Wednesday 13 December 2017

Could you live - and work - with your mum? The women behind 'White & Green' tell us how they do it

On Mother's Day, Sari and Rebecca Winckworth describe living and working together as mum and daughter
Sari and Rebecca Winckworth work together in White & Green. Photo: David Conachy
Sari and Rebecca Winckworth work together in White & Green. Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Like many other people, Sari Winckworth wasn't terribly interested in children before she had her own.

Then, when her eldest daughter Rebecca was born, she suddenly understood what all the fuss was about, "I thought there had never been a child like her on this earth," she laughs. "I was mesmerised by her and felt every little move she made was the most incredible thing,"

Sari now has three daughters with her former husband Peter, whom she married in 1986. Sadly things didn't work out between them and they went their separate ways, amicably.

Their other daughters are called Andrea and Danielle, and all four women live together in Rathmichael. "Everyone always laughs when we go anywhere together because we all look the same, and walk and talk the same way," says Rebecca, who, like her sisters, is in her 20s. "We all take after our mum, and we're clones of each other."

Now in her 50s, Sari grew up in Mount Merrion as the middle child of Louise and the late Bryan's three children. Her dad was an entrepreneur and a huge figure in business, who started his well-known office supply company, Bryan S Ryan, in the 1960s. Her mum, Louise Studley, was a leading lady with Rathmines & Rathgar Musical Society and is a fantastic bridge player. She was playing the lead role of Sari in the Noel Coward play Bittersweet while she was pregnant, which was how her first daughter got that name. "Terry Wogan was also in that play so it was an amazing cast," says Sari. "My sister Melanie's name came from Perchance to Dream, and our brother Bryan was after our dad."

Sari went to boarding school at Our Lady's School in Rathnew. She was very creative and wanted to be an interior designer, so she went off to study at the Inchbald School of Design in London. Upon her return, she established an interiors department in her dad's offices in 1982, and then set up a business called Forever Green doing office accessories - she had huge contracts, including the ESB offices and Ulster Bank. Her company evolved into luxury interiors and she developed The Winckworth Collection because she found it difficult to get high-quality bed linen for her clients. While she still has private clients and makes very high-end Italian bespoke bed linen, Sari wanted everyone to be able to sleep on beautiful quality bed linen.

She now owns and runs White & Green in Monkstown, one of the world's first organic fairtrade cotton bedding products companies. They will be exhibiting at the forthcoming house 2017 in May. "I decided to find out exactly what makes good quality cotton, and then look for a factory that could supply us with really good quality bed linen that didn't cost a fortune," she says. "We're going to go into a line of organic baby wear, towels and nightwear next. We're also starting a new range of peace silk products, starting with silk pillows."

Peace silk is where the silk has been ethically harvested. This means that rather than being killed by being boiled alive, the silkworms are freed from their cocoons and allowed to grow into adult moths.

Rebecca recalls how her mum was always very hard-working and entrepreneurial, but she also spent plenty of time with them and cheered them on at everything they did. "She was also the type of mum who let us do our own thing," she says. "It was never too strict in our house. Mum is fun, adventurous, generous, and very kind and encouraging. There is never anything that can't be achieved by us in her eyes."

Rebecca inherited her grandmother's musical talent, and was singing in choirs from the age of four. She started singing professionally and touring with Anuna at 17. After completing her degree in business and French at Trinity College, followed by a post-grad stint at business school, she went touring with shows like Ragus and Celtic Nights.

Travelling led her to question global inequality and how patterns of trade benefit some people while exploiting others. She decided to work with NGOs in Africa and Asia and then completed a master's in international development at the London School of Economics. She is now the development, labour rights and fairtrade expert at White & Green.

It's very much a family business as Danielle, who has worked as a leading international model, also works full-time in the business and is responsible for all things around design and social media. Andrea works full-time in PR and event management for Gotcha Covered. Naturally, she is in charge of marketing and events for the family business too. The girls are fantastic and bring great things individually to the business, says their proud mum.

Sari says Rebecca is very hard-working, driven and focused, and is very different in personality to herself. "I am a very dreamy Sagittarian, so I'm sure I drive her mad from time to time when she tries to keep everybody straight," she says. "Having Rebecca as a driving force behind the business is going to turn it into something fantastic."

White & Green, 18a The Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Ireland's new high end interiors event, House 2017, showcasing world class interiors, art and design, is taking place in Dublin's RDS from May 26-28. Tickets:

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