When I discovered Szyjemi Sukienki a little over a year ago, it quickly became one of my favorite shops. The dresses fit my style to a T – so much that I ordered my wedding dress from there. The shop is Polish, and the mastermind behind it is Marta Stąpor, whom I was more than curious to find out more about.
Kittenhood: Was fashion design something you always wanted to do? What’s your background?
Marta: I always had a sewing machine at home, and I would sew for my dolls when I was just a kid – and for myself a bit later – but I really never planned on doing it professionally. It was just a means of having something nice and different to put on, without spending a fortune. I had a thing for fashion but never treated it as anything more than a way of expressing myself. I finished cinema and media studies and went on working a full-time job as an interactive designer for big internet companies.
“Seeing women smiling while putting on their dream dress is IT for me!”
It took me six years to realize it’s not for me. Not just that job – any regular job. I need to be working on my own, making my own rules, being responsible for my own successes and failures – I don’t enjoy feeling comfortable and safe while having no real influence on what I do every day. So I quit and started trying to turn my hobby into something bigger. It wasn’t until after making that decision, that I realized seeing women smiling while putting on their dream dress is IT for me.
K: When did you know you were ready to take it to the next level and start selling your clothes?
M: There was never a point at which I felt ready! I just really couldn’t do what I was doing anymore. So it was more taking chances than thinking things through. It could’ve not worked out just as well.
K: From what I gather, Szyjemy Sukienki means “we sew dresses”. It’s very straight-forward and simple. What’s the story behind this name?
M: I thought the simple, descriptive name would be the best – everyone knows what we do, there are no misunderstandings. And I’m no fashion designer – I never thought of myself as one. The whole point is to sew a nice dress. We don’t have seasonal collections or special lines. What we put first is good craftsmanship, not art. A simple name goes much better with our identity as a company.
K: Can you take us through your creative process a little? What’s the journey a dress goes through from inspiration to customer?
M: It’s never been easy for me to pinpoint the line between something that is inspiring and something that’s not. Literally anything can be an inspiration. Sometimes a movie, an article, a picture, someone on the street. Sometimes just a pattern on a sidewalk. But usually, it starts with the fabric. I see it, I touch it and most of the times I just know what it’s going to become. After that, I make a sketch. I’m not a very good illustrator, but I’m lucky to work with amazing tailors who understand my scribbles and are able to transform them into real dresses. When a prototype is ready I try it on personally and we make any necessary adjustments. Then it goes to a constructor, who translates it to a form understandable to any professional, including sizes and any variations. In the meantime, I find and order everything else that lacks – haberdasheries, linings etc. Then we have all the pieces to start sewing.
K: What’s the artistic scene like in Poland these days?
M: Polish artists are very talented and enterprising. A lot of them have big careers abroad, we have some widely recognizable fabric, fashion and accessories designers, a lot of gifted art and fashion critics (a new French Vogue chief fashion editor is actually Polish). There’s also many artists and designers who undertake fashion projects here in Poland! I’d say the artistic scene, at least when it comes to fashion, is very animated, interesting and still growing and maturing.
K: Why do you think it’s important for people to buy handmade?
M: It may sound boring, but sustainability is more important now than ever. We – as a planet – cannot keep on doing things the way we are doing them. It’s becoming more and more crucial to do things in a responsible way. And that means buying ethically made products.
K: Do you wear your own designs?
M: Of course! I’d feel like a fraud if I didn’t. That’s the way I usually begin working on a dress – by asking myself if I would wear it or – if I was to go to a – let’s say – party – what would I like to wear the most. I have so many dresses in my wardrobe I can’t even count them. I love dresses!
K: Do you have an all-time favorite piece from your shop? Is it different from what customers order the most?
M: Not really – I tend to fall in and out of love with my dresses. With some designs, I have what you call a “complicated relationship”. So I don’t have an all-time favorite but a lot of temporary crushes that frequently come back. As for the customers – we have three or four absolute bestsellers that seem to be timeless, rain or shine. It’s the most classic cuts and colors, which look great with different accessories and on various occasions and never go out of style.
K: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about owning a small business?
M: The costs. Moneywise, timewise, stress-wise. If you really care about something – and I so do – you put all your heart in it, and sometimes there is none left for anything else. Don’t get me wrong – I love it and it’s very rewarding, but it’s also exhausting, physically and mentally. I work much more than I used to as an interactive designer, and harder. But I would never switch back.
The more tangible cost is the money. How much it costs to produce a dress when every little thing is done ethically, employing best tailors full-time, using best materials, paying taxes. Some customers – and it’s understandable – compare our prices to chain stores and think we’re just greedy, while in real life we have much lower margins and incomparably higher costs. I’m sure that’s true for small businesses in many branches, but fashion is an extreme example. So what we need to do is educate a lot.
K: Would you do things any differently if you started Szyjemy Sukienki today?
M: If I had experience and knowledge I have now, of course I would. But that’s not possible, so I just focus on the future every day. I still have so many dresses in my head!