How Tara Stewart became the style maverick that Ireland needs

Words: Emily Mullen
Photography: George Voronov

Ahead of her takeover at White Claw’s Wave of Summer Pop Up at Lock 6, we caught up with the uber-busy and multi faceted Tara Stewart.

You might have heard Tara DJing festivals and headlining club nights around the country, or heard her unwavering support of fledgling Irish talent across the national airwaves. She’s known as a person of influence, who uses her platform for social betterment, promoting feminism and advocating for the BLM movement.

Anyone with eyes in their head can see that Stewart is also an extremely sharp dresser, someone who layers vintage classics, hand reworked pieces, with everything from Tupac t-shirts, basketball tops to saris that have been in her family for three generations. A person that has evolved into one of the most complete and distinct aesthetics in the city, we chat through how she got there, the deluge of the fashion industry and why she never takes fashion too seriously.

01

Intro

Clothes mean different things to different people, what someone wears on a given day could be the product of hours of careful curation or simply the result of an overflowing wash basket. The difference lies in our attitude towards fashion itself and the importance that’s placed upon it. There’s a strangely fixed formality when it comes to fashion, that’s based on an unwritten rule system, capable of transforming a few items of clothing and a pair of shoes into a massive undertaking that’s shrouded in mystique and mystery. While there is no harm in attaching importance to personal expression through clothes, an awareness that these items can be produced through a sometimes ugly and garish system is important.

In an industry that’s dogged with the fetishisation of underweight bodies, the inefficiencies of clothing production and the damaging effects this has on the environment, these rules reflect a never-ending circulation of mass-produced clothes that are designed for a minority of the population, become contentious. It does feel as though finally the smoke and mirrors that have surrounded the industry for generations are beginning to fade however, and we are starting to see that what is reflected back in the changing room mirror is not ourselves but simply the product of a multi-billion Euro industry.

People in the public eye play an important part in this shift. The likes of Stewart, influencer Roz Purcell, radio presenter Louise McSharry, comedian Ashling Bea and stylist Zeda the architect who promote independent brands, re-wear items and throw together outfits that they are seemingly not “supposed” to wear. These people help to usher in a new take on fashion, that isn’t built off heavy consumerism and rote looks.

Fresh from one of her first live DJ sets after lockdown, we meet the musician-turned-DJ Tara Stewart outside her red-bricked terrace. Lips lined, bindi gleaming in the sun and chunky gold jewellery clinking, she’s instantly recognisable. Known for championing new Irish music on one of the country’s biggest stations, she applies the same uncompromising approach to fashion. Stewart’s style is pretty much its own entity, pairing bright colours with clashing patterns, her style is bold and bright.

This brightness does mean that she stands out, in an industry where tame and stuffy expressions of style were de rigueur, media personalities would have had to conform to a certain expectation of how the world wanted them to look. Stewart and others are part of the rising tide, challenging this conformity and dressing how they wish.

As you get older you just start giving less of a sh*t so you genuinely do start having more fun. The older you get because you stop caring about what other people think

But Stewart doesn’t set that much stall in the importance placed on her style. When asked about her standing as one of Dublin’s unofficial cool fashion girls, she rebuffs it with a sigh. “I hate when people say that because it’s just clothes!” she says in her honeyed Aussie accent, she laughs as she pulls awkwardly at a length of earring. Joking that it’s just the Irish in her to deflect a compliment, she laughs that she feels like responding to compliments such as that by saying, “no I am literally a piece of sh*t, I am nothing I am the sh*t on the bottom of a shoe”. She’s definitely not a piece of sh*t on a shoe, far from it, with many arguing that she is a poster girl for feminity.

