Stiall (pronounced Steel) is to strip back in Irish.
“Stiall’s approach is one of guidance without guilt, proving the accessibility of sustainable fashion, for you, me and anyone else ready to question the source of their sartorial collections.”
“Ethics Meets Aesthetics” is the proclamation of brand new online store Stiall and its founder, Linda Conway. The site started with content, producing educational information packaged in an editorial style, a form of communication which is native to the stylist, fashion editor and creative director.
Stiall’s approach is one of guidance without guilt, proving the accessibility of sustainable fashion, for you, me and anyone else ready to question the source of their sartorial collections. Accessibility is a major theme of the movement, primarily out of necessity. If it does not appeal to the masses, then how can it move forward past the stereotype of hemp fabrics and holier than thou types?
Secondly, it comes from Conway’s own relationship with fashion, one which has come through the fast and furious before returning full circle. With a flourishing career to date in the fashion industry, Conway makes something of a counterintuitive move in a bid to move forward.
“I guess I was always creative, so Art College was the natural next step for me after school. Or, so I thought. A year in and I realised that I definitely did not want to be a designer. While I was sure I wanted to work in fashion, I just couldn’t see myself in that arc. I left Limerick after a year, studied elsewhere and got advanced into the final year of DIT Visual Merchandising and Display. From there I started interning and styling, after that I freelanced for a period and then got offered the job as Fashion Editor of Stellar.”
Conway lists off her credentials with ease and, more noticeably, without any moans of the hardship or, more accurately, the heavy-lifting that goes along with a stylist’s gig.
“Everything was quite linear,” she says as she recalls her path to fashion editor. “Things were constantly progressing. But when I landed the job in Stellar, though I was delighted, I did fear reaching a plateau.”
Fears of this plateau undoubtedly came from Conway’s age. Taking on the job at just 23, she was undoubtedly one of the youngest in a position as such at that time. Still, age aside, she thrived, and continues to do so today. And, just for her sins, she decided to continue her path of constant progression.
“I started a Masters in LCA studying Fashion Branding and Luxury Management.” Making work for already active thumbs, it was within her masters that Conway’s interest in ethics and sustainability in fashion was really sparked.
“Studying the subject really opened my eyes and helped me to solidify a new approach to fashion which employed a mantra of buying less and wearing more. In college I absolutely loved fast fashion. I always adored the idea that I could get so much for so cheap. A new outfit for every night out, basically.
“This naturally started to slow down when I started working, interning and paying sky-high rent rates in Dublin. I realised I needed to purchase better, longer lasting pieces and, what I did buy, I needed to love. My shopping habits changed.”
As she reached the end of her Masters, Conway found she wanted to start something new. A change of heart and habits had her ready to progress once more. On a personal level, fast fashion started to slip into the background. Professionally, however, she found it still took centre stage.
“While I was developing Stiall, at times, I felt like a total traitor. I would be working on a way to educate people on the benefits of sustainability, and, at the same time, I would be writing for the magazine or presenting on TV, a segment on fast fashion. It felt almost backhanded but in the end it actually helped me to pinpoint the tone necessary for Stiall.
I came to realise that sustainability is totally achievable for everybody and needs to be communicated that way. People often put sustainable fashion on a pedestal, they think it is totally unattainable and that there is this glare about it. There is the massive misconception that it is all made from hemp and that, if you’re not vegan too, you shouldn’t even bother with it.”
Quashing the nay-sayers and cluing in the newbies, she instructs that, “It is just a matter of really questioning your purchases. Being more considerate with your wears.”
“And,” she adds with gentle defiance, “finding out just where those wears are coming from.”
A possible sink-in-the-stomach moment for all readers: where are my clothes coming from? This guilt which surrounds your garb is nothing new but is something which can be, thankfully, avoided.
Starting with education, something that Stiall readily supplies.
“Stiall,” explains Conway, “is to strip back in Irish.” And that’s exactly her mission, bringing things back to basics and creating a sustainable space, accessible to everyone.
“It’s all about spreading information and ensuring that everyone can get involved, rather than holding on to this idea of it being an unattainable thing. What I created is a place where people can click onto, get involved, find out about cool brands and get a light education on the matter.”
Knowledge is power but nothing without action. The Stiall 30 Day Challenge is an initiative started by Conway which challenged women and men to choose just 30 items from their wardrobe and wear them for 30 days. A shopping ban was also put in place for the time period.
“I actually had done with my own wardrobe first to see if it was doable. It was and from there I promoted the initiative onsite and started using a hashtag to follow those getting involved.”
“The response was amazing,” Conway exclaims. “People from all over Ireland got involved, then in America and even in Dubai. It got a lot of traction on Instagram, but honestly it wasn’t really about that; instead, I was just so glad to see a whole host of different people connect with it. Even women who are not necessarily interested in social media would write to me to let me know that they are doing it in their own way, in their own time.”
Time is something of the essence for Stiall and Conway. While the site originally launched in the summer earlier this year, plans of going down the E-commerce route came earlier than expected.
“The idea to stock and sell ethical brands onsite was always there, but I had envisioned it for somewhere later down the line. I had thought that when I launched the site I would assess the situation in six months and go from there. However, as everything took off, readers really started to engage with it. I had a lot of people coming to me saying, “I really want to start shopping more ethically but I no idea where to start.” The market suddenly appeared in front of me so I went for it.”
Laughing, she says, “I was already doing a mini buy of ethical wears for myself in my head, so I said screw it, I’ll start shop. The time felt right.”
Stiall opened its cyber doors on the 17th of October this year. Conway explains the store:
“Right now we have 8 brands. The brands in question are chosen for their ethics but that does not mean that their aesthetic is in anyway compromised either. Some brands’ policies are incredible but don’t meet the standard of style that Stiall adheres to. We employ a middle ground, where both criteria are met: look and longevity.
“To date, one of the most enjoyable things about setting up the shop was the information made available to me from each of the brands. They have been able to send me every statistic that I asked for: a garment’s entire life cycle, from when the cotton seed was picked to when it was sewn to who was the last person to handle it in shipping. It’s so empowering to know this.”
Knowledge is power but nothing without action. So that is exactly what Conway is doing, taking action and packaging it up in the glossy, guilt-free shopping experience of Stiall.
To find out more go to stiall.com
Words: Sinead O’Reilly
Assisted by Sinead O’Reilly
Hair by Katie Culleton
Make-up by Donna Morris for Make-up Forever
Model, Kamile from I Am Models