Sorry Thanks I Love You (STILY) is a retail space with a difference.
In fact, owner Caroline Ball doesn’t consider it retail at all. Instead, she says, the “concept is about giving”. Its mission is “to nurture relationships and inspire moments of happiness”.
Visit STILY at its Westfield stores, where you’ll find “a mash-up of unique design, cutting-edge fashion, gourmet food, jewellery, accessories, fresh flowers and boutique spirits and wines from all over the world” according to Ball. It’s an emporium of hand-picked items from around the globe, the sort of stuff you likely won’t find anywhere else in Sydney.
“Our emphasis is on handmade, beautifully designed products that tell a story, and our concept is built around the reasons why people give,” says Ball. “We work with everyone from tiny cheesemakers in the Tasmanian bush; one-man fashion labels in Tokyo; French monks making ceramics; a vet-turned-bladesmith in Adelaide; up-and-coming chefs around Sydney; as well as more established designers and fashion houses in Paris, Copenhagen, Melbourne and Sydney.”
Rather than fall prey to the constant cycle of seasons and the need to discount old stock, STILY takes a more evergreen view of its collection. “We’re firm believers that none of the work we curate depreciates, and that slashing prices essentially devalues the artist’s creativity and hard work, no matter when it’s made,” says Ball.
Instead of traditional end-of-year sales “encouraging people to buy something they don’t really need”, STILY has come up with a system it calls Democratic Pricing, where it invites customers to nominate the amount they’d like to pay for a selection of items.
“It’s not about exiting the oldest pieces,” says Ball. “We apply Democratic Pricing to a bit of everything: some brand-new arrivals, the work of some of our most popular and best-loved designers, and even the pieces we typically sell out of.”
A busy roster of workshops, events, in-store classes and “the odd natural-wine tasting” has made STILY a community hub in the heart of the city. “We foster community above all else,” says Ball. “The CBD is such a busy and densely populated place during work hours, but this can make it quite isolating … which might go some way to explaining why we have so many visitors dropping in every other day for tea and banter.”
STILY’s weekly yoga classes, in particular, have gained a following. “We’ve always been interested in experimenting with exactly what can and cannot be done within a ‘retail’ setting, and that includes using our spaces after dark,” says Ball. The Martin Place shop, located in the heritage-listed GPO Building, is “all sandstone and parquetry,” she explains. “[It’s] such a beautiful and tranquil setting for yoga.”
When the free Monday evening classes began attracting long waiting lists, STILY decided to add a new weekly pay-by-donation class to the schedule. The Wednesday night sessions raise funds for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a leading cancer research hub and hospital located in Camperdown that offers support services, education and complementary therapy treatments to cancer patients.
“One of our team members is being treated there at the moment, and our experience has shown us that having a strong mind is one of the key determinants in dealing with cancer,” says Ball. “The funds we raise go directly to the Lifehouse’s psychologist and counselling service, which sees thousands of patients, families and carers every year. Our aim is to keep this service free for the people who need it.”
In addition to the yoga classes, STILY raises funds for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse through a range of initiatives including gift-wrapping, art raffles, and, for the first time in 2019, a STILY City2Surf team. “We measure our success based on the positive influence we have on the community and our not-for-profit partners,” says Ball.
She’s effusive about other Sydney businesses that also do things a little differently, “like Marty at Marlowe’s Way, who spins conversation and tracks and serves Sydney’s best coffee on the side, and Portal, which runs one of the best cafes in the CBD by employing refugees waiting for an emergency visa.”
Just as inspiring to Ball are the customers she’s met at the shop. “There’s the lawyer who became so frustrated with the billable-hours system that he started his own law firm based on a completely different fee structure,” at Marque Lawyers on George Street. “There’s the exec who implemented a not-for-profit cafe in their skyscraper’s foyer,” (Charter Hall’s Portal at 1 Martin Place) and the gallery curator (at MCA bringing guide dogs to their open day to make art accessible to everyone,” she enthuses. “The list goes on.”
This article was updated on February 6, 2020. The Martin Place store is no longer open.