Perhaps you were a patron of Proctor Frozen Yogurt or perhaps you have browsed the racks of Sonja – Clothes to Live In. Maybe you own an original “Gritty Tacoman” tee before they were all the rage. Or going even farther back, perhaps you were acquainted with the mayor of Fircrest back in the 50s. Whatever the case, you might have met or heard of Sonja Silver and if you haven’t, you ought to change that. Her roots and impact run deep in the Tacoma community.
As soon as Silver enters the cafe, her smiling eyes convey a warmth that fills the space inside as big, wet snowflakes flutter outside. Conversation comes easy with Silver. We talk about life, business, family and more. Right out of the gates she tells me, “As my friend likes to say ‘fail fast and move forward’ and ‘You are not what you do, but who you are,’” both resonating with me long after she utters the words, because Silver speaks candidly about her life journey and is direct and authentic.
Though she was raised in an upper middle class family in the South Sound, Silver is unguarded when it comes to the past traumas and dysfunction that often lie beneath the surface of the facades we create. She weaves through conversations of trials and tribulations, victories, motherhood and recovery and admits that she is “living proof of recovery” and that sometimes “telling the truth felt like a betrayal.”
Having been raised by a conservative banker, she began working at Frank Russell right out of high school and spent the following 18 years climbing the up the ranks. It seemed like a natural transition from investments to business ownership, and so Sonja opened a clothing boutique in Tacoma’s Three Bridges District, Sonja-Clothes to Live in. Home of the original “Gritty Tacoman” tees, Sonja specialized in high-quality basics, understated accessory pieces and handmade jewelry that made it all pop. Nearly two decades later, the brick and mortar locale has closed its doors and Sonja continues to help ladies dress to impress by appointment only, using Facebook and soon Instagram to highlight new inventory appropriate for all seasons and occasions.
With all that time dressing women under her belt, she’s a professional at recognizing what a woman wants in a wardrobe and can identify what is both flattering and functional. She sought to fill a void she noticed over the years—finding that perfect coat. She found inspiration from her grandmother and real life hero Olena, saying that the coat was like her grandma in that it was “beautiful, useful, hardworking and had your back.”
With a team of twelve other women, including the likes of local artist Chandler O’Leary and filmmaker Emily Firn, Silver designed and successfully crowdfunded the raincoat prototypes, with approximately 200 in the world now being tested for comfort and functionality.
Sonja doesn’t just dress women, oh no. She tells me, “Community connection—if I had a super power that would be it.” She puts her sense of community connection to work as an ambassador for ladies in our community. Not only a believer that “When women succeed in economy, they do good things in the world,” but a doer when it comes to empowering women to do just that, both to succeed and do good. She’s the founder and facilitator of an online group called Babe-Tacoma. Named not only as a cheeky, girl power moniker, but as an homage to Tacoma philanthropist and icon Babe Lehrer. The vision is to foster a community of female entrepreneurs building connection through collaboration, activism, brainstorming and support.
Each month Babe members are invited to gather in a conference room at local non-profit, NW Furniture Bank, to talk shop from building business, connecting with clients and celebrating victories. Bonus, ladies are encouraged to clear a little clutter at home and bring donatable goods to NW Furniture Bank or even to explore volunteer opportunities there and elsewhere in the community. Further proof positive that Sonja Silver strives to be hardworking and hands on like her real-life heroes, the dreamers, the doers, the volunteers and her Grandma Olena.