It all started at a kitchen table in the Northern Isles of Scotland.
For Orkney-based fashion designer Kirsteen Stewart, it was at her kitchen table where she first started indulging her creativity and building what would become a global business.
Back in 2007, Kirsteen’s kitchen table in Kirkwall, Orkney, was office, studio, meeting room and creative powerhouse for her fledgling fashion collection. Fast forward thirteen years and her collections of clothing, knitwear, leather and jewellery can be found in all corners of the world.
Long before she entered the fashion fray formally, Kirsteen’s entrepreneurial ambitions were already established. Even as a teenager in Kirkwall, she always knew she wanted to start her own business. Early dabbling in card-making cemented her entrepreneurial spirit, as did part-time working for some of Orkney’s family-owned businesses.
Those ambitions – combined with a powerhouse work ethic passed on from her parents (not to mention mum’s skills with a sewing machine) – and a real passion for art, craft and design, made it inevitable that Kirsteen would go it alone sooner rather than later.
But before her business was born, intrepid adventurer Kirsteen took off from Kirkwall to indulge her wanderlust bug. Even then though, this extraordinary Orcadian knew she would return to her roots to set up stall.
University studies in the north east of England led to stints at three fashion houses in New York and confirmed her belief that a fashion business can be based anywhere, even on an island community in the far north of Scotland, and still trade worldwide.
And she was bang on. From her base in Kirkwall, Kirsteen is taking on the world, and winning. She has already clocked up some serious air miles, travelling with Kirsteen Stewart collections to destinations as far afield as China, Japan, France and Australia. She’s only half joking when she says she really needs her own plane!
As a Scottish sole trader with a global profile, Kirsteen has growth plans firmly in her sights. She started trading part-time in 2007, but brand Kirsteen Stewart is now fully fledged, and growing all the time.
Thankful to the superb support she has had from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), Kirsteen herself is committed to supporting the development of new talent and potential. She says her younger self had the confidence and foolhardiness to go out there and start a business, and hopes she can encourage others to follow in her fabulous fashion footsteps.
So, when Kirsteen Stewart says she really believes in creating opportunity for others, whether it’s working with Fairtrade partners in the third world, or the creation of student placements in her own business, you just know that this belter of a businesswoman is as good as her word.
My biggest challenge was
“Developing a global fashion business from a remote island is no mean feat. It takes confidence, passion and an incredible work ethic, but the rewards are many and varied.”