The Women’s Enterprise Ambassador’s project is one of the actions from the Scottish Framework and Action Plan for Women’s Enterprise launched in March 2014. The projects feature stories of the most successful female entrepreneurs in Scotland, and seeks to inspire, motivate, engage and connect with women-led start-up and growth businesses.
New York, London, Paris, Kirkwall – Orkney fashion goes global
It all started at a kitchen table.
But this was no ordinary kitchen table, because for Orkney based fashion designer Kirsteen Stewart, it was at the kitchen table where she first started applying creative magic to her very own business brand.
Back in 2007, Kirsteen’s Kirkwall kitchen table was office, studio, meeting room and creative powerhouse for her fledgling fashion collection. Nowadays, her collections of clothing, knitwear, leather and jewellery can be found in corners of the world even further flung than her own little lump of rock in the very north of Scotland.
Kirsteen Stewart designs are sold in her own Kirkwall studio and shop, along with other lovely pieces by a range of independent designers. But discerning fashionistas across the globe are snapping up items from Kirsteen’s collections as the business goes global.
But long before she entered the fashion fray formally, Kirsteen’s entrepreneurial ambitions were already established. Even as a teenager in Kirkwall, she always knew she wanted to start her own business. Early dabbling in card-making cemented in her business beliefs, as did part-time working for some of Orkney’s family-owned businesses.
Those ambitions combined with a powerhouse work ethic passed on from her parents (not to mention mum’s skills with a sewing machine), and a real passion for art, craft and design, made it inevitable that Kirsteen would go it alone sooner rather than later.
But before her business was born, intrepid adventurer Kirsteen took off from Kirkwall for all stops south. She was bitten by the wanderlust bug, but even then, this extraordinary Orcadian was always committed to returning to her roots to set up stall.
University studies in the north east of England led to stints at three fashion houses in New York, and confirmed her belief that a fashion business can be based anywhere, even on an island community in the far, far north of Scotland, and still trade worldwide.
And she was bang on. From her base in Kirkwall, Kirsteen is taking on the world, and winning. En route she has clocked up an awful lot of air miles travelling with Kirsteen Stewart collections as far afield as China, Japan, France and Australia. She’s only half joking when she says she really needs her own plane!
As a Scottish sole trader with a global profile, Kirsteen has growth plans firmly in her sights. She started trading part-time in 2007, but brand Kirsteen Stewart is now fully fledged, and growing all the time. Already doing her bit for island employment, with 5 employees and numerous outworkers on her books, Kirsteen hopes expansion of her enterprise will continue to help give something back to Orkney, and other parts of the UK.
So, when Kirsteen Stewart says she really believes in creating opportunity for others, whether it’s through her part-time teaching work at Orkney College, working with Fairtrade partners in the third world, or the creation of student placements in her own business, you just know that this belter of a businesswoman is as good as her word.