come from marginalised or poverty-stricken areas and use traditional crafts and sustainable materials to hand make unique and gorgeous items that one would never see elsewhere. I wanted to expose those designers and artisans to a wider market outside of the region and make their products available to consumers who wouldn’t otherwise have found them unless they were travelling."

Tell us a memorable moment with a local artisan.

The most life changing moment was meeting Chantha Theon from Angkor Bullet Jewellery in Phnom Penh. Chantha creates exquisite jewellery pieces from melted down brass derived from recycled bullets. His story of growing up in an orphanage after the Khmer Rouge, (sadly similar to so many of his generation in Cambodia), where he learnt to craft jewellery in his teens, is nothing short of inspirational.

My family and I visited Chantha and his family of 4 at his small workshop outside of the city. They live, work and create in one room. Furthermore, Chantha provides apprenticeships to young relatives from the provinces to help them finance their university years and the family shares their home with them as well. We watched with wonder as they produced the beautiful pieces that are now available in my store. This visit was an experience not to be forgotten for all of us, especially my 12-year-old son.

What has been your biggest challenge in growing your business?

As with any eCommerce business, it is a constant challenge to attract traffic to the store and turn traffic into sales. One could spend 24/7 on marketing and social media but that takes away time which could be used to develop the business, source products and update the website. So the challenge is to find the marketing avenues that reap the best results and concentrate on them.

What are your three favourite countries to visit and why?

It won’t come as any surprise to say the top two would be Vietnam and Thailand. Both these countries offer the whole package – incredible beaches, low cost of living, sensational luxury resorts, fantastic shopping, warm welcoming people, history and architecture and of course the best cuisines in the world.

Outside of S.E Asia my third favourite country would be Italy. Again the food, the shopping, the history, the architecture but also where else in the world can you visit gorgeous Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Rome, Florence, Portofino and so on? Each legendary region is breathtaking in its own way.

Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa
Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

Where is on the top of your travel bucket list?

Since my teens, I’ve wanted to visit Japan but so far haven’t got there.

I’m been lucky to swim at some of the world’s most beautiful beaches but I’m always on the search for more so Mexico, Tahiti and the Maldives (preferably staying in an overwater bungalow) are on the bucket list. Only thing is I can never get past S.E Asia when holiday time comes around!

What’s your favourite wardrobe/interiors item from your travels?

This is so hard as there are so many favourites but here’s a shortlist.

Handmade leather boots from Friendly Shop Shoes, Hoi An, Vietnam – same pair in 3 colours!

I have 2 dresses and one coat by Chula Design – Spanish designers based in Vietnam. The two cultures fuse together in their vibrantly coloured designs.

My most treasured artworks are 2 exquisite Buddha gold on black paintings. I bought these direct from the teenage artist back in 1998 at Hua Hin market for $10 each. I have tried to track him down since then, to buy more, but with no luck. I also love my hand carved and hand painted Green Wooden Buddha by Frederic from WA Gallery in Siem Reap.

What’s your favourite city for shopping?

Singapore without a doubt. I have small sized feet so I always stock up on new shoes in Singapore. Also, I enjoy discovering emerging designers in Singapore. People not familiar with Singapore would probably assume it’s all luxury brand shopping and chain stores but as you know, there’s so much more when you look below the surface. Of course, it’s incredibly easy to get around from place to place and essential to stop for some food court food every couple of hours.

What do you do in your downtime?

I grew up in the UK so loving the sun is ingrained. Lying on a sunny beach or by a pool with a good book is my perfect downtime activity. Walking my ball-loving dog to a park or beach is part of my daily routine. And I’m a practitioner of Kundalini Yoga; Kundalini combines meditation, mantras, breathing techniques and postures.

Shop The Story

Seripeap Earrings | Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

Temples and Markets

Seripeap Earrings
Eco Chopstick Set | Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

Temples and Markets

Eco Chopstick Set
Bold Print Silk Purse | Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

Temples and Markets

Bold Print Silk Purse
Kelly Linen Basket Bag, S and M | Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets | Behind the Seams | Travelshopa

Temples and Markets

Kelly Linen Basket Bag – S and M

Temples and Markets is available online.

All images courtesy of Judith Treanor.

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