Style is pretty personal to her and something that’s she’s constantly developing. She jokes that she has been maintaining that she is “having more fun [with fashion] now” with every passing year until the next one rolls around. There is definite freedom to Stewart’s style that’s been pretty apparent over the years, from watching her combine runners with saris, streetwear with formalwear and faux fur with neon, there’s a continued challenge to sartorial convention which is completely refreshing. Her style does seem to have vaguely flexed into trends like Y2K and 90s Hip Hop over the last while. This bedding in of styles with her own sense of frivolity has come with age according to Stewart, “as you get older you just start giving less of a sh*t so you genuinely do start having more fun the older you get because you stop caring about what other people think,” Stewart says.

02

Alice Springs

Growing up in Northern Territory’s Alice Springs, Tara preferred shopping in charity shops over the typical Aussie surfer garb. During trips to Malaysia (where her mother is from) when she was young she remembers getting measured up at the local tailor and would arrive home with an entire custom-fitted wardrobe. Her grandmother who lives there still, wears “matching two pieces, long skirts and little shirts” that Stewart remembered being made for her when Stewart was little, “she literally has all of them still and they still fit her perfectly. It’s amazing and the quality of them is so good.” Looking back over this process, Stewart seems to express a little regret that this format of creating a capsule collection that is coutured to the individual has all but died out in Ireland, “it’s kind of thought to be a bit of a luxury to get your clothes made whereas it used to just be the done thing”.

Moving to Dublin after a brief visit to the city, Stewart hit the DJ scene strong. DJing at promotional events with brands, Stewart became involved with the fast-fashion industry accidentally. “I’d never even really bought from them before,” Stewart said “I DJed for them then they asked if I wanted to do clothing stuff and I was like ‘free clothes hell yes!'”.

Looking back on that time Stewart says there’s no point in having regrets since “it’s brought me to where I am now, it taught me about consuming.” Looking back at her clothes from that time, Stewart admits, “that actually wasn’t even me, that wasn’t my style at all.”

What I definitely don’t miss about fast fashion is that sh*t just doesn’t last

Tara Stewart

Even the brief while Stewart ordered from these brands she admitted to getting a “thrill” out of the big package but admitted that the contents would never really hit the mark, “most of the time most of the stuff wouldn’t suit me or fit me so I’d be sending it back anyway” she said. Another issue is the quality, “what I definitely don’t miss about fast fashion is that the sh*t just doesn’t last, it literally falls apart straight away,” Stewart recalls a time she wore a fast-fashion dress to London Fashion Week and on its first outing the dress ripped down the front, “so I had to go to Tesco and get safety pins because I was staying in a place really far away from the city so I had no time to go home and get changed so I just had to safety pin the whole dress together, it didn’t look cute at all.”

Now, Stewart shops mostly in vintage and charity shops and on Asos Marketplace which stocks small boutiques and vintage clothes sellers. She’s way more considered about her purchases, spending more on less. Citing a dress she is planning on buying for an upcoming wedding as an “investment piece”. “I’ve definitely spent more money on my clothes these days because I’m buying from a sustainable brand or an ethical brand or there’s a lot of brands like say Ganni or Rixo or Rotate, that are really lovely pieces that don’t call themselves a sustainable brand necessarily but they are a bit more high end and you can see the information on them and stuff”.

A serial alterations shop frequenter Stewart set herself a goal of learning how to mend clothes during lockdown, buying herself a secondhand sewing machine she taught herself how to mend and alter clothes, even going as far as to make a pair of trousers from some vintage curtains over lockdown. Space was an issue, “you need like a big surface space, you need to be able to measure stuff out, cut it and I had this like tiny surface that I was trying to cut like big pants out of”. The end result didn’t turn out quite as she had hoped, “I mean they are curtains they are not made to be pants so they just got stretching when I sat down in them so I haven’t really worn them, I wore them one for a picture and that was it.”

03

Public Persona

Living and working in the public eye has blurred the lines of definition for so many. A politician cannot purely lead, they must be on TikTok, a TV presenter can’t just present they need to engage with Twitter on a rolling basis, a DJ can’t just be a DJ now they must have a public persona, and continuously work at it. The larger a social media following the bigger the platform the better promotion you can have over your work. The stinger for this is that you yourself become a brand, and as with a lot of things people ascribe you a chosen box based on the limited information they’ve gleaned from scanning your Instagram for five seconds. For Stewart, this creation of a brand has been of benefit to her, through her social media followers have found her to be pretty multifaceted, simultaneously musical, creative and fun.

