Theresa Schoeffel (45) is a self-employed designer of fabrics and fashion who lives and works in Stainz (Styria/ Austria). For more than 20 years she has been designing and making individual pieces of fashion with a local, hence Austrian, touch for women and children. She is married and a mother of two teenagers (Valentin (13) and Luise (15).
Since when have you been in the fashion business?
It was already my mother who ran a fashion shop in Graz, which actually was not so much my thing but I did help out as early as my teenage years. When she became sick, I could check out business life a bit more intensively. Following, I was employed at the Stajan company (a Graz-based shop specialized in traditional Austrian fashion) and I founded my own company at the age of 24. First I mainly designed and made dirndl dresses – many dirndl dresses for weddings – but later also white wedding gowns. I did my own one, too. They say this means bad luck but I am still married (laughs). I was even hired to make the wedding gown of Tini Manninger, who married into the Ferragamo clan in Florence. When I moved to rural Stainz, because of my children, I thought that I would not be able to work over here but still opened up a tiny studio, when my son was one year of age. I immediately had clients – also a lot of women from Graz who had followed me. Then, one day, I was hired to dress the hostesses of the famous Beachvolleyball Event at Woerthersee which had the effect that more and more women got in touch with me and ordered my products. I started to additionally design tunics. I had always been a fervid person and needed something light and breathable that did not look like something from India or Morocco. The ‘Austrian Tunic’- which I made of hand-printed fabrics – was born. This product became really successful – after 20/25 years of being self-employed.
What is so special about your kind of fashion?
I have always been a working mom and still wanted to look good while carrying my kids around. I was looking for something sturdy and insensitive, made of a natural fiber. I reject synthetic fibers because those fabrics do smell when they get dirty or sweaty. I also needed something that you could easily put on and off. Most of the ‘stylish’ fashion is black or made of a synthetic material. My pieces are comfortable, breathable and pretty. They make you feel good. My clients also know that they can order in all sizes.
How do you work?
I annually manufacture two collections of about 30 models each. From each model there are 10-15 pieces available and the rest is customized fashion, mostly refined dirndl dresses for weddings made of silk and velvet. When you wear your dirndl wedding gown you for sure do not want five other women to show up in the same outfit. I guarantee that my customers get a unique piece. Due to the fact that I print my own fabrics, my clients can choose their individual designs anyhow.
For which kind of woman do you design?
In general I design for every kind of woman but not for the one who wishes to invest a lot of time and seeks to stand out. She will not find anything stagy within my collections, for my fashion is indeed of prime quality and made of hand-printed fabrics, but otherwise rather casual, sporty and no-fuss. I do not carry dresses for the big night or the red carpet – except the woman is talented in dressing it up with other pieces and accessories. Regarding the dirndl dresses for weddings, this is of course a different story – they of course do stand out, due to the material and the unique design.
Where can people see/ buy your pieces?
At the shop in Stainz, the showroom on Elisabethstrasse in Graz (with advance booking), on my website there are also selected pieces to order. At Woerthersee I do a couple of pop-up-stores every year and I attend different exhibitions all over Austria.
Being self-employed is not always easy – which experiences have you made throughout your career? Have you also failed or doubted what you were doing?
Good question … almost every three months (laughs). There were so many sleepless nights and always the question: how do I pay my insurances and the next rent? Still, I think that is quite normal for artists and self-employed mothers. Now, at 45, it is easier and I also have a hard-working husband. Yet, I built up my business alone and it was really hard. Actually, I advise my daughter not to become self-employed if she plans on having kids. For a mom cannot rely on paid sick leave or somebody who does your job after a hard night. The design and arts industry is a real challenge and honestly it counts to the lowest income bracket. You really need to love your job and have a thick skin. I do have a product that is working now but it has taken a long time.
What is your advice for young designers?
Try to work for a designer as long as possible. You can learn, try out things, collect ideas and you have still financial security including insurances and stuff. Additionally, you can live out your creativity. Me, from 365 days there are probably not more than 65 that I am creative. The rest is paper work, accounting, emails, meetings, etc. It is much more fun to be the creative director of a company. I will also not mention how many hours a week I really work. Anyway, it is essential to have a working product beforehand and then start a business. First, gather experiences within a safe environment.
You are married – does your husband back you in all you do?
Definitely. He has always let me do my thing but I have not asked him for anything either, no matter how hard times were. I wanted to succeed by myself. Also within financially tight periods, he did not get involved and in hindsight I am thankful because it has really been my career. Still, there were sleepless nights and not only once did I bring toilet paper from at home because I was short of cash (laughs). But I really love working and if I have apprentices who already sniff at vacuum cleaning, I tell them that it does not work like that.
How important are your girlfriends?
I love my friends and I admit that I just know cool women. As soon as I feel that they are not, I do block because I do not want to waste time. Friendship is very important but my friends must also accept that when I am not in the mood – and that can take 1-4 years (laughs) – they need to leave me alone. I am there for them but I also enjoy time on my own. Further, I live in Stainz and cannot stop by for coffee in Graz. Hence, there is no high expectations regarding this.
How would your best friend describe yourself?
Impatient, funny and a great sport. Additionally, I am very helpful and honest. Sometimes too honest. Yet, I like that also the other way round.
Have you got the feeling that there is gender equality nowadays?
Honestly, no. I think we are still where we were 70 years ago. A lot of things that we do – e.g. time we spend with the kids – is not honored, respected or paid. Hence, as a mom, you always have to hold back, wait and figure out how to do a job if you have kids. I do not know any man who does that. If men contribute at home – no matter what – they want to be praised, which is also tiring.
Which superpower would you like to have?
To be a guy – once in a while. I really would like to know them. I do not understand them at all (laughs). Would also be interesting when it comes to sex.
What is still on your bucket list?
A collection that is totally different from what I have done until now. It has been on my head for a while but I cannot define it yet.
Who would you like to interview?
Maybe Donna Karan.
Challenge: To be able to sell my fashion in the small, refined boutiques that you find on the Mediterranean islands.
Respect: I expect it.
Pain: Belongs to our lives – it is necessary.
Freedom: Hard to achieve but essential.
Self-confidence: I had to acquire it.
Womanliness: Now I can identify with it.