Here’s a little background about me. I was born in Jamaica and moved to the US in 2000. Life in Jamaica for me was simple, I was still a youngin’ then running around, climbing ackee & mango trees and chasing lizards with my sisters. Never could I have imagined living in New York City and developing a love for fashion in my future. My Mom worked hard to get my sisters and I to the US and moving here changed my perspective about life. I got inspired (and I still do!) by the diversity, the hustle and of course the fashion of the Big Apple.
I started 6th grade here and the adjustment was quite difficult at first. I was a shy kid growing up mainly because I was insecure about my Jamaican accent. I also wasn’t in tune with all the pop culture and there were many things that my friends talked about that I had no idea what they were referring to or I didn’t want to say the wrong thing so I would just sit and listen. Fashion became my outlet for self-expression, especially in High School. The first thing people see when they look at you is how you present yourself, what you look like, what you’re wearing and they make a blanket assumption of who they believe you are. I started getting compliments from people about what I was wearing, both at school and on the streets. Of course I didn’t really think too much about it because I never thought I was wearing anything special at all but I started to lean into fashion more deeply from that point on. Moving on to college, I had a ton of time on my hands so I was scrolling through all sorts of fashion blogs and got inspired by the girls I was discovering, their styles and how confident and ambitious they seemed. So I decided to emulate them. I saved up and bought my first point & shoot camera, recruited one of my sisters to take my photos around our neighborhood and started posting my photos on Blogger.com. I always loved poetry so I featured poems that went along with my outfits on my blog. I would talk about how I styled a look and after some time I started getting reposted by other bloggers and publications and that motivated me to continue blogging.
Over time my dreams started to get bigger and bigger. Once I got over one obstacle in life, it gave me confidence that I can get through the next one and the next one and so on. I truly believe that the decisions you make throughout life, no matter how big or small, pave the way for the life you’ll lead. My Mom always instilled education, hard work, and self-confidence in my sisters and I so I had a strong mindset to succeed at whatever I do. Fast forward to now, I think it’s so important for little girls to see successful people who look like them. It shows them that their dreams are not as far-fetched as they might imagine but rather very attainable if they have the passion and drive to see them through.
So you can only imagine how honored I was to have Novia Whyte, who is a Senior Editor at the prominent Jamaican newspaper “Jamaica Observer”, reach out to me for a full feature in the Sunday paper. Nothing feels more special than getting recognized by someone so prominent in your home country wanting you to share your journey with their audience. Of course, I said yes 🙂 I hope that just like all of the amazing and fashionable women who inspired me when I was growing up, that I inspire a little Jamaican or Caribbean girl, to chase her dreams with grit and grace. And to know that if she can conceive it, she can achieve it.
Who: Opal Stewart, NYC-based fashion blogger and stylist
Her earliest memories of home… Climbing trees with my sisters and chasing lizards in my Kingston back yard.
Her foray into fashion came when… I moved to New York City at the age of 11. Growing up in Manhattan I was always inspired by the fashion around me and I felt like I couldn’t leave the house without looking put together because everyone seemed to be so well-dressed. In high school, I had to wear a white-collared shirt and black pants uniform, not too different from uniforms in Jamaica. I started playing with adding different accessories to spice up the uniform, like changing my shoelaces to a different colour every week, adding a lightweight scarf or a colourful belt for a pop of colour. I also used to go to Forever 21 and buy some funky earrings. I think that was the moment when I started experimenting with my style and developed my love for fashion.
She started her fashion blog… Around 2010 when fashion blogging was just becoming a thing, I remember discovering a few fashion bloggers who I admired and thought that I had something to contribute so I started a blog of my own and named it OpalbyOpal. This was while I was in college, so I had a lot of free time to browse the Internet and I saved up and bought a Canon Rebel camera, recruited my sister to be my photographer and we just went out and shot mostly in my neighbourhood. The fashion blog was also a way for me to experiment and develop my style. Now I can just look at a garment and know exactly how it’s going to fit me or what it should be paired with. As my blog developed I was receiving requests to be featured in other publications like GraziaUK, Cosmopolitan Shopping, and a few others. This gave me the motivation to continue my blogging journey and I received my first paid campaign from a brand in 2016. That was the moment I realised that it was a lucrative business that I could pursue.
