ST. AGNI: Hand-Crafted Sandal Love From Byron Bay
Picture endless sunshine, the soothing sound and warm breeze of the ocean, a gentle life by the beach — this is what informs the simple and refined beauty of ST. AGNI.
The Australian footwear, accessories, and apparel brand was founded in 2014 by Lara and Matt Fell with the aim to create high-quality, versatile, and ethically made pieces that stand the test of time. What started as a passion project from their home in the enchanted coastal town of Byron Bay, has successfully grown into a small family business with a devoted international following over the course of the past four years. Lara kindly granted us some insights into how she has been growing her brand organically through close-knit relationships and a philosophy of less is more.
Lara, could you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your designs?
I’ve always been inspired by the classic feminine silhouette, relaxed dressing and mid-century design so these themes do surface time and time again in our collections. The motivation for my designs, especially when I was starting out, was to create functional, refined, quality and durable pieces that I couldn’t seem to find elsewhere and that reflected my own simplistic style.
What would you say influences your personal style?
I think my personal style is really influenced by my desire to keep things simple. I’m a real uniform dresser in the sense that I know what I like and what works for me, so I’m rarely tempted to stray from this. You’ll never find me in anything too outrageous, but I do love quality, staple items that I can invest in and that I know I can wear over and over again.
Is there a garment that has had a special place in your life?
My favourite item in my wardrobe right now would probably be my Jesse Kamm pants. They hold a special significance to me because I had wanted to wear them for so long but couldn’t as I was pregnant for most of last year! The second my waistline returned after giving birth earlier this year, I invested in a pair. I love them.
How does a typical day at the St. Agni HQ in Byron Bay look like?
Our team at HQ covers the boutique, e-commerce, marketing, customer service, wholesale, design and production. On a typical day here, the online team arrive by 8 am to begin processing and dispatching the orders from the night before, then the wholesale and boutique teams arrive by 9 am and get things underway. We’re all pretty across what each other is managing and pitch-in to help out in different areas whenever it’s needed.
Throughout the day, the music from the boutique floats upstairs to the office where we’re lucky to look out over towards the Byron hinterland. There’s usually a coffee run at some point to our local favourite Barrio, and often in the afternoon when things have slowed down a little, you can find most of the team in our warehouse pitching in to pack shoes. So much happens from HQ and we all work hard but have so much fun together.
Four years ago, you started St. Agni together with Matt, your partner in work and life. Who is part of the St. Agni team today?
We’re a small family business with five full-time and one part-time core team members who work alongside my husband and business partner Matt and I every day. Our head office, warehouse and boutique are all on the one site in the Byron Bay Arts & Industry Estate so there is always a lot going on!
Where does your production take place, and how has the relationship with your team of producers developed over the years?
Our shoes are produced in a workshop in Indonesia, the same one we’ve worked with from the beginning. We’ve been lucky to be able to grow our respective businesses side-by-side over the years. When we started out with them, it was just three guys on the team there and now there are around 40. The artisans all work for themselves and we’re really mindful to check-in with the team there regularly to make sure everyone is happy and has what they need there as we continue to grow the businesses together.
Our business model has evolved organically over the last five years, so it’s in our nature to be adaptable and reactive. We’ve always just tried to navigate things one step at a time, but now that we’re a bit bigger and our lead times are longer, it’s getting easier, and more necessary to anticipate things and get out ahead of the curve together.
And regarding the materials of the collection, where did you source them and what makes them a conscious choice?
I really love natural materials, especially leather and linens. They’re durable, long-lasting and they both wear well with age and form the core of our product offering. The linen used throughout our apparel collection is sourced from France and delivered to our ethically certified manufacturer in China. The cows used to produce the bulk of St. Agni’s leather are sourced from a selection of farms local to our manufacturing workshops in Indonesia, and are raised purely for consumption and leather. We chose this source because we don’t like the idea of wastage of any kind. As the business grows, we’re more empowered to actively influence the nuances of our supply chains in relation to quality, processes and environment – we are currently working toward vegetable tanned leather and will be expanding into next season’s footwear, launching globally in March.
You mentioned that your philosophy is less is more – what is the essence of this approach?
Our less is more philosophy is something we really try to practice across all aspects of our business in an effort to avoid excess of any kind. We’re a very tight-knit team, constantly cultivating ways to streamline our approach to things so that we can focus our energy more efficiently and channel our growth into a direction that is aligned with our core values. I think ultimately, the essence of this philosophy is reflected in the environment we create for ourselves and in the choices we make individually and together on a daily basis.
What is your personal definition of mindful fashion and design?
I think to me, mindful fashion and design have meaning when an item stands the test of time. When pieces are considered in the way they’re put together and curated into one’s life. I also think the prerequisite for this lies in being aware of one’s environment and impact and then asking the right questions in order to make the best decision possible at that point in time.
Whom have your greatest teachers been?
The creative community in Byron is hugely collaborative and therefore extremely supportive. I am constantly inspired by and learning from the work of my peers here. We’re forever encouraging each other’s endeavours, it’s pretty special.
What were some of the important lessons you have learned through starting your own business?
At the beginning with St. Agni, I experienced a lot or rejection which naturally made me question myself and what I had set out to do. But it was also a huge blessing because it taught me to trust myself and my ideas more and to keep a bigger picture in mind – not just for the business, but with my life in general as well.
Where do you see St. Agni in the future? What are your plans and your dreams?
My ultimate dream for St. Agni is to create multiple destinations for us around the world where people can come and experience our aesthetic and product first hand. We’ll continue refining, learning and growing until then and thereafter.
What are your most precious places in Byron Bay to recharge and enjoy life?
My most precious place in Byron Bay is our new family home. As much as we love being out and about, it’s been really special these past few months as a young family to just be together nesting at home and enjoying the space we’ve created for ourselves there. I also love going to one of our local beaches to lay in the sun and recharge, and for an extra special treat, I’ll drop by Comma for a full-body massage.