A quirky 'daughter' called Sophie

SOPHIE Blue is her fourth daughter, because for the owner of this popular Port Elizabeth decor and children's clothing brand the business is almost like a child to her.

Marlene Nepgen was pregnant with her second daughter when she opened her first shop in Westbourne Road nine years ago. Today she has three daughters and a second shop at the Walmer Park Shopping Centre.

Playing around with names for her daughter, she named the business after one of the names she liked. And the name has stuck.

"Some regular customers and suppliers still think I am Sophie," Nepgen chuckled. "The other day a customer again asked one of my employees to give something to Sophie."

Having studied art at the former PE Technikon, Nepgen initially opened the store to sell her own ceramics.

The decor and gifting shop soon sold other beautiful items for the home, and today also includes a small clothing range for women, shoes, the iconic Hunter boots and other accessories.

"I appreciate good design," Nepgen said. "The style of my shops is quirky and whimsical. I also love to mix contemporary and vintage items. If something is good quality and well made, I buy it for the shop. I buy items from all over – some are imported and others are sourced locally."

As Nepgen has three daughters, Mila, 14, Jemima, 8, and Josephine, 5, the natural progression for her business was to branch out into children's clothing and decor.

She opened the Walmer Park shop three years ago and it focuses more on children's clothing. She also sells Lila Rose sleepwear for women and specialises in unique and memorable gifts for baby showers and children's birthdays.

In October, when Nepgen's lease expires, the Walmer Park shop will close and be consolidated with the Westbourne Road shop in Central.

"I will be extending the shop and will have the children's clothing and gifts at the back of the shop. It just makes more sense to have one shop," Nepgen said.

Juggling motherhood and her busy business, she employs three people to help her with the shifts at the shops.

"Customers want the owner in the store and I enjoy talking to them. I cannot be everywhere all the time, but it is nice to have that personal touch and oversee things," she said.

Nepgen also still enjoys making ceramics for the shops, which now include beautifully crafted mosaic items which she recycles from some of the cracked ceramics.

Occasionally branching out into interior design at customer requests, Nepgen admitted Port Elizabeth could be a difficult market, particularly when it came to non-essential items.

"The sales representatives who come into my shop often say PE is the most difficult market. I am not sure how I made it for so many years but enjoy what I do and have some loyal customers and get new ones every day," Nepgen said.