A very special Unique Women Unique Story to finish off the year - an interview with Christina Stephens’ Founder Jessie Sadler and the inspiration behind the namesake, her Mum, Christine. Grab your cuppa and settle in - it’s jam packed with sentiment, salacious stories and seriously good insight to how the Christina Stephens brand came to be.
Christine could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
C- I am retired. My interests include skiing, outdoor activities such as hiking and individual sports. I enjoy gardening, and I like travelling a lot! This year I managed to drive to Cairns and travel in Queensland which was enjoyable, something a bit different.
What are some of the things you’ve missed through CoVid?
C - Travelling and my American friends. Our communication is now just through the phone or Zoom. I miss them and skiing in the States.
How long have you been skiing for?
C - I started late. I was 38 when I learnt to ski, but from then on every year I’ve skied.
J – She is a pretty good skier.
Jessie do you ski?
J - I do. We went skiing together when I was young in the States and now in Thredbo where my kids are also learning to ski. It was a “chick thing” until Louis was born so we are hoping he will be part of the ski team too.
Christine can you tell me how Jessie told you she was naming her business after you and her father, and how that felt?
C – She didn’t! It took me a while to figure it out. I was pronouncing the name and thinking, that’s a nice, sophisticated name. I didn’t know it was related to me.
Yes, because you’re a Christine. Where did Christina come from?
J – I just thought it made it flow better with Stephens. My dad’s name is Stephen. Neither of them picked it up. It was a month or two into it all and they both said, “that’s my name!!!”. Derrrrrr!
Jessie can you tell me about the moment you actually named your business. Where were you and how did it come to you?
J – It’s not a very romantic story. I was in my office and I was getting the collection and my business ideas together. I had worked on a previous business in this field as a start up and the name that I was using just wasn’t sitting right with me. I found it condescending and patronising to the customer. I wanted a label that reflected a more, fashionable, sophisticated brand, like Marc Jacobs or one of my favourite classics, Mela Purdie. I also wanted a business name that was personal and special to me. So, it was either my children or my parents. The kids just lucked out on this one.
Christine one of the biggest drivers behind the Christina Stephens brand is to help women with disabilities feel confident. This genuine attitude of wanting to help people is clearly a part of who Jessie is. Is this something you have worked hard to instil in your children?
C – I don’t know if it is. I think it’s more that some people are born with different values, or behaviours, or leanings is probably a better word. I think this is something that Jessie has always had, probably more so than me. I’d like to take more credit for it, but I think this is all Jessie.
Jessie talks about you being a fashionista. Can you tell me why you like fashion so much and a bit about your style?
C - My style in my mind is fairly easy. But now as I get older, I like to keep it a little bit edgy being mindful of my age. So instead of going for the florals, I like to get a little colour, but focus more on the detail. I think style reflects a person’s personality.
Do you have a piece of clothing in your wardrobe that you don’t wear but you can’t throw out?
C – I do. I spent a huge amount of money on it, I don't even want to tell you how much. A boho dress I bought to wear to Jessie's wedding. When I put it on, I thought “No don’t do that”. It’s still got the label on it; I just can’t throw it out. It is beautiful. If I were 30 years younger, it would have been great, but it just doesn't do anything for me.
Jessie what is the most hideous piece of clothing you own, but you cannot throw it out.
J - Firstly, can I see that Boho dress? I’m 30 years younger!!!
J - I think it would be my special green and purple sequin mini dress. A dress that was paired with a pair of purple latex, knee high platform boots and a lolly pink wig. I bought it for my best friend's 40th. He had a dress up party. I think it is a bit sentimental and a bit too groovy, yet hideous….but also too awesome to throw out.
What is the best thing you have ever bought for yourself?
J – It would be my opal ring. It’s the first piece of ‘special’ jewellery that I’ve bought for myself. Outside of an engagement ring or a wedding ring, that was given to me.
C – A grey suit. I wore it for about 10 years. I could not part with it. It wasn't expensive, it just fitted right in all the right places.
J – We both wore it though. I wore that grey suit to my nan’s funeral. We’ve always dressed pretty similar (in the most part).
Jessie told me about a story where you once went shopping together and when you were finished you realised you were both wearing the same outfit. Does this happen a lot?
