In conversation with Susan McNair – Founder of Silk By Design

1. Hi Sue, please tell me a little about yourself?

I was born and raised in Durban and now live in Cowie’s Hill with my husband of 33 years. I have 2 adult sons, who I’m proud to say now work alongside me at Silk by Design.  I am generally a busy body and I’ve always found that I am most content when I’m working.  I started out working at a young age doing odd jobs, such as cashing at the local drive-inn, working in a hairdressing salon (really showing my age here), and then after school, I worked in the bank for several years before I stopped work to start my family.

When I was ready to get back to work, I set up a business with a partner in an interior decorating concern which took me on the path to where I am today at Silk by Design. I have a passion and an eye for beautiful things.  I love to travel and feel my best in natural surroundings.


2. Tell me a little about career growth?

Once I completed school, I had the opportunity of joining the world of banking – United Building Society (Absa).  I was always determined to make something out of my life and worked my way up to a departmental manager before deciding to start a family and so took some time off to have and nurture my two boys.

During my time at home, I started to develop a passion for home decor and interiors.  I met a young girl who had very similar interest to me and we decided to go into business together and started an Interior decorating business called Garland Interiors. The business was successful, but we felt that we needed something more which led us to look for a business that involved offering a product rather than a service.  It was then that we purchased an artificial tree importing business selling artificial trees to traders, decorators and retailers and which proved to be very successful.


3. How did Silk by Design come along?

After a few years in the tree business, my partner decided to relocate.  Around that time, I started traveling to international trade fairs and discovered the world of beautiful artificial silk flowers.  I found that there was a market for these flowers in South Africa and not long after we started importing loose stems and began producing and designing our own amazing arrangements and building the Silk by Design business that exists today. At that time there were very few people in SA doing high-quality silk flowers and we quickly became market leaders.  Since those early days, we have always strived to produce the best quality arrangements.  Product quality has always been number one.  I always say that I buy with my heart and not my head.





4. How did you develop your signature style?

I didn’t start out with a specific style in mind but just created what felt natural. Influences I’ve picked up on my travels as well as through following interior design trends is where most of my inspiration comes from. I will have an idea in my head, and with the help of our head florist Albertina, we bring that idea to life.  Flowers tell you what they should look like and how they should be arranged.


5. What are some of your achievements?

One of my greatest achievement would be growing Silk By Design for the past 21 years. It has now grown to a family business where my sons have become part and parcel of it, which is something I’m really proud of.  It is also pleasing to see our designs displayed on TV or featured in a magazine. I get pure satisfaction from hearing great comments about our products we have been compared to some influential designers.


6. What challenges have you faced with running Silk By Design?

Business, in general, is a challenge and running a business in South Africa has it own unique set of challenges but I’ve found that by staying level-headed at all times, being diligent and hard-working, staying focused and being proactive, most challenges can be overcome.


7. On a lighter note, what is your favourite flower?

I love big, wild-looking arrangements that look as if they have just been picked from the garden.  If I had to choose a specific flower, however, I would choose our latest real touch roses.  They are so imperfectly – perfect.

8. Do you ever keep fresh flowers at home?

Hardly ever.  There are some rare occasions when I mix long lasting fresh flowers with silk ones to confuse my guests.


9. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I draw my inspiration from my travels, natural surroundings, magazines, and when all else fails Pinterest.


10. What drives you to work every day?

I love working at Silk By Design. The truth is that flowers have become a significant part of my life, and I feel lost without them.  Success is also a huge factor, and success can only come from hard work and diligence.


11. Do you support women in business and if so, why?

Yes! Women have a lot to offer and I believe when you support women in business you are creating a chain of confidence amongst women. Women in business inspire other women, teenagers, and little girls to make something out of their lives. It gives them a sense of self-confidence and determination.  Silk By Design’s sister company SilkSense, which is a silk flower rental business was created to give aspiring entrepreneurs, and especially women entrepreneurs, an opportunity to extend their wings and become their own bosses. This distributorship business model has been built around the needs of women, and has proven to be successful.




12. What have you learned from running your own business?

Ultimately, I have learned to stick around for the long term.  I have made mistakes and learned from them and business has taught me to never give up.  You will always face hurdles and hoops and when you think you at your lowest, in a matter of time things always turn around for the good.  I am humbled to be in the position that I am and believe there are new things to learn every day.


13. How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?

I have always tried to remain positive in any situation.  Having a positive mindset in business is very important and I believe that it is because of my positive attitude that I can take on any challenge.  When self-doubt creeps in I find a positive thought to snap me out of it.  I always use the analogy of taking a very long walk.  When stopping halfway, tired and in pain, there is nothing else you can do to get to the end other than getting up and walking the rest of the way to your destination.


14. What is your favourite place in the whole world?

Besides home, I love Hong Kong. I have been there many times over the years and never get tired of the vibrancy and colour of the place, the surroundings or people.  I just love sitting at Victoria Harbour watching the festivities and immersing myself in the culture of the people.


Silk By Design


15. What advice would you give younger aspiring entrepreneurs?

Stay focused, determined, positive and maintain a growth mind-set. Education never stops, be opened to learning something new every day and upskilling oneself.



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