Q&A with Jessie Sadler, Director for adaptive fashion label Christina Stephens

1. You stumbled into starting Christina Stephens; can you tell us about this experience?

The Christina Stephens concept came about after my mum had a fall some years back and damaged her elbows. The injury prevented mum, who has always been very fashion and health conscious, from dressing with ease in her usual classy and understated style. Since then, she has developed arthritis in her shoulders which impacts the ease in which she gets dressed.

After researching the fashion available in the market for style conscious women living with short or long-term physical challenges, I realised there was a social and business opportunity in front of me. 20% of the population live with a disability, yet the proportion of beautiful, quality, and on-trend fashion available, is vastly lacking. Our vision is to not just bridge this gap from a product perspective, but that our mainstream media, marketing, and advertising starts reflecting this new ‘normal’ too.

More recently my son has been diagnosed with autism and as a mum, trying to access clothing and tools to help him, this mission has become even more close to home. The need for fashion-forward, adaptive and inclusive clothing is so real for many families. We want to champion the cause to close this gap in the mainstream fashion market.


2. You were working in the oil and gas industry before you transitioned into the world of fashion. How nervous/excited/anxious/pumped/all of the above were you to make this jump.

I was on maternity leave with my son Louis and fleshed out a competitor analysis, business plan and some designs. I then started bringing them to life but hit a few hurdles by way of partnering with an ‘unsuited’ partner. So, I went back to square one and started again a few times before I clearly understood my vision and brand, and went out alone.

Being on maternity leave reduced the anxiety because I had paid time to consider the plan. Especially considering I wasn’t from the fashion industry, which has always played on my mind – I have business acumen and my own style, but I’ve relied on bringing in experience and talent from the fashion industry to build what we have today.

3. What steps did you take between the eureka moment of starting your business to the first day you opened up (online) shop?

One of the first things I did was to seek experience and expertise in areas where I wasn’t experienced or skilled (for example, lived disability experience, fashion production, patternmaking, fabric production, fashion economics, copywriting, and graphic design).

Then I got going with the things that are my strong suit – the business plan and budgeting. I also made it my mission to talk to as many people that would talk to me about their experiences, their desires, and where they see the adaptive fashion market going. This helped me to really nail my target audience and refine my brand story and purpose – which is an ever evolving beast!

4. What advice did you seek out before starting your own business?

I have an undergraduate degree in commerce, and two postgraduate degrees in law and business, including completing an MBA with The University of Queensland Business School. But real experience is priceless and cannot be undervalued.

5. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. What would you go back and tell yourself when starting out?

Only a handful of new brands kill it overnight. Be patient. Be practical. Be well planned and listen, listen, listen to those who have professional and street cred around you.

You can’t know everything at the start. Be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes and learn along the way. It’s the natural course.

Lose your ego… not your pride. Let others in and listen to them. You get to make the final decision so don’t be anxious about sharing challenges or problems with service providers or staff. They want to help. Only you can let them do that.

6. What advice do you have to others who are thinking of starting their own business outside their industry or area of expertise.

Do it. Nothing is rocket science except for rocket science. When thrown in the deep end we learn quickly. Identify all your transferable skills – there will be many and lean on those. Seek expertise where you have gaps. No one knows EVERYTHING!

7. How are you managing the next stage of your business and growing it across the market?

We are bringing in top talent. We’re also collaborating with those who some would consider to be our competitors. #CommunityOverCompetition. Our aim is to position ourselves as leaders in this sector. Fashion forward and experts (in all the facets of this business).

We are also extending our reach by increasing our wholesale customers globally and have just launched the start of our menswear collections too.


January 27, 2022 — Clare Puki