J - It could potentially happen a lot, but these days we talk and plan around it to try prevent it from happening.
C - We have similar tastes in a lot of clothes. I think that they end up looking a bit different on us, because of the way we wear them. We kind of have this joke that if one of us saw a pair of shoes, we would buy two pairs because the other person was bound to like them. We definitely have the same items in our wardrobes.
J - That story is particularly funny because we'd spent the day shopping in Melbourne together. We got in a lift to go back up to our hotel room and we went “Gosh we’re good. We did a whole day of shopping and we didn't come back with a single double up.” The lady sharing the lift just started laughing at us because we were both wearing brown boots, a pair of jeans, a white top and a black jacket. And we hadn’t realised until she pointed it out.
Jessie, did you get your style from your mum? And is that where your design inspiration for the first collection came from?
J - I think I formed my own. I went through a very hippie tie dye bohemian stage for a long time. And now I think my style is probably a lot more simple.
C - I think the catalyst for you was when you went overseas to live in Italy and came back with a definite Milanese style, or influence.
What was that style?
J - More attention to detail on what I was wearing. A bit more sophisticated than cargo shorts and a shirt!
J – Mum had a big influence on the collection because it was originally designed for people of mum's age and who had similar tastes and fashion. People who wanted versatility and good quality fabrication. When I was working through the iterations of samples, I would always test them on mum and she would either freak out and go “no way”, or “this is good”. So that was extremely helpful to have her by my side to help me set the bar of high standards.
C – I was more of a critique agent. My biggest focus has always been on the quality of fabrics and what you’re going to do with them after.
Is there something you wanted to see in the collection, but it didn't happen?
J - I wanted to see magnetic closures, but upon investigation and a lot of feedback, it takes a lot of work to get that right. Also depending on who your market is, there is a big population amongst the disability community who cannot wear magnetic closures because of their medical condition. So that was probably the main reason I didn't pursue that for the first collection.
Jessie what is the fondest memory of your mum?
I had made a mistake and I was very upset that I'd made the mistake, and I told her about it. I was quite shaken up by it. Her response was simple and that “I'll always have your back”.
Was there something your mum did when you were younger that you swore you'd never do? But since, you’ve done it?
J - I think I've learnt a lot of what NOT to do.
J - When I was 13, I put a light shade of auburn through my hair, DARK brown hair. Hair dyeing was against school rules. Before I could get to school the next day to get in trouble, mum had written them a letter (or called I guess) to notify them that I was turning up with slightly coloured hair. So, they were on the lookout and when I was caught I was instantly given a Wednesday afternoon detention. I think I might be a little more subtle in my approach to my kids doing something similar. Yesssiim!
Christine, what is the most trouble Jessie has ever gotten into?
C - I think there's levels here. I think there is a lot I don't know about! I wouldn’t say trouble, but there was a time I was concerned. It was when she was traveling around Asia on her own when she was 20. We didn't see her for months, and I can remember thinking, “I don’t like this.” I would never say anything to her about that at the time, because I knew it was an important, right of passage thing for her to do. But I still didn’t like it!
C - “Trouble” maybe when she got a tattoo when she was 17 in high school. I like it now, but at the time I was horrified.
What is your proudest moment as a parent of Jessie?
C - I think right now, doing what she is doing with Christina Stephens, it's amazing.
What have you learned about life that you think is important and why?
C - Probably to become less judgmental about my family. As in not needing to guide them or help them, and letting them make their own choices. I think it’s been the case of learning that my children are adults.
J – Something I’ve learnt that’s important, but I don’t necessarily do it all the time - to be in the present, in the moment, and stop planning for EVERYTHING. Enjoy the sun while it’s out.
What are you both looking forward to in the future?
C - I'm looking forward to saying goodbye to you 2020 and looking forward to 2021. Wishing for an end to the Coronavirus!
J - Yeah, I agree. And for the places that are not as lucky as us at the moment, like the States and Europe to be able to reign it in, that would be awesome.
My mum was the reason I created Christina Stephens and the amazing and influential women who support us is why we created the Unique Women Unique Stories series. Our vision is to provide women living with disabilities and changing bodies with a ‘choice’. A choice in fashion, a choice to be included and a choice to be heard. By shopping with us or even simply sharing our story, you're helping us get another step closer to achieving this. Thank you.