Our favorite designer Stine Goya is featured in KINFOLK.
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Day in the Life: Stine Goya
Stine Goya has been a quiet presence in the fashion world for more than a decade—first as a model, then as an editor, now as a designer. Softly spoken and strong-minded, Stine has developed her business thanks in part to her admirable respect for life outside of it.
Stine Goya—Denmark’s redheaded fashion entrepreneur and sweetheart of the ’70s silk pantsuit set—has little trouble commanding attention. Without raising her voice above the decibel level of a murmur, she makes a striking impression. Stine’s been at the helm of her eponymous womenswear line for 10 years and has more than 30 collections under her belt, and though she speaks softly and laughs easily, her demure manner belies a fearsome business acumen. Stine has much to share of what she’s learned about the growth of a healthy business over the last decade and that asking for what you want is no easy task, nor is relinquishing control.
Where are you from?
I grew up in a very small town outside of Copenhagen called Taarbæk. When I was a child, it was just a little fishing village, though it’s grown into a wealthy enclave since then. Taarbæk is close to the sea and dotted with small cottages surrounded by forest. I had a very safe, calm childhood. Everything seemed like it was just around the corner, and we’d take a lot of walks to the harbor to look at the sea. My parents brought me up in a very traditional way.
What is a “traditional upbringing” in Denmark?
My family’s values were very old-fashioned: My parents taught me to take care of myself and to be polite and independent. I was the youngest of six children, and we were all expected to work for our own money and to contribute to the family—to help clean up the table after dinner, that sort of thing.
My parents were reserved, but also open and lively. They had an active social life, and I would go with them when they went out. I never had a babysitter, I just followed along to dinners and sat listening to their voices. They always included me, and I contributed to the family. I try to teach these things to my sons, who are two and five years old.
What other kinds of things from your childhood do you find yourself incorporating into raising your own children?
Of course there are always things you want to do differently, but even so, you often end up doing the same things your parents did. I try to raise my kids with good manners, but I also think it’s important to try to instill a sense of self-confidence and to gently push them into doing things that they’re good at. That’s something my parents have always done for me: They showed me that they believed in me. Even when I chose a direction in life they couldn’t relate to, they remained open to it and never told me to take a more traditional path. They could have easily discouraged me, since I was a little bit of a lonely rider when I was younger. I’ve always been quite shy.
You started modeling after you finished studying at Central Saint Martins in London. Did your shyness make it difficult for you to be the center of attention?
Modeling was strange for me, because I had always been this little pale kid who was teased for my red hair. Then suddenly, in London, they thought I looked cool because I had an androgynous look. But the whole time I was modeling, I thought that any day now they would find out that I was not actually pretty.
I had never dreamed of being a model, so I had a built-in distance from it. But it was an interesting experience. I got to go behind the scenes in the industry and I saw so many things from the inside: I saw how to build up a fashion show and the different ways large and small companies operated. There were a few companies that I worked with for quite a while. It was helpful to follow their progress and see how they developed and adapted the way they worked over time. I learned a lot of things that I later applied to my own business.
You returned to Denmark to become fashion director of Cover magazine. What happened next?
When I first returned to Denmark, I worked so much. I worked until three o’clock in the morning every day. I had all these assistants running around, and we were constantly pressed by deadlines. It was an exciting challenge, but not sustainable in the long term. After a year, I decided it was time to start my own company. I wanted to use my education to start a brand that didn’t exist in Denmark at that time. I was a bit naive going into it—I had no idea what kind of challenge I was facing. Maybe that was a good thing.
That was in 2006, and you presented the first collection in 2007. What did it look like?
It was very colorful and playful. I think even my first collection had a signature—something that made people think, “Wow, what is this?,” you know? From the beginning I have collaborated with a Danish or international artist on conceptualizing one print for each collection. For me the process of designing around the artist’s print is a welcome interruption to my everyday work. It was part of my original approach 10 years ago and is something I continue today.
You’ve refined that signature over the last decade. How was the current collection conceived?
The most recent collection is inspired by a book I found in an antique shop called The Cloud Spinner. It’s the story of a boy who can weave clouds into fabric. His mother warns him not to weave too much, only what is needed. One day, he is sitting on a hill, weaving, when the king asks the boy to weave him a tapestry. The moral of the story is that even though the clouds bring rain, the rain is needed. And if you remove all of the clouds, there will be no rain and subsequently, no food for the kingdom. It is an excellent metaphor for sustainability and the transient ways of the fashion industry.
Is sustainability important to you?
It’s something we think about a lot and that informs our perspective. Being sustainably minded in the fashion industry is particularly difficult for small companies, but one of the things we can do is concentrate on making collections that are long-lasting and stand outside the trend cycle. Approaching this idea through the current collection—through the narrative of the cloud spinner—is a playful way to take on a massive, serious issue.
You have a fast-paced job with a lot of responsibility. How do you stay centered, so you aren’t knocked around by the world?
Going from being an entrepreneur to running a proper business has been a major transition for me. But you learn with the years to take some things a bit more calmly. I’m a super-perfectionist; I don’t want to show anything I’m not proud of. But now I’m experienced enough to know that some things are just not going to work. I can expect a certain percentage of failure in every project, and that’s okay. I can’t let myself freak out, because if I did it would create a very bad energy for the rest of the company. Even if things don’t go my way, I have to stay calm.
Are there other things you’ve learned as your business has grown?
As we’ve matured into a more professional company, I have had to learn not to be so in control of everything. I used to know everything that was going on in my business. My challenge is delegating some of that responsibility to others. I have to trust that I have good people around, and just make myself let go. I’ve also had to learn to make decisions based on facts instead of feelings.
Does that mean that you sometimes have to say no to yourself?
Right. I can’t just go with the flow anymore and do whatever I feel. I have to think strategically and stick to the brand’s DNA. It’s really easy to be influenced by people and be pushed about. In the past, I’ve followed the advice of others to move away from the core values of the company and it’s gone badly. As my company has grown, I’ve also had to learn how to communicate what I want. Early on, I used to do so many things myself, but now I have to be able to express to other people what I want them to do and how they should work. It’s something that takes practice.
Do you remain connected to your business day and night? Do you check your email first thing in the morning and at night before you go to bed?
I don’t allow myself to check my email when I’m home with my kids, because I only get a few hours with them every day. When I go to bed I might check my phone, but I never reply at that hour—I just make sure there are no disasters.
Does your family like to cook and eat together?
We always eat together. It’s very important to us to have a time when we all sit down. Breakfast is the nicest time of the day, because everyone is calm and we can talk about what should happen during the day. We never skip breakfast together.
What is the day like after breakfast?
These days, I usually take my kids to school on my bike—one in the front and one in the back—then continue on to work. Before I had kids I always walked from place to place, be- cause even though Copenhagen is such a bicycling city, I love the pace of walking, and I love to think and sort out problems in my mind as I walk.
Do you have a place where you can just shut the world out and concentrate on yourself?
My dream is to have more time to myself. When I do, I like to take a swim in the ocean, even in the winter. I go to a beautiful old wooden bathhouse north of Copenhagen to take a sauna and swim in the cold sea. To go from extreme heat to icy water cleans the mind and makes me feel extraordinarily calm.
Hair and makeup Marie Thomsen