On Craftsmanship and the Modern Woman, with Sue Stemp of St. Roche

St. Roche

 
Delicate in details, but the St. Roche woman is a free spirit, with her own uniqueness and true values, in a time when femininity is ripe for re-shaping. The St. Roche aesthetic carries something wild beneath its soft exterior. It’s understated femininity, subtle in its power. Their collections focus on clothes made by hand, merging tradition and the craftsmanship of artisans from India and Peru with openness, simplicity, mindfulness and sustainability.

Based in Los Angeles and co-founded by husband and wife team Sue Stemp and Paud Roche, St. Roche is a brand that is sympathetic to global issues without losing sight of the aesthetic side of fashion, committed to fine fabrics that will have a long life, motivated by the desire to conscientiously create timeless designs, and driven by the belief that looking good will prompt customers to make good choices. St. Roche makes a point to encourage women to invest in fewer, well-made, durable pieces, embracing individual style over fast fashion. It is a brand that has grown by feeling and intention, with meaning and care.

In our interview, co-founder Sue Stemp speaks about their vision for the brand, what it is that makes St. Roche different than other sustainable fashion companies, about New York vs Los Angeles for making it in fashion, and Hitchcock.
 

St. Roche

 

If you could capture the essence of St. Roche in one sentence, how would you describe it?

St. Roche is relaxed, artisanal, feminine and free-spirited, unique everyday wear.

Who do you design for? Who is the St. Roche woman?

Our vision is to create beautiful handcrafted clothes designed for a modern woman who cares that what she wears reflects her values and lifestyle.

What does style mean to you personally?

Style is purely personal. Having amazing style is knowing what looks and feels good on you and is as unique and individual as you are.

You use hand printing, embroidery, knitting and handloom weaving in your designs and work with family businesses in India and Peru. In an overly-digitized world, it feels so special to make things with your own two hands. Coupled with an awareness for ethical production and the artistry of local makers, even more so. How did you find these artisans and what have been the biggest challenges and perks of working with them?

I’ve been working in the fashion industry for a long time now and have built up a strong and select network of talented and reliable manufacturing partners. I travel to India at least once a year and work with them directly, I’m very hands-on. This saves so much time, as sometimes ideas and designs can get a little mis-interpreted via tech-packs and it’s a slow development process. Also the face-to-face contact and getting direct input back is invaluable.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the community of craftsmen in India and Peru you are working with?

Generally, the artisans we work with have a traditional craft and skill that they’re proud of, and are open to seeing how this can be modernized and used in a non-traditonal way, and hopefully be profitable to them and their community too. We choose our manufacturing partners in India and Peru very carefully, working directly with them where possible, only working with small factories / family and women run businesses that are ethical and compliant. Our supply chain is short, and I see first-hand how and where our clothes are made. One of our partners, for example, runs a small organic farm and creche alongside his workshop and another started a women’s embroidery collective, paying 3 x the minimum state wage and educating these local workers in an old and regional skill. Sharing a vision with who we work with is a high priority.
 

St. Roche

 

You have been working in fashion for years before founding St. Roche, designing for the likes of Daryl K and Alexander McQueen. The textile industry and its products have shaped the contemporary world more than anything else. The disposal of textile waste is one of the biggest preoccupations we have at the moment. What made you change paths and start on your own, and how do you see the future of fashion? Do you think there is a significatly increased interest in the locally-made, in craftsmanship and mindful shopping or do you think it will take mass action to curb our addiction to mass-produced, cheap products?

The tide is definitely turning. In the last year we’ve seen significant changes within the fashion and textile industry and consumerism towards a more sustainable future. Personally, I hope that the interest in heirloom quality craftmanship and buying less products that last longer will continue to grow. I think people are realising we have to be more responsible and mindful with our choices to protect the planet and its people.

And what do you think is the first thing every individual should do in order to address this issue, any tip that may help someone else just starting out on their sustainable journey?

That any small step you take to being more conscious with the options you have, either as a consumer or a business owner, helps, and will have positive effects.
 
 

”Generally, the artisans we work with have a
traditional craft and skill that they’re proud of,
and are open to seeing how this can be modernized
and used in a non-traditonal way.”

 
 
What do you think is the one thing that differentiates St. Roche from other sustainable fashion brands?

Our original textiles and the handwork. The design references behind each collection range from my British heritage, the influential time both myself and Paud spent in New York and now LA, and global influences from our travels. We have a unique perspective behind our textile designs and artworks, which are sometimes collaborations with likeminded artists. These are then translated as much as possible by hand, by the artisans we work with.
 

St. Roche

 

How have your different backgrounds, your being from England and your husband, Paud Roche, from Connecticut, and having both lived in New York before moving to Los Angeles, informed your designs?

We both have a shared love of travel and textiles, and our global influences have always inspired us and our work.

I once read that “NY is a place for making it. LA is a place for making things.” What are the pros and cons of starting a fashion company in Los Angeles, away from the “fashion capital” of New York?

There’s much more of a fashion community in New York, it’s a more compact city, it’s fast paced, very easy to meet people and get things done. However, from a designer’s point of view I find working in LA more inspiring, we live in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills surounded by nature which is a constant reminder to me to try and build a more sustainable business.

What are the most important takeaways from running your own business?

You really have to be passionate about what you do and single minded about what you believe in. It’s hard work!
 

St. Roche

 

You are an inspiration for designing with purpose. But who and what inspires you on a daily business?

Our children, Kitty and Harmony, are our constant inspiration.

We live in a hectic world and more and more people are trying to go back to basics, to find a balance, to live mindfully. How do you find balance every day? How do you live life as a conscious choice?

Spending quality time with our family and friends is so important to us. Paud loves to cook, we both love music and film, and I like hiking; we try and balance these in our daily schedule as much as possible while running our business.
 
 

”Be passionate about what you do
and single minded about what you believe in. ”

 
 
What is the best film you’ve watched lately? I think this will come in handy for many of us right now.

Now that we’re on lockdown, we’ve been watching countless old classic movies. A few nights ago we introduced our kids to Hitchcock and watched Dial M for Murder. I love Hitchcock. My favorite film I’ve seen at a theatre in the last few months has to be Little Women, it was beautiful.

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

Nature and the fragility of our planet. Anything unique made with thought and not mass-produced.
 

Sue Stemp, co-founder of St. Roche

 

Website and online shop: st-roche.com
Instagram: @st_roche

 
 
More stories: When Art Meets Fashion: Interview with Marguerite Bartherotte / Essential Minimalism: Interview with Fashion Illustrator Sandra Suy / A New Sweden: Interview with Lisa Bergstrand

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