Fashion designer Stina Sayre, long known for her elegantly-draped, easy to wear women’s clothing, is preparing to close her Vineyard Haven showroom and studio later this fall. After running her own apparel business for more than 25 years, Ms. Sayre said she’s looking ahead to an active retirement of sailing, cycling, visiting family in Sweden and making her own art, whatever form that might take.

“Now I just want to create for creativity’s sake,” she said.

Sculpture, in particular, appeals to Ms. Sayre, whose fashion-design hallmarks include folded constructions, asymmetrical shapes and bold, substantial fasteners.
“Clothing is sculpture,” she said, during a conversation at her boutique on Main street in Vineyard Haven that has been her store and workshop since 2011. Now an acclaimed brand, Stina Sayre Designs got its start with a single knitting machine and a bunch of sailors more than 30 years ago.

Stina Sayre will close her Vineyard Haven storefront this fall. — Jeanna Shepard

A multi-year sailboarding champion in her native Sweden, Stina Hellgren met American champ Nevin Sayre — then a seasonal Vineyard resident, and co-founder of the first professional windsurfers’ world tour — at multiple regattas during the 1980s. Racing across the water left little time to explore their mutual attraction, until one year when the wind failed to materialize and the two elite sailors finally got to know each other.

From then on, they traveled together, with Mr. Sayre pursuing his professional career and Ms. Sayre exploring a new endeavor.

“I needed to be creative and I bought a knitting machine,” she said.

When Mr. Sayre gave lessons at sailboarding hotspots, Ms. Sayre — who grew up working in her grandfather’s clothing store and learned sewing as a schoolgirl — came along with her knitting machine. She soon found a ready clientele among her husband’s mostly-male students for what she came to call “guilt sweaters,” custom-made for the wives and girlfriends they’d left behind to go learn windsurfing.

“They were so happy to order a nice sweater from me,” she recalled with a smile.

The Sayres married in 1989 and Mr. Sayre retired from the pro tour in 1991 as the couple prepared for their first child, daughter Solvig, now 31. Rasmus, now 26, would follow.

Creating children’s clothing, with Solvig as her model, was the next step on Ms. Sayre’s design journey. Selling at trunk sales and through word of mouth, she went on to develop a full line for women.

“It was sort of a kitchen-table business, and that’s really my long, slow climb into doing what I’m doing today,” she said.

“It’s very self-sustained development. I never had to take out huge loans. It fed itself the whole time, [which] follows my temperament. I don’t want to owe anyone anything,” she added.

A lack of formal training in fashion design was no obstacle for Ms. Sayre, a handcrafter from an artistic family.

“I was so interested in meeting the people who know how to make things [that] I went to small factories and learned so much from them...I have learned to do all the parts,” she said.

When Solvig and Rasmus grew to school age, the Sayres moved from Falmouth to Mr. Sayre’s family home in Vineyard Haven, where the couple still live today. Ms. Sayre opened her first shop on Beach Road extension, doing most of the sewing herself.

“It was a very small place, a hole in the wall,” she recalled.

But customers found it nonetheless.

“People walked in and they always bought something,” said Ms. Sayre, who now relies on a small network of seamstress-designers to complete the pieces she creates. For a time, she also sold her work through about 50 boutiques, but missed connecting directly with the women who bought her clothes.

“Wholesale is tough, because you don’t meet the customer,” she said.

Obeying her own instincts, rather than fashion trends, has earned Ms. Sayre a loyal following of repeat buyers for her comfortable, distinctive pieces, from flowing jersey dresses in jewel colors to folded taffeta skirts and crisp-fronted white business shirts with silky, breathable sleeves and backs.

“Professional women, often people who are in a leading position and find themselves on stage...they are speakers, they are leaders and they need something a little extra,” Ms. Sayre said.

Architects and others who work in the arts tend to appreciate her work, she said. “Designers love it.”

Ms. Sayre also provides bespoke dressmaking for businesswomen, bridal party members and the like.

“It’s a big part of our business,” she said, noting that she is still taking special orders through October.

Even after she closes the store, Ms. Sayre said she is considering the possibility of making some of her most popular designs available to order online.

“I’m going to bring home my sewing machines,” she said.

And she’s not completely ruling out new fashions — just the business side.

“I would like to design, but not for the market,” she said. “When you have a store, you have to ask ‘who will buy this?’”

She has been approached about licensing to a manufacturer, Ms. Sayre said, but that’s not an option she is considering for her work.

“If you do that, then you have no control over what happens to it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Sayre has put the entire contents of her shop on sale, including outerwear, footgear and accessories.

“I’m hoping to be out of here by the end of October,” she said.

What’s next for the property is up to landlord Ben Hall, who told the Gazette he has contacted a list of prospective tenants who previously asked about finished retail space on Main street.

Ms. Sayre’s next moves will include spending time with her Swedish family, sailing and making art at their summer house on an island northwest of Gothenburg.

At home in the U.S., she intends to become a stronger activist for her two key causes: defending human reproductive rights and protecting the ocean from microplastic pollution.

“I have used my store as a soapbox,” she said. “I will definitely be more involved.”