Talking Shop with Stephanie Coultress O'Neill

Nearly 20 years in retail and her passion & ambition still burn bright

Article by Jennifer Birn

Photography by Todd White

Originally published in Austin Lifestyle

If you’ve ever needed something to wear for an occasion in Austin, you probably know Stephanie Coultress O’Neill. If not, you should. She’s the familiar face found at fashion boutique Estilo nearly every day for more than 15 years – in the store’s original location on 2nd Street downtown and in its current home in Tarrytown since 2015. Pre-pandemic Stephanie - who went to high school in North Austin and undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Texas- leased a neighboring store to open Estilo Men (which looks like a gorgeous man’s closet) and she recently took over the store on the other side where Estilo Kids is currently being built. As Stephanie takes over a corner of Tarrytown and a large percentage of the Austin fashion retail market, we caught up with her to reflect on nearly two decades as a business owner and a stylist (after a career as a family therapist!), what’s coming up, and life when she’s not at the store.

Where in Austin did you grow up?  In Northwest Austin. In high school I worked at The Oasis and there was barely any development in that area. It's mind blowing to see how much it’s changed. 

What did you study in college? I studied Psychology. I’ve always loved people and understanding the dynamics of relationships and communication. 

Were you ever a psychologist?  I was a child and family therapist. I worked as a non-profit therapist for Lifeworks for a few years, then I started my own private practice.

When did you decide you wanted to own a clothing boutique?  In my mid 20's when I began to open my private practice in child and family therapy, I decided that I loved working with my clients and I enjoyed helping them find solutions and resolutions, but I found myself emotionally drained every day. 

How did you make the transition?  When I had my existential crisis in my mid- 20s and I couldn’t decide if I really had a "passion" for being a therapist I thought about the elements of my job that I loved.  It was the people and problem solving. I had always had a "passion for fashion" so when I thought long and hard about what I could envision myself doing and loving, it was owning a clothing store.  I loved the idea of having clients that I get to work with every day and helping them find their perfect ensemble. So, I decided to work part-time at a local boutique as a sales associate, which was right on West 6th St., while I still saw clients part-time. I loved it. I was in my element. I decided that I needed to work full-time and stop seeing my clients to gain the full experience.  I moved up from sales associate to Manager, to Buyer to Director of Operations, and was able to learn all the aspects of owning your own store.  After three years of experience, it was the perfect time to launch Estilo. 

When did Estilo first open?  We were supposed to open in Oct of 2004, but due to construction the  opening was delayed and we ended up opening the doors June 2005.  However, I had already committed to Holiday inventory for that season, so I did what any entrepreneur would do,  I sold all of my living room furniture and set up racks in my one-bedroom condo and had private shopping parties to launch "Estilo" and sell the inventory.  I was able to keep my cash flow going and not tarnish the new relationships that I established with clothing brands. 

When you opened the first Estilo, what were your hope for it?  I wanted to be a specially curated space that was a one stop shop for clients. 

What precipitated the move to the current location?  I had my first daughter in 2011 and second in 2014.  As a mother of two, I found myself in the small neighborhood shopping centers near our home a lot. At the time, there was a toy store and a men’s clothing store, but no women’s clothing store, yet the shopping center was full of women shopping. When a friend told me that a store in Casis Village was about to announce that they were closing, we contacted the store owner, who gave us the landlord’s information.  We met with him on a Friday, pulled together a presentation over the weekend and were able to negotiate a letter of intent the week after. . We open at 8 am because so many of our clientelle are already in the shopping center starting their days at 7:40 am school drop off – across the street!

When did the men’s store open?  November 2019, right before the pandemic! We had sold men's clothing when we were downtown but didn’t initially in Tarrytown to not compete with another men's clothier in the shopping center.  When they announced their retirement, we jumped on the opportunity to bring curated contemporary men’s clothing to the area. 

What is the Estilo Outlet?  It was a great opportunity for us to literally find an outlet for inventory.  It’s all past season product that is discounted 50-75 % off or more.  This resulted from the pandemic because I had excess inventory to sell and this was the perfect concept for that. It’s the best outlet for our past season product. 

What do you love most about owning Estilo?  I love the artistry that goes into fashion, curating collections, and of course working with our clients. 

Who’s the Estilo customer?  Some of my favorite experiences with customers are when I work with three generations of family at one time and everyone finds something they love.  We try to offer a variety of options for clients, from casual to cocktail. We hope to be a one stop shop for clients, whether it's last minute or planning in advance. 

Some creatives enjoy the art more than the business side, do you enjoy the business side of owning businesses?  I enjoy both.  Obviously the business side is more stressful, but it’s so important. I love me some spreadsheets.  Google docs have become my best friend.  I wake up every morning and check financial accounts before I get out of bed most mornings.  You have to know that side of the business and always know your numbers.

What’s the goal with Estilo now? It’s my dream to have a retail space for the entire family.  

How does Estilo do on the website and app?  The pandemic was beneficial for my online business.  I was very grateful to have a strong website when it happened and it brought a wider audience to our site.  Over the last two years we’ve also been featured in a few Netflix shows and that brought a lot of attention to the website as well.   

Have you ever considered starting an Estilo original line? Yes, I did have a basics, organic cotton line years ago.  I may revisit that again. 

When did you start styling people?  I have always styled my clients at Estilo.  That’s  my favorite part of my job.  I love the creativity of putting together an outfit for specific occasions. I strongly believe there is a huge correlation with confidence and your outfit. If you love what you’re wearing, you’ll walk into any moment stronger and more confident.  

What do you think are a couple of things a good stylist should know?  Meet your client where your client is at.  It is our job to help them find their own personal style, while helping them try pieces they may have never pulled for themselves. 

Who’s someone you’d love to style?  Emma Stone. I hear she is a local now. 

Are your daughters into fashion?  They both like clothing in different ways, have learned a lot about business and see that it's seven days a week and a lot goes into it behind the scenes.  They both do seem to have the entrepreneur flare and always come up with fun ideas for businesses. 

Would you like for them to take over the family business one day?  I would love for them to carry on the brand but more importantly I want them to do something that they're passionate about and love their career as much as I do.

How long have you been married?  Todd and I met in 2002 in Austin, he proposed in 2007 and we were married in 2009.  We were the first couple to have a wedding reception on the patio of The Long Center!  It’s crazy to look back a pictures and see how different the skyline looked at the time. 

How much does Todd help with your business?  He started helping me more as he launched Concierge Closet.  His background is in software consulting so he tends to focus on back office solutions.  He now helps me with some of the men's buying as well.  

How much do you help with Closet Concierge?  The idea for Concierge Closet came from the customers of Estilo.  I constantly heard customers complaining about not having enough closet space and no time to do anything about it.  So, I'm definitely a constant referral engine for the business and we talk a lot about how it should grow and best service customers.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?   Honestly, I am so grateful to have become a premier clothing destination in Austin.  After having been through two recessions, a pandemic and two locations, I am incredibly grateful for my clients' support and loyalty. 

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