Active Citizen #3 – Stephanie McDermott
Active Citizens is a Journey City Guides series where we interview the people who participate in making their own city a vibrant and exciting place. With each new guide we ask questions to two personalities: an entrepreneur deeply rooted in its city and the owner of a business featured in our city guides.
Our first New York interview is with Stephanie McDermott, owner of The Vale Collective, a women’s clothing and accessories store featured in our New York City guide and one of our favorite shopping spots in Williamsburg.
Stephanie was born in London from American and Swiss parents and grew up there (the store’s name actually comes from the street in London where her parents’ house stands). After a few experiences in the TV production industry in London she moved to New York and eventually opened her own store.
Hi Stephanie, could you tell us more about yourself?
I came to New York from my home in London on a bit of a whim, with no plans to stay for longer than six months, but the Big Apple proved too exhilarating to leave. Seven years later, I own a clothing store called The Vale Collective in Williamsburg – my favorite corner of Brooklyn – and can’t quite imagine leaving.
Tell us about your vision when opening The Vale Collective, and what led you to start this adventure??
Williamsburg’s real estate boom in the past ten years has transformed the area’s social demographic massively – once an artists’ enclave, the retail options in the area reflected that, with tons of great independent stores all around. But as new investments flooded in, rents went up, and smaller retailers weren’t able to keep up with the likes of Ralph Lauren, J.Crew, Sandro and Maje all moving in.
So I decided to create The Vale Collective, as an antidote to the high-end chains. We carry small brands from all around the world, several of which are exclusive to us in the U.S. Because of this we’ve gained a great following of stylists and bloggers looking for pieces that are harder to find, but that won’t break the bank.
What is next for you and The Vale Collective?
We’ve recently expanded the store, adding another floor of retail to keep up with demand, and we’re building up a great vintage collection, to add another string to our bow.
If you didn’t live in New York, where would you like to live?
I’ve always loved the idea of living bi-coastally, between Los Angeles and New York. The energy of LA is so appealing – like NY, everyone arrives with big dreams, and huge ambition to succeed. There are so many artistic people who refuse to settle when it comes to their career or their lifestyle, which I find so inspiring. Plus the idea of going for a morning swim before work would definitely be a bonus. I’m constantly toying with the idea of The Vale 2.0: Venice Beach edition. It’s still on the cards!
What drew you to New York?
My father’s American, so I spent a fair bit of time in New York when I was younger – I remember walking down Broadway in Midtown when I was about 15, seeing all the chic women rushing around, immaculately coiffed, wearing beautiful clothes, and thought ‘one day, that’ll be me’. Now I’m the one providing those women with their beautiful clothes, and I couldn’t be happier about it!
Where do you live in New York and what do you like about your neighborhood?
I live in Williamsburg, about two blocks away from my shop! I love the villagey vibe that The Burg offers: the pace is slower, you know your barista by name, and people say hi to each other in the street. It means we’ve been able to get to know our locals incredibly well – I’ll often text a particular customer when something comes in that I know she’ll love. It’s that personal touch that’s tricky to achieve somewhere like Manhattan.
It also helps that we have a great nightlife scene, with lots of bars in the neighborhood showcasing small bands – my favourite is Saint Mazie, which has live jazz and swing music four nights a week. To walk into your local bar for a quiet drink on a Sunday and see couples swing dancing around you is just wonderful.
Where do you go to escape the city for a weekend?
I tend to stay in town a lot over the weekend as it’s our busiest time, and I like to pop into the shop and check on things. But this summer I’ve been able to head out to Montauk and Amagansett on Long Island a fair bit – it’s a two-hour drive out of the city to get to totally idyllic beach towns and eat crab by the water, which is pretty awesome.
What’s your favorite city to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
I love to head back to London whenever I can to see friends, then to drive out to Gloucestershire, where my parents spend much of their time. While I love the energy and vibrancy of New York, nothing really beats waking up jetlagged and looking out over a field of sheep at dawn.
I’m heading to Mexico with friends at the end of the year, a country I’ve spent very little time in. I’m not sure whether I’m more excited about the Mayan temples, or the bottomless margaritas I plan to have afterwards.
If you want to discover hard-to-find fashion, The Vale Collective is open everyday from 11 am to 7 pm.