Her preferred designers… There are so many! I’ve been loving Fe Noel, who is based out of Brooklyn and makes the most stunning pieces in the most vibrant colours and prints that always remind me of the Caribbean. Paul Smith is a British designer who makes incredible suiting. Cushnie makes beautiful and timeless minimalist pieces. I also love shopping at & Other Stories, various vintage shops, Monica Vinader, AGL shoes, and B-Low the Belt. Walking through any one of the &Other Stories stores is like therapy for me. Their stores are always well-merchandised and they have the most beautiful flowers and plants throughout. Shopping there is truly an experience. Finding a unique vintage piece is always a treat for me so I enjoy visiting vintage shops around Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side in New York. Monica Vinader is my go-to for jewellery. She has gorgeous minimal and statement jewellery mostly inspired by her travels. AGL shoes is an Italian shoe brand that is really the epitome of what comes to mind when you hear Italian-made. They’re one of my favourite shoe brands because of their acute attention to detail and quality. B-Low the Belt is where I go to get those chain belts I love so much. They always complete my looks.
Plus… I just wrote an article on my blog on Five Black Female Fashion Designers That I am Currently Obsessed With. What I loved was that everyone on the list hailed from different corners of the world – Canada, Nigeria, Senegal, UK and Grenada. Felisha Noel is a Grenadian designer behind her eponymous label Fe Noel that I mentioned above. “Eat well, travel often, and dress to inspire!” is the brand’s guiding mantra. I saw Fe Noel’s show this past season at New York Fashion Week and it was amazing in all the right ways. Feminine and flowy designs with vibrant colours combined with lightweight fabrics and surprisingly complex sleeves had the audience in awe. I wanted to be transported to a resort somewhere in the Caribbean lounging by the pool in her clothes. It’s always inspiring for me to see women like Felisha Noel, who started in the fashion industry at the age of 19, climbing to such heights in her career because it’s a testament to the fact that little Caribbean girls are just as capable as anyone to make their dreams a reality.
The best fashion advice she’s ever received and still lives by… Never dismiss a piece that might not look so good on the rack because it might look completely different once you try it on. I’m always open to trying on new styles that I otherwise might not think twice about because sometimes it turns out that it’s the one piece you never knew you needed in your closet. My number one style rule is don’t be afraid to play with your clothes to create new styles and silhouettes. I love wearing a piece that was meant to be worn one way and expanding its versatility by wearing it as something else: rolled-up dresses and scarves as tops, for example. Or chains from my bag straps as chain belts.
Her takeaway from the recently concluded New York Fashion Week (NYFW)… This past NYFW I wanted to take my audience behind the scenes to show them what it’s really like to go to the shows and in the process, I decided to ask my blogger friends the ultimate question: “What’s your favorite part of Fashion Week?”. I had no idea what their answers would be, but to my surprise, one after the other said it was reuniting with fashion friends, meeting new like-minded people and just sharing the experience together. This made me realise that NYFW is all about the human experience. Although to some, the fashion industry might seem superficial and out of reach, it’s really being driven by hard-working, creative and passionate people
Opal Stewart’s Tried & Proven Style Tips
– I always invest in a good pair of shoes. This is especially important if you live in New York City or any other walking city. For all of the mileage that our shoes get here, they definitely have to perform.
– I tend not to shop on the high street. I love finding unique items from vintage marketplaces, supporting up-and-coming brands and designers, and thrift shopping. If I do have to go straight to the source, I usually just shop online.
– Don’t be afraid to experiment with prints, fabrics and silhouettes. If you see someone wearing something you like that you wouldn’t normally wear, have the courage to try it. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you can pull off. Most of the time people around you will appreciate you trying new things and it will boost your self-confidence.
It’s almost every young woman’s dream to be in fashion, be it as a designer, a blogger and or an influencer. What words of caution would you dispatch?
I would say to just start! I’m such a perfectionist and I never want to put out anything if I’m not proud of the quality, and I think sometimes that hinders me. My boyfriend even has a saying which he always tells me: “Good is good but done is better”. As I continue in my work, I’m starting to realise that you don’t improve your talents and skills by waiting to create the perfect blog post or take the most perfect photos. You just have to go for it, work with what you already have and you will learn from both your mistakes and successes along the way and that’s the only way to get better in anything you do.