Kind, humble and quiet achievers would be how we would describe Byron Bay based womenswear label St. Agni. Founded by husband and wife duo Lara and Matt Fells, the brand originally made a name for themselves with their cult leather woven sandals. They have since developed into an all encompassing offering driven by the need to create functional, refined and quality pieces that women want to wear each and every day.
We chat to co-founder and designer Lara about how the brand got started, her personal style journey and how living in the coastal town of Byron Bay affects how they build their business.
Have you always lived in the Byron area, if not can you tell us about your journey to live and build a business here? How has living in this part of Australia, away from bigger cities impacted your brand and designs?
I moved to Byron Bay at 21 with my now husband Matt. We had met two years earlier when he was traveling Australia from the UK. I had grown up in Tasmania and for most of my childhood I felt isolated living on an Island. My plan had always been to leave as soon as I had finished school and go to Melbourne - the thought of living in a city excited me.
After meeting Matt we spent two years traveling between the UK and Tasmania before deciding to move to Byron Bay, a dreamy place we visited together. We put everything we owned in our car and drove up to build our lives here.
We started St. Agni when I was 24. Matt and I were both managing retail store and had a desire to do our own thing. Looking back, we really didn't have any idea what we were getting ourselves into, but I think perhaps that naivety combined with our drive is what made it work.
Although we are tucked away in a little coastal town I am drawn to dressing in neutral colours for the city and the coast. When moving here, I adapted what I would want to wear if I lived in a city to be more relaxed, and that is ultimately the St. Agni ethos. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, we have the best of both worlds in Byron with our business whilst being surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
St Agni has a beautiful minimal aesthetic, have you always been drawn to this way of dressing? We would love to hear the story about how you found your personal style.
I think the foundation of my style would have to be from my Mum, she likes very classic shapes and isn't trend focused. She only really wore black & white and I think I adopted my minimalistic palette from her. As a young child my favourite colours would be navy blue or white, I was never a girly girl obsessed with pink and purple. Looking back my style hasn't really changed much over the years, of course there is the odd outfit that I would never wear now, but the thought process behind how I pair pieces back still resinates with me.
Starting out as a shoe label, St Agni has transitioned into apparel. Was that always the plan, and how did you know you were ready to make this transition?
In 2015 we moved into our first commercial space, a two-story warehouse - upstairs was our office and warehouse and downstairs became our showroom. When we merchandised the shoes and accessories into the space it felt cold and empty to me and so I designed a small clothing collection to fill the store and make the space more interesting. Our customers responded really well to it, so we did another collection and it kept evolving from there.
The St Agni umbrella has expanded to now include two stores, a holiday rental apartment, creative gallery space and cafe. As you build out the brands story with new experiences, are there more expansions on the horizon you’re able to share?
Building Soko Space (@soko_space) was such an amazing project to work on. I really love the space and it’s so lovely being able to extend the St. Agni experience for our customers. Our most recent project is Ziah (@_ziah__) , a swimwear label. Erika (our Head Designer at St. Agni) started Ziah five years ago and we stocked the swimwear in our stores. Erika and I have been working together on St. Agni for two years, so it felt only natural to bring into St. Agni and build the brand together.
Who do you think about when you design your pieces, who are some of your favourite St Agni muses?
We are inspired by all women, it’s in the details, like how she folds the cuff of her pants or how she layers a blazer over another.
Why is it important to you to use biodegradable fabrics? Do you believe all brands should be following this practice?
I love using natural fabrics, it's something that has always been at the forefront of our design process. They are sustainable, breathable and I find they age beautifully. Personally I wouldn't invest something synthetic, I don't like the feel of it on my body. It's always such a shame when you see a beautiful design made in a synthetic fabric, it could have been so much more beautiful. There are some details you can’t achieve with natural material, so I understand why designers are drawn with working with synthetics.
Owning your own business with a young family can be a balancing act, what are some key learnings you can share that might help others going through a similar journey?
Working and being a Mother is a balancing act. I think it’s important to try and not to be too hard on yourself. Everything can be so busy, it's really important to try and find small pockets of time for yourself, simply going for a walk or meeting a friend for a child-free coffee can make all the difference.
What does your dream curated wardrobe include?
I'm a very simple dresser, I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe. I could live with the following key basics.
- Good fitting Jeans
- Neutral blazer
- Black Blazer
- A trench
- A few quality tee's in Black, Natural & White
- A cotton knitted jumper
- Black high waisted pants
- Black silk slip dress
- A statement top
- Black Sandals
- Black Heels
Sustainability and transparency is really important to the St. Agni brand, where do you go for inspiration and knowledge on the topic of sustainability in fashion?
Sustainability is a subject I’m consistently learning more about, our whole team is really passionate and always searching for ways we can improve or do things better. We're also really lucky to have a very vocal following who will let us know if they think there is a better way of doing something. For me it is about being responsible in your choices and making every choice with the planet in mind.
This year has been quite different to how we imagined it. What have been some of your biggest learnings from 2020?
This year has been a wild ride - I think above all it has taught me to slow down, and to be grateful for everything we have.