Skip to main content

Creating Positive Culture – with Sample Room’s Julia Van der Sommen

By 6 April 2024April 9th, 2024Women's Leadership Network

Creating Positive Culture - with Sample Room's Julia Van der Sommen

In this ongoing feature, we’ll celebrate the women in accredited businesses who are creating culture in their workplaces! For our first instalment, we talked to Julia Van der Sommen from Sample Room… 

Want to tell us what your business is doing to support growth, creativity, retention, learning and anything else? Email us at with the subject heading “Creating Positive Culture” if you’d like to share your initiatives with Ethical Clothing Australia’s Women’s Leadership Network!  
Pattern Room Web 57

Tell us about the initiative you created in your workplace…  

When you work in the fashion industry, you do tend to work for other people and forget about yourself, and why you joined this industry in the first place. So, we thought it was time that we brought a bit more creativity back into our jobs, which is why we’ve launched an initiative called Creative Fridays.  

Traditionally in the industry, machinists have worked longer hours Monday to Thursday and then they leave early on Friday, normally the patternmaking and the administration team don’t. We’ve changed that now, so we all work slightly longer hours Monday to Thursday, and then knock off at about 1 or 2 o’clock.  

At that point, staff can finish work and leave if they want but if they choose to stay, they can use all The Sample Room equipment and resources to do their own projects in our space.  

They’ve got the workroom to use, and the big cutting tables. They can use any of the sewing machines, the threads, and we also have a large stack of fabric that we’ve accumulated over all the years – it’s fabric that has sat there for a long time and sometimes it’s not always the greatest. So even if it’s just using it for toiling up or sampling, it’s a valuable resource for them and it solves a problem for me. 

IMG 0059

What was the catalyst for Creative Fridays?  

We had a fair bit of movement in our team last year. Some long-term people moved on – as they do after years of being in one place. And then I was having a catch up with one of my key team members and just asking how she was doing. And she said it had been a bit depressing, everyone going – she was missing the creativity and togetherness.   

I initially suggested she start to finish early on Fridays just to have some time to herself, and then it sort of morphed into this. And after a few weeks, I was like “Hang on a second, I want this too!” because I don’t make anything for myself either!  Then we changed it around officially.  

What sort of logistics or mindsets did you have to put in place in setting up Creative Fridays? 

We didn’t have to do a lot in terms of logistics here because we already had the workroom and resources set up and ready to use. We’ve always had a policy that we don’t do meetings on Friday afternoon anyway but I’m still available to work if we need to answer the door or if there’s a call to be made. I’m the business owner, that’s just a necessary part. 

IMG 0065 copy

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen since bringing in Creative Fridays?  

It just creates a different feeling as a team, it creates excitement and interest and I think it supports retention. We’re always asking each other “What are you doing on Friday?” or turning to each other during Creative Fridays, saying “What do you think of this?”  

The other day, one of the team was making something and she was going to put a facing on it and asked for my thoughts. I suggested that she do a binding instead with a different fabric to make it look more finished and upmarket and showed her how. It’s a sharing of knowledge and information – which we do here anyway as part of our work – but it’s different to try things out, experiment, teach or learn in your own time.  

We had someone come in to help with our admin, and she loved it because she’s at the beginning of her career and sewing with other people and getting to use those machines, it was just fast tracking her ability to do things! 

I often say that to know about fabric you’ve got to make 1000 things and throw 500 out, which I would say I’ve done. But if you’re at the beginning of your career, you haven’t done that. So, working with all these different fabrics we have available for Creative Fridays, the team get to experience those fabrications which then help when dealing with clients to make suggestions in our day-to-day work. 

We also look better because we’re making things and wearing them! That’s an important part of what we do. You know, we’re selling that we can make stuff, but if we don’t ever wear things that we make, then what are we really doing? 

IMG 0067

What’s one small thing you also do in your business to support culture?  

It’s an app, called Talking Translator!  

We’ve just had a new machinist start and she’s from Colombia. She’s a production and sample machinist and a cutter – just this amazing, well rounded team member who is here on a student visa at the moment. But, in the beginning, she was scared about making mistakes with her language or not being understood. She’s great on text messages, but it was just face to face where she froze a bit. 

Through my travels in Europe last year at trade shows, we found a app Talking Translator, that allows you talk and it will write in the chosen language and speak it.  

The app has really allowed us to communicate better, and she’s so much more confident with her English event in the few weeks she has been here. People know a lot more English than they think they do when, but they’re scared about making mistakes, not being heard. But as soon as you cross that barrier, where there’s a tool for us to talk if we need to, then suddenly, it’s like their ears open to the language a bit more.  She is willing to take a risk and we are too. You know that is what it’s all about everybody saying, “Let’s find a common way to talk.” 

Interested in the Victorian Women’s Leadership Network?  

The network is open to anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary in accredited businesses in Victoria. The best way to stay connected is by signing up to the exclusive bi-monthly newsletter only for members of the Women’s Leadership Network – it’s where we’ll share news and events, celebrate the achievements of the community and offer practical resources relevant to our industry to make sure your voice is heard

Read more and sign up here! 

Please note when Ethical Clothing Australia refers to women, we are always including trans women, gender diverse people and non-binary people.