carol stephenson

charlieboy creates pieces inspired by traditional menswear, tailored to women’s forms. at a time when gender roles are being questioned, designer and creator carol stephenson lends her own unique vision to her tomboy, androgynous clothing range. it’s all about giving women the freedom to express themselves through their fashion, whether that be traditional male designs one day, to applying a bit of lippy the next: charlieboy is that freedom. from the skirts in shirts range to the unisex collection, for boys as well as girls, to the shabby lane with tol line, stephenson’s wealth of experience in the industry and from her travels around the globe have led charlieboy to be one of the most original and vital fashion houses on the block.
interview with i.t.a.

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carol stephenson, it’s a pleasure to have a fashion visionary like yourself here to chat with powder. after the initial whisperings i heard around town about your pieces, i was completely turned on to your threads once i actually got to spy the finished products.

so firstly, i’d like to ask ‘tomboy’, ‘androgynous’, these are the terms used to describe the style of clothing you create at charlieboy. menswear designs for women. what led you to start designing your clothes in such a way that you were breaking down traditional gender roles?

Conversations with friends and women in the LGBTQ community led me to the realisation that there was a big need for more 'traditionally' masculine clothing for women. Many women, including myself, buy men's clothing for the very fact that we like the way it looks. I love the refined details and clean finishing of menswear that is often not offered in womenswear.

The main problem with buying menswear, as a woman, is the fit. Many of my friends have their menswear pieces altered to fit their bodies. Hence came the goal to create a line that is inspired by menswear but fits a women's body.

the designs of the nineteen twenties are important to your creations. you see this period as a turning point in women’s fashion, how so? what was happening in the nineteen twenties that was leading towards a freedom for women?

Firstly, women won the right to vote.

World war one had just ended and people were feeling very free spirited and wanted to have fun and as a result fashion became less formal.

Women's fashion, in particular, became a lot less rigid as hemlines became higher and silhouettes looser. This is the kind of turning point and freedom I am talking about. Women were starting to experiment, show their limbs and break free from the restrictions and corsets of the past.

One of my all-time favourite fashion figures, Chanel, had a huge influence on women's fashion in the 1920's. She pioneered the androgynous look for women and was one of the first women to wear trousers in public - gotta LOVE that!

and besides nineteen twenties fashion, who and what actually inspires your designs?

I am very excited by what is happening in menswear on the runway today. Many big fashion houses are doing incredible work. I write a blog on the CharlieBoy website about my favourite menswear runway shows and other designers that inspire me so it is quite obvious from where I draw inspiration from.

what are the different ranges you’ve created at charlieboy and how would you describe them to the readers?

I don't have 'ranges' as such yet. I only launched 9 months ago so I am just gradually building my collection at a speed that time and my budget allows. The foundation of my collection will always be a variety of shirts. Right now I have 27 different styles of shirts. I will always add new shirt styles with different fabrics and details. I am just finalising production for 2 waistcoat styles and a few cardigans. I am also finalising sampling for blazers.

My vision for CharlieBoy is that one day women will be able to create an entire outfit from my collection and that I will available for styling advice.

charlieboy threads are entirely australian made and you’re very passionate about this being the case. what’s the state of the clothing production sector in australia and why is this the case?

Yes, I am extremely passionate about being Australian made. We have the facilities and skilled workers here to do it and I want to support them. It is very challenging though as larger brands continue to move their production off-shore. Factories are closing and workers are looking for other sources of income. The factory I use in Sydney used to get a lot of work from the government, producing uniforms. They are struggling now as this production is now being given to Asian factories. It just isn't right. The low rates of pay for factory workers in Asian countries is also an issue to be concerned about. At least in Australia, factory operations are closely monitored and rates of pay are much much higher.

what do you think needs to be done to right the local australian clothing industry?

Australian brands need to keep their production in Australia. It is very tempting to mass produce in Asia as it is so much cheaper and often quicker due to the size and number of factories, but it is killing the industry here.

I think awareness is the key. So many Australian's still don't truly understand the importance of Australian made product in general.

and carol you’re an avid traveller? what are your fav places that you’ve visited? and your eight years living in vancouver; what were they like?

I really loved Peru. So many incredible treks through such diverse terrain.

I love Vancouver. If you love the outdoors, it really is the ultimate city. The mountains and the beaches at your doorstep - great for sports. The actual city is quite small compared to Sydney but I really liked that.

you spent years working in athletic clothing for women at lululemon athletica. what were those years like? what did it teach you and where did it lead you?

I fell in love with Lululemon the first time I walked into a store. They have such a bright, energetic and positive culture. I worked my way up from the bottom and there was still a lot further to go but I really always wanted to start my own line so I just had to do it.

The Lululemon girl, although athletic, is a very feminine girl. It's funny as I always got feedback that my designs for the company were a bit too masculine. I knew that would never change.

whilst you were in canada you became an active member of the lgbtq community. this was a turning point in your life; what effect did it have on your work as a clothes designer?

It was a turning point for many reasons. I think more than anything it opened my mind and that, in itself, has made me more creative and willing to take risks.

qnd so how did charlieboy come about? how long have you been going for? how’d the idea come about and where do you see the company heading?

As I said before, I always wanted to start my own line. I had the opportunity to move back to Sydney and make it happen. My family is in Sydney and I couldn't have done it without their support.

I launched my online store 9 months ago. I have been selling at various designer markets and festivals in Sydney and Melbourne also. I am a casual trader at Paddington markets on Saturdays and also have a stall at the Finders Keepers markets in Sydney and Melbourne twice annually.

I explained a bit above about how the vision for CharlieBoy came about. Basically, I wanted to design something unique, innovative and something I wanted to wear. The name Charlie is gender neutral and actually means 'freedom' and that is what I want CharlieBoy to be I have had men buy my pieces as well and that is awesome because I always want to be inclusive.

again carol this has been a great pleasure to speak with you about charlieboy. powder loves the stunning threads you’re producing at your design house and we’re so into the philosophy behind your work.

My pleasure! Thank you for the interview.

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