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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Style Passport: An interview with fashion retail website entrepreneur Sarah Walter

Retail entrepreneur Sarah Walter has gone from fashion editorial to internet guru. Here she shares the story of her success.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Sarah Walters by Gemma Cotterell
Sarah Walter by Gemma Cotterell.

Style Passport is the brainchild of Sarah Walter, formally a fashion director at Marie Claire, now retail entrepreneur. Realised as a one stop shop for the ultimate holiday wardrobe, Style Passport champions many smaller designers and artisan makers. I caught up with Sarah to find out how she got into the internet business, how her previous career has impacted her work and what she recommends for the ultimate vacation look this season.

Style Passport Matthew Williamson silk print utility dress blue
Matthew Williamson silk print utility dress in blue.

Hi Sarah, I believe I did a short work experience stint in the fashion cupboard when you were still at Marie Claire… what drew you to working in magazines during the first part of your career?
Did you really? How did you find that experience? I too started in a cupboard in a fashion department at Vogue, it still seems to be the only way to break into the business. Why was I drawn to magazines? Well, when I started they were wildly creative with photo shoots taking up 20 pages and really extending the editors’ and photographers’ imagination. Coming from art college this merged my two great loves – art and style – so was the perfect career path for me.

Nicole Fahri by Chloe Douglass
Nicole Fahri Easter patchwork print shirt dress. Illustration by Chloe Douglass.

How did becoming a mother inspire your career swerve into retail?
I experimented in retail just before I had my first daughter and found the whole experience pretty interesting. Not only was I trying to create something interesting to wear but then I got to see if it was actually bought and worn by someone. My daughters became experts in spotting a dress or bag I had created and we all shared the same excitement. It’s pretty addictive actually. Oh, and the pay is generally much better.

Fiona paxton coral and wood necklace £175 style-passport
Fiona Paxton coral and wood necklace.

How has your experience of working on fashion editorials influenced the way that you approach retail?
Creating a story in a magazine has all the same elements as creating a window in a shop or a page on a web site. All need a good idea to start with, then great creative and copy that hooks you in. The fact that more and more editors have left magazines in recent years to move into e-commerce and retail just shows you how blurred these worlds are now, whereas 20 years ago there were distinct barriers. The internet and technology has changed and will continue to change everything.

Style Passport Belize Rajasthan Ombre sequin top charcoal
Cool Change Belize Rajasthan Ombre sequin top in charcoal.

What factors do you consider when looking for a new brand to stock on the website?
Well, we start by thinking ‘Where is she going and what does she need to take with her to ensure she has the easiest and most stylish trip possible?‘ We love colour (we do mostly think of holidays in colour, not black and white, don’t we?), print and items that are easy to fold up, so jersey features strongly and unstructured jackets too. Some brands particularly scream ‘holiday’ like Matthew Williamson and Antik Batik; you can literally imagine yourself on the beach when you see them. We have a broad price architecture too, it’s very much the Fashion Editors‘ choice, so we try to choose what you can get for a reasonable amount of money (Armor Lux bretons for example are perfect, you don’t need to buy a designer version).

Matthew Williamson multi coloured column digital blossom jersey dress by Shy Illustrations
Matthew Williamson multi coloured column digital blossom jersey dress. Illustration by Shy Illustrations.

What have been your most exciting discoveries when hunting down new labels? Are there any particular finds which stick in your mind?
I’m very excited about Visconti & du Reau gladiators which will be on the site in March. Sam and I saw them in Paris and literally dropped everything on the spot.

Matthew Williamson style-passport
Matthew Williamson hat, an exclusive collaboration with Style Passport.

Where do you source your artisanal goods from, and why are these products so exciting to you?
Artisanal goods to me have always been the holiday ‘finds’ which tell the stories of your adventures and create your personal style. They are personal and remind us of the best times in our lives. We find our artisanal items from our own travels and now increasingly, artisans approach us with their goods and we love to find out about them and bring their stories to our customers.

Tam Tam one piece noir swimsuit Style Passport
Tam Tam one piece noir swimsuit and Vida Vida embroidered leather clutch.

How do you balance your stock of expensive high end products with more affordable items?
It’s all determined by our approach to style. Items on the site are there because they are loved and we believe they are worth the money. Sometimes it’s a designer piece that will make all the difference and sometimes a trusted basic or artisanal find. To me, this combination is true style.

Matthew Williamson by Isher Dhiman
Matthew Williamson oversized digital blossom cutout t-shirt. Illustration by Isher Dhiman.

How do you decide which beauty brands to promote on Style Passport?
Again, we try to focus on brands we love which support our travel ethos. We have to have suncream and mosquito spray so our customers really can come to us and get their bag packed in one place.

Style Passport mood board 1
Style Passport mood board.

You’ve spoken of plans to expand the website to include menswear and kidswear – what else would you like to do with Style Passport in the future?
One step at a time! We would love to eventually have our own label associated with the best travel items, so let’s see what happens.

Style Passport mood board 1
Style Passport mood board.

What have been the best and hardest parts of going it alone with your own business?
The best is creating what you want in the way you want to and surrounding yourself with hugely passionate, talented people. The worst is raising money to drive forwards and getting the call at 1am when the alarm goes off in the warehouse.

Style Passport mood board
Putting it all together: Style Passport looks.

Lastly, what are the three most important things to pack: for a hot destination?
1. A scarf that keeps you relaxed on the plane, is nice enough to wear out at night, can be doubled and belted to make a skirt and of course used as a beach coverup or a hair protector…… I can go on about scarves for ever.
2. Great sunglasses. Nothing makes you feel more glamorous and in the mood like these. Plus, after a long journey they cover puffy and tired eyes.
3. Your favourite dress. Dresses are the easiest way to get dressed as most decision making is removed. For me they are the most versatile of items. Very little work is required to take the same dress from a market shop (basket, flats, headscarf) to a dinner (heels, lipstick, ear rings).
Some of my key holiday looks are included in this blog. For S/S 2013 I’d go for a Matthew Williamson blue shirt waister dress, an Indonesian sarong – always a sarong, the gladiators in lizard and neon by Visconti & du Reau and a Seafolly Goddess swimsuit which just fits and improves every body that it is put on. 

And for a winter holiday this season?
A down coat. ADD and Barbour are great. Light, warm and stylish.
Lip salve – the cold really affects your lips. Carmex is the original and best in my view and the yellow pot is very friendly.
Base layers. American Vintage cotton fitted longjohns and roll necks should be the first thing you put on after your underwear.

Thanks Sarah! It’s so interesting to hear from someone who has created a successful retail experience. Do visit Style Passport to discover more great holiday ideas.

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