Sonia Sly from My Heels Are Killing Me podcast on telling fashion stories

Sonia Sly interview

Presenter and Producer Sonia Sly. Image by Bex McGill.

Sonia Sly is the talented presenter and producer of popular fashion podcast My Heels Are Killing Me from Radio New Zealand. Sonia has been with RNZ since 2008 and her background in performing, love of story telling and nose for a good story make her brilliant at creating original podcasts that capture the imagination. Sonia has a life-long love of fashion and has been exploring different sides of the fashion industry over the past few seasons of her stellar podcast which we’ve had the privilege of sharing here on FashioNZ.

This past week Sonia launched the fourth season of My Heels Are Killing Me and we decided it was time to catch up with this fascinating journalist and find out a bit more about what makes her tick and what’s to come from this new season.

Where did the idea for My Heels Are Killing Me come from and what has the response been like from your audience?
I used to be an arts reporter for RNZ and always tried to sneak in ‘fashion stories’ because I see a natural connection – fashion is a creative pursuit and I find the commercial side of it really fascinating as well. So before I became part of the podcast team there was a bit of rethinking around online content and I was shoulder-tapped to start doing more fashion stories. But to cut a long story short, when I became part of the podcast team just over a year ago I convinced my Exec Producer Tim Watkin that we needed more fashion on our platform…and basically ran with it. It was a bit cheeky, but I feel there needs to be another avenue for discussion around fashion – a chance to profile the incredible talent in this country, but also a chance to look at it from a different point of view. For me, the podcast is about exploring some of the behind-the scenes aspects of the industry, but also looking at it with a slightly more investigative and analytical eye. Because although fashion is fun there are so many different layers to the industry that need to be unwrapped.

And yes, I’ve bumped into so many people who have heard it. Random people who listen! I went to the dentist and discovered that my new dentist was following the podcast because his son used to want to be a fashion designer. I loved that he started talking to me about silhouettes and construction! Definitely not what I expected on a trip to the dentist!

This is the fourth season of your podcast, how has it evolved and what can we expect from this season?
The podcast has definitely evolved. When it started I was given a brief of producing singular interviews in a conversational tone, so it focused more on designer profiles and probably wasn’t as sound rich. They were a lot more pared back than this season’s episodes. So this season I examine things like the cultural and social context behind clothing, fashion and subcultures…even addressing issues like women and ageing in fashion. I also explore iconic garments like the Aloha shirt, and dip my toes into Hip Hop culture as well as the more serious side to the business of bricks and mortar retail.

This season is really colourful, irreverent at times and definitely entertaining. But I also like to ask the important questions and hope that people feel like they’ve learnt something or even feel inspired. You may also pick up a thing or two about me in this season…and it involves athleisure. I can’t help but laugh when I think about it, but that’s all I’ll say.

Sonia Sly interview

Having too much fun in conversation with Benny Castles from World at iD Fashion Week 2018. Image Caitlan Mitchell.

What inspires you and how do you come up with the ideas for the interviews?
I’m inspired by the broader context of fashion and what it means at any one time. So that could be looking at history and social issues and how they inform creativity, design and trends. Sometimes I might read an article and it might trigger an idea or spark my imagination and I’ll decide I want to explore a specific theme in an episode. For instance, I watched a documentary on hip-hop and had an urge to make an episode that explores hip-hop fashion, sneakerheads and b-boy culture.

But sometimes I’m just inspired by a person and I want to find out more. I look for people with something to say and those who have a strong point of view in the industry. I also admire talented people like Kiwi Olivia Fleming who is based in New York and is a Senior Features Editor for Bazaar.com but also has her own jewellery range. She’s included in this season’s podcast and I think it’s important to hear stories like Olivia’s because she’s inspiring, talented but also incredibly hard working woman whose career in fashion hasn’t been a straight and narrow one. It’s a tough industry and I think you have to have a thick skin and a real passion to remain in the industry.

So in short, I follow my nose and my curiosity leads me to the stories. I also like the element of surprise so if I’m surprised then hopefully the listeners are too!

Which interviews stand out as most memorable for you and what makes them stick in your mind?
That’s a great question! Gosh, well if I look back through the archive my first interview with models Mary and Jin. It’s a bit off the wall and makes me laugh even thinking about it. I caught up with them one year at NZFW and I loved how candid they were with me. I also loved my interview with designer James Dobson (Jimmy D), Kelly Thompson (fashion illustrator) and Marc Moore for Stolen Girlfriends Club. They come to mind because they were so authentic and honest. It’s always really moving when people open up and tell it like it is. It’s real and there are some moments of vulnerability. It was also pretty amazing to have interviewed Karen Walker (who will feature again this season), plus Quentin Hart who was a former designer for Tom Ford and currently head designer at Swanndri. I came away feeling incredibly inspired. All I can say is, I love my job!

Your job is all about telling stories, what is it your favourite thing about it?
For me it’s about being totally immersed in the moment when I’m recording a conversation. I love the possibilities of being truly moved or inspired. I also enjoy the craft of navigating my way through an interview as it’s happening. It needs to feel like it’s unravelling for the interviewee. I want them to forget about the microphones and just talk to me, and the moment they drop their guard and just be themselves, that’s what I love. But there’s also the highly creative part of turning the audio into a ‘story’ and I get excited about editing an episode and weaving stories together, adding sound fx or music but also being able to create an arc to a story and extracting the subtle nuances and humour. If I laugh when I’m making the podcast, then I know other people might find the same thing funny too.

