in touch with : sophie burkart, owner, soffiab luxury robes
The vaunted “British bedroom experience,” according to Sophie Burkart, wouldn’t be the same without a luxury robe. The Chagrin Falls resident would know, considering she hails from the United Kingdom. In search of the perfect robe, Burkart left her position as an IT program manager to launch SoffiaB luxury robes in January of 2012.
Q: What made you start the SoffiaB business?
A: Being British I have always had a dressing gown (robe), and over the last 15 years or so I had sought and ended up buying many different robes. Some were heavy, thick toweling, some were itzy-bitzy lacy things, none was the perfect robe. I either ended up looking like the Michelin man or was freezing my socks off. Neither were a long-term option. I wanted a dressing gown that made me look stylish but also felt good against my skin. Hence, in January 2012, after formal due diligence, SoffiaB was born.
Q: Why robes and not PJs?
A: In today’s lifestyle, with the advent of lounge-wear, it may seem the dressing gown or robe is unnecessary, but I think we need them more than ever. Today’s woman has so many demands on her time and person, she needs something that reminds her she is special and unique.
Q: What makes your robes special?
A: We combine the best of British bedroom expertise and marry that with New York’s finest craftsmanship and the end result is a beautiful yet comfortable dressing gown. This comes in the form of exceptional details, like laser-cut labels to ensure no-chafe collar, lined pockets for additional comfort, hand-finished hems, and French seams to ensure quality throughout the robe. Our robes are silk charmeuse, typically with a vibrant print then accenting collars and cuffs to give the traditional form a contemporary update. Perhaps the pièce de résistance is that our robes are fully lined, the Delphine with 100 percent Sea Island sateen cotton for breathability and movement, the Daphne with 100 percent double napped, cotton flannel for warmth and elegance — a little luxury in the bedroom. In addition both collections are limited edition, meaning there are minimum quantities of each size and color palette produced, so if you buy a SoffiaB robe you know there are very few other women around the world who have one that is the same.
Q: And the “British bedroom experience” is a cut above most?
A: I like to think so.
Q: Where are they made?
A: We design and market from Chagrin Falls, and production takes place in New York’s iconic Garment District. It was important for me to have the robes made in the United States, not the least that I could control the quality. I found a superb production consultant who I trust completely, and once I have designed the robe, chosen the silks and the lining, he produces a sample for my approval. Not only does he produce the highest quality, he advises me on the fashion industry and recommends key people and companies I should engage with.
“(My corporate experience) taught me not to try and do everything. There’s a reason you need to hire an accountant and not do it yourself.”
Q: Who’s your typical customer?
A: Our customers are women who appreciate and value fine-crafted, quality made products. They buy for themselves and for gifts for others. What’s also interesting is that about 40 percent of our customers are men. Many men are in need of a “little help,” shall we say, when it comes to the gift-buying department, and one of the lovely things about a SoffiaB is that it is an easy gift for the discerning man to buy. He can buy directly online. There is no embarrassing chat with the sales assistants, the beauty and quality of the robes send the right message of appreciation and value, and it is delivered complimentary via UPS Ground shipping directly to his door already beautifully wrapped.
Q: Why online vs. bricks and mortar?
A: We felt the product has such a universal appeal that it seemed a shame to limit to a storefront, and indeed we’ve had customers from San Francisco, Cleveland, and Miami. We’ve even had our first international order from the UK, and it wasn’t even anyone I knew.
Q: How has this area helped you with the business?
A: I’ve met four very special businesswomen who live and work in the Cleveland area, Debbie Kuhn, the founder and president of girltrunks, Nora Eggar, the founder of the Floral Elixir Co., Nicola Henry, the president of ROMO US, and Laura Bennet, the CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance. They have helped me enormously with specific questions as well as overall advice regarding starting a business in a different industry. They’ve also been there cheering from the sidelines, which is fantastic.
Q: What else do you appreciate about the area?
We have superb restaurants. I love Umami, L’albatros, and Dante. We have four distinct(ish) seasons. Yes, I love the weather, being from the UK, where we have a lot of rain. And the people in Northeast Ohio are generally just very, very nice.
Q: Could you tell us about your British roots?
A: A UK native raised in London, the bucolic Surrey Hills and Suffolk. My family are there, and I try to get back at least twice a year.
What brought you to the United States?
In 2005 I was fortunate to be offered a position with a Honeywell company based in Cleveland, and I thought, ‘Absolutely, what a fantastic experience to live and work abroad.’ I will always be grateful for that wonderful opportunity.
Q: What can you tell us about your career in IT?
A: Primarily I was involved in large SAP organizational change programs, where I’d be working with business users, IT consultants and the in-house IT group. It was exciting to use technology as an enabler for growth across an organization. My role was to manage the businesses’ expectations, ensure their process needs were met and to give them the tools to help make significant organizational change. It exposed me to all parts of a company and was an invaluable and treasured experience. I met and worked with some superb people.
Q: How does your current entrepreneurial life differ from your old corporate life?
A: It’s extremely different. However, my corporate experience really laid the foundations for understanding what a business needs, not only all the different components that need to be running simultaneously but also my experience in leading large programs supported how to manage them all at once. Perhaps most importantly though it taught me not to try and do everything. There’s a reason you need to hire an accountant and not do it yourself.
Q: Anything you dislike about running a business?
A: My passions are beautiful cars, beautiful horses, and beautiful clothes. Starting a business has put that on hold for some time. But when one of my gorgeous SoffiaB dressing gowns ships out the door, knowing it will make someone feel special, it’s all jolly.
Q: How often do you get to New York?
A: As often as I need to. Another wonderful city, but I do have to place a wee padlock on my purse (see previous question!).
For more information: soffiab.com