To celebrate 10 years of Stil Lifestyle we talk to founder Sulaika about her inspirations, motivations & the future of Stil Lifestyle. Sulaika has 3 sons, Louis, Liam & Lucas and lives in the Ashdown Forest.
STIL: Stil Lifestyle is a unique independent offering a full Lifestyle experience. Clothing, beauty and gifting. Many of the labels are European, where did this passion for Europe come from and why so many European labels?
SW: I have always enjoyed a strong relationship with Europe and Switzerland. My mother is Swiss and my sister and I had a typically continental upbringing. We would often visit our grandmother in Paris where we would wear the dresses our mother had made for the trip - she would go to London to choose the fabrics. Even then I loved wearing the beautiful dresses she created and I loved the beauty of the city. I do the majority of the buying for Stil in Paris, there are 5 collections a year - 2 main and 3 pre or resort. I travel to Paris for the four Main collections and do the pre collections virtually. The collections are held in the most exquisite Parisian apartments. A designer may show between 150 and 400 pieces of which I may choose between 20/30 items from each. Paris is also inspiring to me, when I travel abroad it’s the only time I will look in other stores for inspiration.
STIL: How do you choose the labels that grace the rails of Stil?
SW: I have a passion for true and authentic craftsmanship in clothing. We have never offered fast fashion. In general, we sell with the intention that the purchaser will keep the clothing or pass it on when tired of it. Many of our dresses are hand block printed, hand embroidered - a lot of the knitwear is made by hand, the difficulty of course is that not everyone is fortunate to have the budget and for that reason we do have some lower priced labels. Clothing must feel and look aesthetically beautiful - it must be timeless, not fashion. The beauty we offer again is timeless - beauty brands come and go so quickly these days, Susanne Kaufmann is one of the few that has stood the test of time. Everyone loves it both for their personal use and also for gifting. Seed to Skin is hand crafted at the Borgo Santo Pietro. Our Home & Gift edit is carefully chosen. Trudon is the oldest candle maker in the World and there is no better candle.
STIL: What are your views on sustainability within the industry?
SW: Many of our labels now use Vertical Factories - ie the entire process of making the garments is done in one place with locally sourced fabrics rather than shipping from one city or even country to another for the various components. There is also a misconception for many - buying fast fashion ie TK Maxx and the likes - people may buy several items within their annual budget but the poor quality will fast become landfill...buy less but choose well and ethically made items. Stil's circular economy - We have been offering pre-owned clothing in our quarterly online sales for the past five years, ensuring that our clothes get the longest life possible.
STIL: Who is the Stil customer?
SW: I adore my regular customers. They are all incredible women and over the years you get to know them quite well - when I buy I’ll often buy with certain customers in mind as a priority. Many of our clients have high-powered jobs, many have found their fulfilment in other ways such as raising children - the common thread is a love of beautiful clothes and honestly they are all genuinely lovely women. During Covid I was overwhelmed by their support, conscious that the business had to close for almost a year on and off, these women carried the business through Covid. The reward of the hard work is seeing their joy in a new collection and when I see them wearing the clothes here or on vacation through pictures they may send. The trade-off for this support is that I must buy well!!! We are bound by a love of all things beautiful.
STIL: Why is the shop only open 3 days a week?
SW: Firstly, from October 1st until the end of December we will be open Wednesday through to Saturday as we welcome Natasha on board….but, most of our offering is imported and since brexit importing and the daily problems it brings has become time intensive, and Stil is an online business - we ship Worldwide. We don’t have an army of staff, so the days we are not open is when the business happens. We do offer personal shopping appointments on Tuesday's. The business offers a very personal service with the customers needs at the forefront. Whilst the online is time intensive, the heart of the business is the store and it’s our regular customers who keep the physical shop doors open. I hope they know how valued they are.
STIL: How do you see the future of retail?
SW: Countrywide the high street is literally ‘hanging on in there’ - having a business I see so clearly that these shops are there by the grace of your spending. 100%, that’s it. I think people underestimate the power of shopping local. If you love having a high street wherever you live, use it. Where we are in Forest Row we have the best loyal local customers but the majority of our customers travel to us, from London, from Surrey, generally from a 1-2 hour radius. Customers rightly want an lovely experience when shopping and businesses have to offer that and more to have any chance of competing with online. Virtual shopping cannot give the same level of service and for that reason hopefully independents will survive.
STIL: What are your views on Social Media?
