Marle Women: Mimi & Sophie Gilmour

Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. We hope each interview inspires you, the same way in which these women do to us.

Here we speak to hospitality entrepreneurs, sisters and mothers, Mimi & Sophie Gilmour about how a family passion for cooking turned into phenomenal careers, their lessons learnt from challenges faced this year, along with the attributes they hope to pass on to their daughters. 

Full name: Madelaine Sophie Gilmour & Mimi Gilmour

Location: Auckland (The Village, our beautiful co-working space!)

Can you please share a little bit about yourself - including your background, noting some of the defining aspects that have contributed to the woman you are today.

Sophie: I grew up in Auckland and was a super social and sporty kid that loved school. Our family ate around the dinner table together every evening, and my mother Emerald lit candles and made delicious meals. She is a great cook and she also ran a tight ship!

My father Robert is a hard working entrepreneurial ex-doctor who loved being outside and was happiest on his ride-on mower or in his vegetable garden at Waiheke.

I studied law and politics in Dunedin, then returned to Auckland for a four year stint as a junior commercial litigator and barrister. During that time some friends and I bought a fish and chip shop in Ponsonby on Trademe and converted it into the first Bird On A Wire store - our little free range rotisserie chicken shop. Bird was the reason for me switching my legal gown for an apron, and I've never looked back! We sold Bird On A Wire in 2018 and I'm now a part-owner of Fatimas, I run a hospitality consultancy called Delicious Business and recently opened a co-working and community space called The Village with a group of awesome women. 

Mimi: I’m incredibly close to my husband, family and a group of special friends who I count as my family.

So many life experiences have shaped who I am today, most profoundly would be having my two beautiful children, Olympia and Octavia. My heart was pretty big to begin with but they have truly opened it up even more in the most magical ways.

I’ve worked in the hospitality industry from a very young age, and both the good and the stressful times of my career have helped shape who I am today. Some of the things that have caused me the most pain, in both work and life, have helped me build resilience. I’ve learnt that life is not easy but when you’ve built resilience, it really helps you get through the bad so you can appreciate the good. 

I’m in a place where I feel very, very lucky, especially because of the beautiful people that fill up my life and my heart.

"I love cooking and food but what drives me even more is my love of hospitality: I love bringing people together over something delicious and I love the conversations, relationships and moments that unfold when you do"
As business owners and ambassadors, both with strong family values, how do you manage it all and still make space for you-time?

S: I'm super extroverted so 'me time' isn't really a priority if I'm honest. Recently I've recognised that a certain amount of it is essential so that the people I surround myself with all day don't get the best of me and my family the rest! I had a baby last year and have very happily devoted my would-be alone time to her lately. I guess I'm still figuring it all out! 

I like to listen to podcasts on my morning walk or in the car on long trips.... I speak to my sister on the phone 3-4 days of the week and see her and her family at least once. All the grandparents are involved in Odette's life and have provided incredible support for us over the last year. In business, I don't like working alone so I am always only a piece of the puzzle which means the workload is spread!

M: If i’m honest it’s not easy and the struggle is real - I don’t always feel like I have the balance right across family, friends, work and myself but I try my best, always checking in with myself and trying to correct my course if the balance is off.

My very clever friend Kathryn Wilson told me something once which I often think about: when I’m at home, I’m at home and when I’m at work, I’m at work. I make an effort to spend good quality time with my children at the start and end of each day and when I do that, I try to be really present and focused on them (not work!).

Likewise, when I’m at work I try to focus solely on work. We are lucky enough to have a very special person in our lives, Hayley, who is our amazing nanny. She is so incredible with our girls and they love being with her, which allows me not to worry about them when I’m at work and can’t be with them. We love Hayley so much!

If I feel like I haven’t done anything for myself, I’ll book a week away with my girlfriends or go spend some time and money at Spring Spa and Prego!

"A strong work ethic is something that I am grateful for. I've always worked as though I own the business whether I do or not, and am very tenacious in my determination to achieve at work" 
You’re both phenomenal cooks and share a real passion for the hospitality industry, having founded some of the most successful restaurants in New Zealand. When did your personal love of cooking turn into a career and does your passion for the industry still fuel your drive to this day?

S: Thank you! The switch for me came from a realisation in my early twenties that practising law wasn't compatible with my personality. David says I would cram our evenings and weekends with social activities to make up for the academic and solitary nature of what I was doing professionally. I was anxious but I didn't know why - I think looking back that maybe I was feeling pushed to my academic limits and having a crisis of confidence of sorts. Regardless, the only bits I enjoyed were the people and planning the parties! I waitressed one night a week at Ponsonby Road Bistro when I was a junior lawyer at Kensington Swan because I loved it, and it gave me such great energy.

Cooking came after serving for me - I started at Cibo when I was 17. We were always taught and expected to cook at home, but it developed into a passion when I started feeding my friends at University and at my flat in Auckland and ultimately culminated in me going to Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2018 which was part practical part-spiritual experience it was so heavenly!

M: Restaurants and the hospitality industry are part of our life culture and I guess our DNA...our mother Emerald had very popular restaurants when we were growing up and both Sophie and I have vivid early memories of eating out.

I’ve worked in the industry since I was in high school, one of my first jobs was cooking and styling my mother’s friends’ dinner parties. Since then I’ve done lots of fun things from opening and running restaurants to being the creative director of Taste New Zealand to, of course, everything Burger Burger.