Over Lockdown we watched as she shared her upcycling tips, listened to her podcast Dirty Laundry where she interviews sustainability activists and enjoying her impromptu fashion shoots across Dublin.

While so many pull their inspiration from Stewart, she finds hers from others “I don’t look to myself for inspiration I look to other people for inspiration”. Stewart grabs ideas from everywhere, speaking to Nylon she is quoted as saying “one morning, you wake up and might want to dress like the lead character in an ‘80s movie, other days you want to be channel your inner P. Diddy or Stevie Nicks”.

The morning we speak to her, she is passionate about some Copenhagen-based fashion editors “it’s always Copenhagen for some reason” she laughs. The Scandi mix of styles appeals to Stewart, who is drawn to their use of streetwear with vintage. While these looks would often be mixed with items from labels like Balenciaga and Prada which Stewart says she “can’t be buying” the option to recreate these looks item-by-item is out. So Stewart creates her own take on them by looking in her own wardrobe “I have a lot of clothes so I usually do look at them and try and make it work with what I have already and I think that’s a really fun way to do it. Instead of having to click a link to buy an exact thing, try and make the outfit which is even more fun, try and make the outfit in your own way but mimic that” she said.

Her take on outfits and trends is refreshing, seeing a look that she would love to replicate not in a have and have not outlook but being creative about it, figuring out how to make it work with the clothes already at her disposal. Trying to mix and match, trying to replicate not by clicking a link and buying an exact copy but by creatively trying to adapt the clothes around her. Finding inspiration from other places but producing it in a creative manner.

“I know it’s easier said than done, I’m not trying to preach that it’s really simple because it sounds like it’s just like ‘yeah just go grab whatever and it’s done’ it is hard it’s not necessarily easy and also you need to be interested in it. Like I genuinely love clothes so that’s why I’m interested in it, that’s why I enjoy spending time looking for things. Some people don’t,” Stewart added.

Charity and vintage shopping can have its drawbacks though, flipping through the rails and seeing an amazing piece only to bring it home and leave it sit in the back of your press for years, “I do that all the time too I buy it and then I just look at it and I’m like ‘oh maybe I’ll wear it one day and I just don’t”. Stewart emphasises “I definitely form attachments with clothes,” she adds, “I do feel like I need to hold on to everything, because what if your tastes change? What if you see something that inspires you that’s trending? I don’t want to be like “I used to own something like that”. Citing a time when she gave away a bagful of stuff to a charity shop on Camden street only to find a top she had donated there and bought it back for 10€, “I was flicking and I thought “ah there’s that top” and I thought ‘why did I donate that top?’ and I actually just bought it”.

There is a fearless quality to Stewart’s style, which feels as though it is the fullest expression of who she is. Behind the decks, or strolling around the leafy Dublin streets Stewart’s outfits simultaneously signal her heritage, align her beliefs and signal that she’s a bit of craic too. A byproduct of this fearlessness (and her standing as the unofficial cool girl which she doesn’t accept) is that it creates a more accessible atmosphere for the rest of us. Long gone are these unwritten rules about presentability and guff about what you should or shouldn’t wear. Pencil skirts have been replaced by thrifted leopard-print bike shorts and we have people like Stewart to thank for that.

You can catch Tara Stewart at her highly anticipated DJ set at the White Claw Hard Seltzer Wave of Summer event, on August 28 in Lock 6. White Claw’s Wave of Summer popup will be running until September 5th, from Wednesday-Thursday 4pm – 10pm and Friday – Sunday 3pm – 9pm. The event will be located in Lock 6 in Dublin 6’s Canal Road, 90-minute time slots can be booked through the White Claw Ireland website for more information visit the Instagram page.

Please drink White Claw responsibly.

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