With a passion for photography and the sea, Sydney-based Sarah Silverton has spent decades capturing the sand and surf along the gorgeous coastlines of Australia. Her evocative seascapes have been exhibited through wall art, homewares and fashion accessories. All of which are beautifully designed and made in Australia. You know that we are huge supporters of Australian made 🙂
I was blessed to sit next to Sarah at a Melbourne Cup lunch event last year with the M Contemporary family and we just hit it off immediately. With a passion for Australia and its gorgeous beaches and a drive to create lifestyle pieces locally, after a glass of bubbles or two, we were already devising up ways on how we could collaborate. Sarah’s journey is one of talent, passion and versatility. So, we wanted to share her story and hope that she too inspires someone out there to take make their loves into special pieces that can be adored by others too.
I started photographing whatever I could. I’d take my dogs and wander the coastal track to Bondi – just so inspiring. There was always something to shoot. It was magical.
I grew up on Tamarama Beach – my own little idyll where I spent every afternoon after school (and most mornings before school!) swimming and just hanging out. As a little kid, I loved to fossik in all the rock pools around nearby Mackenzie’s Bay with my sister, and as I got older, I started photographing whatever I could. I’d take my dogs and wander the coastal track to Bondi – just so inspiring. There was always something to shoot. It was magical. It still is down there. Lots of happy memories trailing after my brothers, who were pretty fearless – the surf at Tamarama can be daunting! Eventually, after school and university, I decamped for London and then New York with my husband. We spent nearly 20 years abroad, and now we’re back, sharing the same experiences we had with our own kids. We have three .. aged 19, 17 and 15. They love it here.
I was given a Canon camera for my 11th birthday from my parents – one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received. That was back in the days of film, so there was all that anticipation when you handed your roll in to be developed, and then there was the waiting, and the excitement when you collected the prints. I was hooked. It was such an outlet for me. I was pretty quiet as a kid, and it was a way to express myself.
I’m captivated by the movement of the sea .. the swirling currents, the waves, the constant ebb and flow.
I photographed anything, really – friends, people at the beach, bodysurfers, dogs running on the rocks, people sun baking, family barbecues, the waves … I still experience that excitement when I shoot. Of course, it’s a little different with digital now, when you can see what you’re shooting as you go, but there’s still such joy in seeing your image printed on beautiful paper and mounted, or applied to fabric and sewn into wonderful, tactile pieces. When you see that image transformed, there’s an energy around it – sometimes peaceful, other times arresting and powerful.
I’m captivated by the movement of the sea .. the swirling currents, the waves, the constant ebb and flow. Sometimes I’m drawn to people in this environment, sometimes I just want the play of blues, greens, greys and whitewash without other distractions. It all depends on what’s happening at the time. I shoot with an open mind. I also love taking portraits in the water. When people have an affinity for the sea, it’s a wonderful thing to capture them there. And I mean in the water. Defenses are down, any self-consciousness seems to dissipate, there’s a very real sense of release, a kind of relief. I’ve seen my subject’s facial expressions completely change when they’re in the sea. It’s so sensory and elemental.
Sarah Silverton the Brand
When I lived overseas, I hungered for my yearly trips back to Australia. I’d be up and out the door early, photographing sunrises at Bondi, board-riders launching off the rocks at Bronte and swimmers catching the last light at sunset. I couldn’t wait to share these images with my American friends, and pretty soon I was creating artwork for them. When I moved back to Sydney, I began to experiment with applying these images to fabrics. It was a process to find beautiful, natural materials that would reflect the colors and hold my image precisely as I wanted, but with the help of some wonderfully talented suppliers, we finally got there.
I started off selling my pieces at Bondi and Mosman markets and had a great response. It’s really just grown from there. Right now, we’re focussing on expanding our linen range for the home, incorporating new lines and fabric by the meter. We also have some lovely designs for our resort wear in the pipeline.
The Creative Process
It all starts with the image. When I’m home, in a quiet space, I look at my images on screen and select the photos I’m immediately drawn to. Sometimes I go right in and look at the detail and that becomes the focus. Other times, I’ll step back and see the image being used in its entirety. I print the images off and I can pretty much see where I want to use them – a table napkin, a large wall art, a beach wrap. I work very closely with my suppliers – it’s a real collaboration, and I value their input. They’ll often have ideas and we’ll experiment with what images are strongest on particular fabrics.