SW: A necessary evil for most businesses. It enables us to reach women the World over, I have a love hate relationship with it. It’s amazing to be able to make virtual friends with women all over the world and without Social we would not have the online presence. We sell and make connections through it, it’s integral to the business. My sister and I grew up without a TV so I do find all this screening slightly overwhelming. A personal thought - #womensupportingwomen #blm #bekind etc - If everyone were those ‘hashtags’ there would be no need to hashtag!! Just do and be those things!
STIL: Over the past 10 years Stil has supported both Water Aid & UNHCR, why have these events been so important to you?
SW: If you are in a position to do anything to help/ support others in any way it should be natural to do so, the business has given me that platform….this Christmas we will be donating our archive clothing to women in the UK who are in need, refugee or otherwise.
STIL: How do you see the future of Stil?
SW: I have grown the business organically for the past ten years and am still as passionate about it now as I was at the beginning. There are other things I would like to do and achieve - at some point in the future the business will change hands I'm sure. I feel the business is very much still in it's infancy.
STIL: What do you do in your down time?
SW: Being self employed there is no such thing! - Sundays. Sunday's are best when my son's visit ( my youngest is still at home ) and we enjoy some time and a meal together. Other than Sunday I don’t have days off, I look at the days I am in the shop as day’s off, being with the customers. The running of the business happens when the shop is closed.
STIL: Inspirational women in your life?
SW: Many women inspire me. My main source of inspiration is my mother, she is an incredible woman. She founded a very successful school - very demanding whilst we were growing up and she continues to inspire at aged 80 - she has written two books, loves to travel and is still involved with the school. My sister is incredible, she has her own genuinly sustainable label Studio Wylder and also a tea business. The women in our Editorial section - these women are all inspirational to me for different reasons - and they have all given their time to support Stil with their contribution. My best friend inspires me, my regular customers are all inspiring women and it's this inspiration I take when I go to Paris.
STIL: What is your style tip for Stil customers?!
SW: Don't be afraid to try new styles and listen - when people compliment you, accept it…..oh and this is controversial but dress for yourself!! Not to disrespect partners but sometimes they need to be taught what’s beautiful!! It’s not necessarily tight or short!! Still true - less is more….if you are wearing a printed dress/ ruffles etc then keep the jewels simple. If you use a stylist/ colourist, don’t be afraid to step outside of their suggestions - there are different shades of every colour ie ‘navy does not suit me’ it depends which shade!
STIL: What is your beauty routine?
SW: I am fortunate to be surrounded by the best products. At the moment I am using Dr. Jackson's cleanser, I love Susanne kaufmann's Nourishing Rich Cream, it's both day and night and is deeply nourishing and firming. The label's Enzyme Exfoliator I cannot be without, it keeps my skin clear and smooth. I can't bathe without her Bath Oil and her natural deodorant is a must. Seed to Skin's Black Magic Face mask is akin to having a facial at home. I use this twice a week and it is quite simply the best face mask I have ever used.
STIL: A favourite mid-week meal?
SW: Black bean chili with salad from Plawhatch or the Seasons - I have never been keen on meat and have never eaten dairy but I love a piece of fresh grilled fish in Greece - we are very fortunate to have great locally grown produce here in the Ashdown Forest.
STIL: Favourite holiday destinations?
SW: It's difficult to leave the business, generally I can only go once a year for a week. Mark and the boys tend to ski at Christmas or easter when the shop is at it’s busiest, occasionally at Easter I can join them, ( those who know me well know I love the challenge of a black run!! )....in reality I excell at the Apres Ski! Then in the Summer we will go to either the South of France where my sister and I went as children or more lately to Symi in Greece with friends. Pedi Beach bar does the best Mojito's!
STIL: Is there an item of clothing you dream of?
SW: Yes! A Loretta Caponi silk-satin chemise! A thing of beauty and I'm sure I'd sleep better in one!
STIL: Favourite time of year?
SW: Christmas. I love it. Twinkly lights, carols and my family.
STIL: Something not many people know about you?
SW: I’m an introvert and very socially awkward!!
STIL: Stranded on a desert Island, what would you take?
SW: Easy…..Avocados and bananas!...Which I would sit and consume in a beautiful dress.
STIL: Final words?
SW: I think we should all aspire to do something new each year - I aspire to playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano! More importantly, if you have something to give, give it, if you can help or support someone, anyone, in any way at all, do it.