I quit shopping, perhaps I have mentioned this once, maybe twice since Christmas. Some would say I talk a lot about it, having effectively martyred myself at the alter of sustainability. How many times can you possibly use the word “sustainability” in a year I hear my friends moan… If the year in question is 2019 the answer will almost certainly have 6 figures in it. One Stacey Dooley documentary prompts the premature retirement of my debit card and suddenly obsessed with the evils of commercial fashion. Though I live with a slight fear of sounding like a broken record, and a boring one at that, I can’t help myself. This is a conversation we should all be having, because there is something inherently wrong within this industry I have loved for so long and so deeply. The world we live in is crumbling, and our unhealthy shopping habits are at least partially responsible.
Stalf is a brand for whom sustainability is the bedrock of its identity. There was a time, many years ago when patterns where cut and garments stitched in house, when customers treasured each item because even those with larger budgets possessed modest wardrobes by todays standards. Garments and fabrics required both skill and labour to produce, and as such were designed to last. Tailors and dressmakers were to be found on every high street and as a rule these were family run businesses. My gran worked for her father in such a shop in her native Northern Ireland. She worked alongside her best friend, an accomplished seamstress. She was a talented singer who was allowed to sing only in church. My great grandfather, mistrustful of the music industry deemed dressmaking a far more respectable career for a woman. By all accounts she found the whole thing unspeakably dull and eventually left to marry my Grandpa. In contrast, for me this is perhaps the dream.
Stalf takes its name from its founders own grandparents, Stella and Alf. Paris, the founder writes a charming introduction to them on the about page of her site. “They were part of a generation who didn’t just wear clothes once” and that is an ethos she shares. Make no mistake, though relatively new, with a young team and a modern aesthetic. This is a heritage brand with its roots firmly in the Lincolnshire soil on which Paris was raised. From her pink hued studio in the Lincolnshire wolds Paris and her team produce capsule collections with only passing reference to season or trend. From design to production and marketing, it is all done in house and if you follow them on Instagram it is clear they have more than a little fun whilst conducting the serious business of fashion.
Design led basics, referred to as “easywear” in natural fabrics and an ice cream palette as well as practical black and navy, with the odd Breton stripe thrown in for good measure offers a strong and practical aesthetic. From florists to photographers and food stylists, I know so many people who wear the cocoon jumpsuit like a uniform. Stalf the brand was created as the antithesis to commercial fashion, the industry that gave Paris her start. In spite of this credence and its rural location, a world away from London or Paris (the city not the girl) Stalf has amassed many notable and fashionable devotees. Each piece is designed to slot into your existing wardrobe, mixed and matched with other Stalf pieces or worn alone. The fabrics are largely soft cottons and Irish linen with seasonal additions of velvet and deliciously textured wool. The garments, comfortable, flattering and accessible to a variety of shapes and sizes are unmistakable in their provenance. If you follow Stalf on Instagram you will notice they photograph pieces on a wide variety of women, and the odd man, this is an inclusive brand that doesn’t feel the need to shout about it.
Stalf the brand seems to go from strength to strength built on traditional principles with a sustainable ethos at its heart, and It is the heart of this business that makes it so utterly beguiling. From their website to their studio it is welcoming, inclusive and aesthetically pleasing. As a customer this is something you really feel you can buy into.
The tide is changing in the wake of that Stacey Dooley’s documentary about “fashion’s dirty secrets”. Recent revelation’s about Philip Green only cement this idea of a dark underbelly in commercial fashion. We as consumers are being forced to consider the impact our excessive consumption has on both the environment and our psyche.
When I talk about the bad practice and problematic business model that feeds our high street I am inevitably confronted with my perceived privilege. People immediately assume to buy ethically you must be rich. I am definitely not rich, although I have been known to spend my rent money on a pair of shoes before now. conscious consumerism isn’t dictated by salary. I was called out online recently for being elitist in my approach “I love fashion but I can’t afford this” came the cry. At £120 a Stalf jumpsuit is perhaps 10 x the price of the Primark version. With stagnant wages and astronomical rent’s as standard in the UK this is not insignificant. However, worn 3 times a month for a year, the jumpsuit costs less than £3.50 per wear, and believe me when I say, you will have this piece in your wardrobe for far longer than a year. Unlike the high street version, these pieces are designed to wash and wear and in turn be worn for years to come. Recently people have told me they treasure their Primark purchases, often for years, and though that may be true. Ultimately a business with such low price points and questionable working practices survives on the idea that fashion is a highly consumable, disposable commodity.
A business like Stalf relies on the loyalty of its customers, who ultimately buy less, but talk a lot about their exemplary customer service, quality product, transparent working practices and short supply chain. The Stalf customer perhaps has a smaller wardrobe (present company accepted), because they realise that 300 £3 t shirts will likely never be worn, and certainly never be loved to the same degree as one more considered purchase. If, like me you already possess an extensive wardrobe, a Stalf piece will slide seamlessly into it. A Primark T-shirt looks great under a cocoon jumpsuit. At the end of the day, wouldn’t it be great if we were all a bit more Stalf?