I focus a lot on the fabric we use. It must be natural, and it must feel wonderful. I have sensitive skin, and typically don’t wear wool against it, but we’ve found a wool silk blend that is incredibly soft and snuggly. It’s amazing. Our makers hand-fringe each wool silk scarf. It’s time-consuming, but well worth it. Our products are all made by hand, by people who live nearby. It was important to me that the I make everything in Australia. And I love that I can talk to my makers – I have a real relationship with every one of them.
Quality & Timeless
I was brought up to buy things that were good quality and would last. I still wear a peacoat of my mother’s from the 60s, and it’s every bit as stylish now as it was then. I’ve had it relined, but it’s still in great condition. When I started out, I was determined to create pieces that people would want to keep. Not high fashion pieces that would date, but collections that would be fresh and impactful year after year. After I moved back to Australia, I decided to gift my girlfriends in New York scarves and sarongs – I wanted to share some of the beauty of our beaches through pieces that would be practical and useful. They were a big hit. And when I began my stall at Bondi Markets, I discovered that my range was the perfect gift for travellers – easy and lightweight to pack, made in Australia, with images of beaches they’ve fallen in love with. And it was the quality that really touched them .. these aren’t your typical tourist pieces. When you feel one of my pieces or drape it over you, the attention to detail and exquisite fabric is obvious.
I love to travel and I travel light. Every piece in my bag has to be a workhorse and I’ve factored that in to my range.
My wool scarves and body wraps are great when you’re traveling to cooler climes. They’re warm and stylish on the flight, flexible enough to wear casually when touring and smart enough to pair with a suit for work or dinner.
Likewise, our sarongs do double-duty – they’re a striking, practical wrap to wear poolside or at the beach, and then when it’s time for lunch, drinks or dinner, just style as a scarf and drape over sun-kissed shoulders. A quick rinse at night to wash out the salt, drape over a railing to dry and it’s ready by the morning.
Our french squares are so good at lifting a simple shirt and jeans combo – just twist around your neck, add a statement ear-ring and you’re good to go. I also tie mine to a handbag for bit of flair. I tend to wear neutrals when I travel, and the scarves add a bit of zing. They’re also good conversation pieces! I’ve actually met some wonderful people over a conversation about a scarf!
My journey into homewares was a natural progression.
When I’m home, I love to be home, and most often I’m curled up with a good book in my down time, or else in the kitchen cooking, which I love. Part of the joy of cooking for me is setting the table. I’ve always used linen napkins, and they were the first homewares pieces I created. My table settings are simple – a white plate on a rafia placemat, some foliage or herbs from the garden nestled in with the napkin and I’m done. Simple, textural, with a coastal feel… with the food given room to shine.
We’ve cut back so much on using disposable items in our home, and linen napkins work in well with our philosophy to cherish and reuse. People think they’re a whole lot of effort, but they aren’t at all… I throw them in the wash, pop them on the line to dry, and then fold them while they’re still warm from the sun. Easy! Very occasionally I’ll run an iron over them if I’m going for a more structured look, but generally that just-washed look to linen lends a wonderful, casual vibe to the dinner table.
Our cushions have really started to take off. The tones of our linen range work so well in bedrooms and living rooms. Lovely dusty blues and greys add such a wonderful coastal feel, and we have a few colorways that add pop, contrast and interest to a simple sofa or plain white bed. Our velvet range is very striking – the colors are incredible, and the texture of the fabric really enhances the image.
Lovely dusty blues and greys add such a wonderful coastal feel
Sarah Silverton Online & Offline
I’m primarily an online retailer, and I love that I’m accessible this way. I have a real dialogue with my customers, some of whom I’ve met through the Bondi and Mosman markets. Some are Australian, others are from overseas – It’s wonderful to think our pieces are in so many countries around the world. I get a thrill out of that. I remember meeting a super stylish woman from Stockholm at Bondi Markets one day… She bought napkins in all the different colourway’s with a view to mixing them up on her table. She wanted conversation pieces, for her guests to unfurl a napkin that had a story from her travels. I love that. Each piece in our range has its own narrative, and that really resonates with people who are looking for something more artisanal and considered.
One of my closest friends in New York recently hosted a trunk show for our collection… That was such a wonderful experience. It’s so easy for me to talk about our incredible beaches and coastline, and I loved explaining each of the images… what caught my eye with “Tamarama Twilight”, why Bondi Icebergs is so iconic, and what an afternoon at Tamarama looks like. It was me sharing stories about the beaches I love with people who (for the most part) had never seen these places but were nevertheless captivated by the images and colours. New Yorkers are so stylish and so well-put together. I really enjoyed seeing how they interpreted the collections.
