Mary-Anne Sullivan loves Airllywood, her popular fashion store at Queensland’s Airlie Beach, renowned as a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef.
Pauline Ball is equally attached to her farm in Gippsland, Victoria – “beef cattle and four acres of garden.”
They are lifelong friends and in February, will present three labels at the Sydney 2019 Fashion Exposed Now fair – Birds of Paradise and Mermaid’s Playground, created by Mary-Anne and making its debut, Boudica, designed by Pauline.
“Mary-Anne and I talked about it for ages and finally I decided to do it,” says the farmer and accomplished seamstress who also happens to be an internationally experienced specialist in technology resource management.
To history buffs, Boudica (Romanised as Boadicea) was the British Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Roman occupying forces in 60 AD. To Pauline, that magnificently statuesque warrior is the perfect role model for today’s “more buxom diva” who desires glamour with comfort.
“The Boudica woman will meet you for high tea and then party the night…always with a bounce in her step,” notes the introduction to the size 14-24 label.
It’s a far cry from the mostly dispiriting imagery associated with the plus-size sector. Pauline is certainly familiar with the challenges.
“For years, I tried to find clothes for when I travelled to Asia – really nice, stylish pieces suitable for heat and humidity – but there was nothing for the more voluptuous woman that appealed,” she explains.
“Mary-Anne agreed there was a gap in the market, so I decided it was time to fill it.”
With a decade’s experience in the fashion industry, the power behind Airllywood, which carries some 20 Australian labels – accessories and jewellery as well as clothes – can be depended on for sound advice.
The lessons she has learned from Birds of Paradise which offers richly ornate caftans and chic casualwear, and resort wear label, Mermaid’s Playground, should also prove valuable.
“When I introduced Birds of Paradise at my store, I didn’t think beyond retail, but then buyers kept asking if they could place orders and I realized the solution was to design and wholesale,” says Mary-Anne.
“Mermaid’s Playground appeals to a younger group – fresh, feminine dresses and coordinates with a touch of Boho. Like Birds of Paradise and Boudica, it’s in natural fibres and manufactured in India under fair workplace practices.
“I have a great team of girls at Airllywood. It’s been a great adventure, a real labour of love.”
Even the destructive forces of Cyclone Debbie in March 2017 – “we had very bad flooding at Airlie Beach” – failed to dent Mary-Anne Sullivan’s enthusiasm and she’s looking forward to Boudica’s launch.
Over in Gippsland, Pauline Ball is confident she’s covered the bases for those buxom divas.
“I’ve done some elegant dresses, a variety of tops, and pants ranging from skinny leg to palazzo in mixed prints and solids,” she reveals.
“Boudica is an endless summer label that will be available year-round for cool, comfortable, flattering clothes.”
– Zelda Cawthorne