To answer your question, yes I love cooking and food but what drives me even more is my love of hospitality: I love bringing people together over something delicious and I love the conversations, relationships and moments that unfold when you do.

You’re both mothers to beautiful girls, Mimi to Olympia and Octavia, and Sophie to Odette. What are some of your traits you hope to pass on to them?

S: A strong work ethic is something that I am grateful for. I've always worked as though I own the business whether I do or not, and am very tenacious in my determination to achieve at work. I'm a good listener - it's my favourite part of any conversation (which says a lot because I am chatty!). I naturally give everyone the benefit of the doubt and look for the best in their intentions, I think that's helped me to move through the world in a pretty fortunate way. I hope Odette has that same experience.

M: I think our parents taught us the value of resilience, as well as accountability and vulnerability. I hope we teach our girls those things too. I hope we can also teach them the value of relationships, and how your relationships with your family and friends are some of the most precious things you will ever have in life.

Our parents were also really big on teaching us a rock solid work ethic from a young age - we both started working when we were very young and we haven’t stopped! I hope we teach our girls that too - almost anything is possible when you work hard.

We love seeing you out and about in your Marle pieces. What are the go-to Marle garments you reach for when you have a very busy day ahead?

S: Green shorts and green shirt. All the colours are so understated but so chic. Black fringed singlet - no bra required. Black slip dress. All of the cashmere. To be honest, I wear it all and it's practically all I wear. (I'll look up the names!)

M: My whole wardrobe is Marle so this is a VERY hard question! In winter, I wear Jo Jumpers (I have them in every colour) and the Felix dress (have that in both colours, too) and I never go anywhere without my Perino Wrap (it’ll change your life). I’m a real dress girl and in the summer you’ll find me in the Anouk, the Sylvie and the Jean dress (and many more!).

Daily self-care rituals come in many forms - a long bath, meditation, or a morning walk. Do you have any rituals that have become an important part of your routine?

S: My husband makes me an Earl Grey tea every evening before bed and an English Breakfast tea every morning first thing - it still thrills me! 

Lots of my rituals relate to Odette now... I think she has slowed me down in the best way. I like to lie next to her while she has her bottle in our bed in the morning. I like to make her food really delicious and freeze it in portions in advance. I like to cook our dinner while she has hers and introduce her to new tastes while I'm cooking. 

M: I try and start each weekday with a walk or run by myself. That’s the time when I listen to podcasts and think and plan. Another very important routine to me is my skincare ritual. I’ve always been interested in skincare but when I was going through a challenging time, when my daughter Olympia was born with severe health issues, skincare became a very important part of my life. Cleansing and caring for my face twice a day became the time when I’d check in with myself, and it still is today. The process has actually led me to start my next business, Braveface, which I will be launching very this space!

How would you describe your personal style? And how has it changed over the years?

S: Low maintenance! I like luxury fabric and appreciate quality things. Compared to Mimi, I'm a mess! She is immaculate and super chic. I don't wear makeup often and I don't look in the mirror often. I never wear heels but I love wearing cashmere and silk around the house when no one is home except me!

M: I would say my style is class and comfortable. I like lots of blacks, whites and creams, forest greens, and fawny tan colours. Big fan of a jazzy earring.    

This year has posed challenges for many businesses, especially in hospitality. What are some of the lessons you have learnt about your community?

S: How resilient they are. How passionate they are. How talented they are. How human they are. How generous they are. It's been a horrific year for hospitality, and I've found it quite emotional to watch people pivot, hold their heads high and hold on for dear life. 

M: We always knew our community was amazing but the love they have shown us this year has brought tears to my eyes. We’re doing really well this year considering the circumstances which is all thanks to our incredible guests, our amazing team and all of our brilliant and kind partners and suppliers.                   

 At home, what recipe are you famous for?

S: Anything pasta, home-smoking salmon, chilli and thyme fried eggs.

M: I wouldn’t say a particular dish but more of a style. My go-tos are all Middle Eastern, while Sophie’s more obsessed with Asian flavours and Emerald is all about French & Italian food.

When international travel resumes, where is the first destination you will travel to?

S: Sydney to see my Dad, it's been MONTHS!

M: I’ll be off to Sydney to see my dad! Alternatively, I wouldn’t say no to a cheeky Fiji tropical getaway.

Favourite dish and where would you like to eat it?

S: Spaghetti Carbonara, in Roma!

M: Pretty much anything Ottolenghi! I think about his Lamb and Feta Meatballs with Charred Tomatoes on Cold Yoghurt A LOT.  I’m also currently obsessed with the Scampi Pasta at Amano or a panfried fish burger from Burger Burger with LOTS of pickles! As for where? Anywhere surrounded by my friends and family.                       

What is your most treasured accessory and why?

S: My husband - I love how different we are and what he adds to my life. He is quirky and super chilled and balances me perfectly. 

M: My wedding ring - it was made by Zoe from Zoe & Morgan. She is the ultimate can you not love a woman who walks her children to school wearing a turban and a high vis vest. I love her and everything she creates.    

Do you prefer texture or colour?

S: Texture - cashmere, cotton, silk and linen FO LYFE.

M: Both! Too hard to choose.

Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter?

S: Autumn. Crisp air and blue skies all the way.


Images by Cindy Leong

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