In Boutique Hotels
When the Intercontinental Hotel on Hayman Island reopened at the end of last year, it was the the culmination of a huge redesign and restoration. It had been damaged extensively by Cyclone Debbie in 2017 and they’ve done an absolutely incredible job. It is absolutely stunning. I sent the manager of their retail boutique some samples from my collection and they loved it. They bought each piece in my range, and I’m thrilled. My collection is all about the colors and textures of the sea, and Hayman Island is surrounded by some of the cleanest, clearest waters in the world, in striking and vivid blues. It’s such a natural fit.
The focus of my collection is Australian beaches, but wherever I go, I will head to a beach and shoot for hours.
Recently, I was in Israel. It was Winter and the wind was whipping along the shore in Tel Aviv. It was wild. The kite surfers were out in force – it was an incredible sight. I also saw board-riders navigating some rough seas off the coast of Cesarea – that was pretty amazing. I’ve photographed some stunning beaches in Portugal, and around the North Shore of Hawaii. The coastline of Devon and Cornwall is arresting and dramatic. We literally had four seasons a day while we were there and it was just so wild, real rugged beauty. I also love the long, desolate beaches in Norfolk in the UK – those incredibly vast stretches of sand against calm, grey seas and gloomy, brooding skies. I love it. Old Hunstanton is a particular favorite. Montauk, on the most easterly point of Long Island in the US, is also wonderful. It’s fun in the Summer, and crazy in the Winter – so cold, blustery and desolate. Beautiful. Beaches are fascinating in all weather. Just not too much wind – sand in my camera is not a lot of fun!
Sarah the Journalist
I was a news and current affairs journalist for many years. I started at NBN in Newcastle (by the way, the beautiful beaches there are a very well kept secret!) and when I moved to the UK I scored my dream job at the BBC. I worked on Breakfast News and various business programs, and was a producer for Breakfast with Frost. I also spent time at Reuters as a business correspondent. I was drawn to broadcast journalism because I like pictures and I like telling stories. And I like asking questions! It was a natural fit for me for so many years, and then photography gradually nudged its way more insistently into my life. When I moved to the US, I set up a portrait and fine art studio and grew my business there. When it was time to come home, I wanted to switch things up a bit and consider how to apply my images differently. Gradually, the idea of creating an accessories and homewares line began to take shape, and a year later, my eponymous collection was born.
Photography gradually nudged its way more insistently into my life.
Bucket List in 5
1. Visit Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and snorkel with the whale sharks. A dream.
2. Finalise work on my exhibition that’s there in the wings and floating in my periphery – get it locked and loaded!
3. Photograph every one of my immediate and extended family members at a beach of their choice. Incorporate these photos in to a family compendium.
4. Collaborate with Australian Woolmark. So much of our country’s history is entwined with the merinos. I had some unforgettable experiences at an aunt and uncle’s sheep station when I was growing up, and I would love to collaborate with our wool industry to create something very special.
5. Skinny dip. At a very remote beach somewhere. As in completely isolated .. does that even exist? Did I even write this?!
Can’t Live Without
1. My family
2. My collection of cameras. Not extensive, but I’m sentimental and keep each one that means something to me. And my father’s lenses. I can hear him talking to me about depth of field and framing when I use them. He was a talented amateur and taught me the importance of family photography.
3.The sea. Naturally. Coastal walks, swims, or just sitting and breathing in the briny air…
4. My Wandrd photography backpack. Brilliant ingenuity. Practical, and stylish. Travels everywhere with me.
5. Books. I inhale them. And beautiful magazines .. I’m a sucker for gorgeous photos and striking layouts. Think that’s 6 things .. !
Favourite H&W Bag
The Morgan Backpack in black. Backpacks are a must for me, especially when I’m traveling. I like my hands free, and I usually have my camera over one shoulder. The Morgan is stylish enough to take me to town and around, large enough to fit what I need but not too unwieldy. It’s versatility and strong lines mean I can use it day to night. I’m a stickler for packing light, so every addition is considered carefully and if it’s a stylish, hard-working multi-tasker, it’s in!
Thanks Sarah for sharing your journey. Very much looking forward to your exhibition, seeing your portraits and more gorgeous Australian beaches. I know for certain that we will be collaborating very very soon.