Heirlooms for a Daughter
Reflections on a conversation with Gwen Riley
by Jess Archer
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Since Stag first opened its doors on South Congress Avenue in 2009, female shoppers, milling around the men’s goods, have been asking the same question: What about women’s clothes? And chances are, they’ve posed that question to the cool, casually hip Gwen Riley, director of buying and operations for Stag — and now the founder and owner of Daughters.
Says Gwen, “For several years I worked the retail floor at Stag, and women would come up to me in the store and ask, ‘What brands are you wearing? Where are your jeans from?’ It was always in my mind to start a women’s clothing store. I just needed to learn from [Stag owners] Steve Shuck and Don Weir before I could take on that challenge.”
And that’s exactly what Gwen did. She hustled to learn as much as possible about Stag’s business operations. Eventually Steve and Don made her an assistant buyer. She was a quick study and eager for more of a challenge. It became natural that she join the owners on their biannual purchasing trips to New York City and Las Vegas.
“Plenty of the brands we carry at Stag have women’s lines, too, so often on our purchasing trips I would try them on,” Gwen says. “In my mind I was gathering information for the clothes I wanted to carry in a women’s store. Eventually, I felt ready to approach Don and Steve about starting a women’s line at Stag.” With all her accumulated knowledge and practical experience, Gwen could finally hone in on exactly what she wanted her women’s store to be.
Daughters has now been in operation, both online and within 130 feet of the South Congress Stag store, since March 2018. For Gwen, the business of Daughters is driven by the analytical side of her personality, as well as a sentimental side, which very much embraces the values that were handed down to her as a daughter.
Every inch of Daughters — from the brands the store carries to the layout and the online ethos — has been carefully curated by Gwen. She doesn’t leave much to chance and would prefer to analyze the data of what sells and why. “For both Stag and Daughters, I’m the how and why. I read the numbers and capitalize on our accomplishments.” When asked if Daughters will show up in the other four Stag locations around the country, Gwen isn’t promising anything. “Retail is really volatile. Our success with Daughters so far has been quite manageable. I’m steering the ship, and I don’t want to push too hard too soon.”
But as analytical and diagnostic as she may be, Gwen is also quietly sentimental about the heart of the name she gave her store. Being a daughter is a role she very much embraces. Gwen’s the youngest of three, with an older brother and sister. She was born and raised in Brookline, MA by devoted parents who were married 47 years (her father passed away this past April).
Her father, Peter, worked at Harvard University restoring antiquated buildings, and together her parents were antiques collectors. “I was bred with the mentality that old is better, that maintaining a beautiful antique is a good endeavor,” Gwen says.
It’s not surprising then that as the buyer for Stag and Daughters, Gwen has an eye for vintage wares. “Growing up, Mom would always take us thrift shopping. It became our way of being in our own minds, instead of being driven by mall fads.” You’ll find lovely vintage clothes and jewelry at Daughters — carefully selected not by industry fashion trends but simply by what Gwen loves. Items like a 1960s handmade suede fringe jacket, or a flower enamel vase pendant necklace. They’re heirloom pieces, the kind of thing you might pass down to, say, your daughter.
In addition to a fondness for vintage, practicality and comfort rank high on Gwen’s criteria of what to wear. Again, it’s Gwen’s mother, Abbey Jane, who taught her that clothes should also have utility. “My mom was a nurse in the Navy during the Vietnam war,” Gwen says. “Her uniform was a skirt and jacket. But when she was stationed in the field, she got to wear fatigues. She loved the fatigues — said it was fantastic to wear something so comfortable and practical for her job. A tight-fitting skirt got in her way. She taught me that clothes should have a purpose beyond looking pretty.”
To that end, Gwen is all about the comfort and utility of a great pair of jeans: “Everything for me starts with a good pair of jeans and great tank top.” Both of which Daughters carries in strong supply, stocking a variety of Levi’s fits, both new and vintage, as well as the Imogene + Willie brand. “If I can help a woman get into the dressing room with a great pair of jeans that fit well and feel reflective of her personality, I’m happy.”
So far, the feedback on Daughters has been quite positive and reflects Gwen’s ultimate aim for the store, which pays homage to the values her parents instilled in her. “When women walk into Daughters, I want them to feel that the items we carry are both familiar and new, a sense of nostalgia meets a curiosity of finding something new — all available in one place.”
This holiday season you can find a pop-up version of Daughters at the Stag Domain NORTHSIDE location. You might even see Gwen there, tending to the setup and the customers, absently touching the heirloom gold chain she always wears around her neck, a gift of devotion from her late father to her mother.