Sonia Sly interview

Sonia Sly wearing a Winter 2018 outfit by Jimmy D. Image by Howard Sly 

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
You know, it’s funny when you do something you love and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’. I love my job and I’ve had some very moving experiences because people let you into their lives. I’m surrounded by incredible and inspiring people every day of the week and I never take that for granted. That’s definitely a highlight.

But winning a New York Radio Award two years running was pretty special. One was for a documentary I made about the Kiwi soldiers who fought at Gallipoli called Glory in their Eyes it was very intense with lots of sound-rich layers. The other was a story was Crime Scene. It was about a photographer who was into 1940s crime scene photography. I took my inspiration from Twin Peaks when I produced the story.

What first drew you to fashion and how would you describe your personal style?
I’ve loved fashion since I was a kid rummaging around in my Mum’s closet. She also used to have Japanese pen-pals who would send her Japanese fashion magazines and I was totally obsessed with them. The crazy outfits took my imagination to another place and I loved the experimental silhouettes, the mish-mash of vintage pieces mixed with designer labels and the explosion of colour and print, but also the kawaii vibe. I definitely think it has informed my sense of style. Sometimes I wish I could be more classic, but I’ve tried and it never feels like me. I’m a tactile person and I love unusual silhouettes. I’m definitely drawn to ‘quirky’ rather than pretty clothes. I love a statement sleeve, high neck lines, statement rings and earrings. And I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy too, so I think that sometimes gives an interesting spin on my style. My husband often looks at me shaking his head when I leave for work in the morning, but he’s not really interested in fashion. I don’t expect anyone to ‘get it’ when they see my clothes. As long as I feel like me, that’s all that matters.

What are the important issues for you in fashion and what do you think consumers need to know more about?
I think it’s really hard to escape a shift towards buying ethically. It’s often hard to do when you’re looking at new collections all the time and there’s the temptation to buy into the latest trend. I like to support the local industry and I definitely believe in supporting new talent.

As consumers, I think as long as we think about what we’re purchasing before pushing the PAY NOW button, that’s the only way forward. It might be the difference between purchasing just the right amount, rather than going overboard and having more than you can wear. It’s important to buy well, rather than buying something because it’s cheap. But I totally understand that cost is a factor. But there is nothing like saving for something that you’ll feel great wearing.

If it’s sale time, stick to the item you’ve had your eye on. I think sales can interfere with sensible purchasing decisions. Buy what fits you well and will see you into the future. If you don’t love it, ask yourself if you really ‘need’ it.

Sonia Sly interview

Unbreakable shoot for NEW KID 2018 styled by Sonia Sly. Image by James O’ Neill (left) and Bex McGill (right).

You’ve just started a new project focusing on emerging designers, can you tell us a bit more about New Kid?
So newkidgen.com is a platform for cutting edge emerging designers across Asia Pacific and includes a designer directory and a magazine/news platform which gives me the benefit of utilising my journalistic/storytelling skills to promote the designers that come on board. It’s also another space for discourse on issues in and around the industry.

I style shoots for the site too, which allows me to go back to my more visual roots, plus a great way for me to have fun playing with some emerging designer pieces and mix them up with existing labels to tell a visual story that all ties in with the rest of the content on the platform.

The idea came out of three years worth of disparate ideas that didn’t quite fit together. I’ve always loved emerging designer work and have bought custom pieces from new designers in the past because I love having unique statement pieces in my wardrobe. But I felt a bit frustrated for the talented designers who didn’t have the time and money to really get things rolling for themselves once they graduated from design school. So NEW K!D gives them a bit of breathing space to keep up their profiles but also create collections slowly and sit alongside a high calibre of equally talented emerging designers and contemporary jewellers.

It was also important for me to create a beautiful online space with a strong visual aesthetic, as well as carving out a different tone and feel to everything else in the digital space. I have plans for collabs, along with projects that explore the intersection of art and fashion. Lots of plans in the works…watch this space!

When it comes to fashion do you have a style rule you always obey?
If what you’re wearing doesn’t feel like you, take it off. And that’s also a mood thing, too. As a working Mum I often plan my outfits the night before and if I’m unsure how I’m likely to feel the next day then I’ll put two options out. I think it’s important to feel like the ultimate version of myself and gear up for the day ahead. If I’ve left the house in a flurry of panic, I tend not to be comfortable for the entire day.

What is your all-time favourite fashion purchase?
I’d have to say, my Trippen shoes. I love the fact that the soles are made from recycled tyres, and they give me height – I’m 4’11”. They’re comfortable enough to walk around in all day and even though they’re handcrafted in Germany, they have a Japanese aesthetic. They really feel like me.

Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
…my pyjamas to the supermarket (that’s a hands down no!)….or a face without makeup. It comes to me wanting to feel like the ultimate version of myself. I have quite a dull complexion so I need a bit of colour on my face!

Images supplied.

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