By: Anthony Brousseau
Some businesses have legendary origin stories—think Apple in Steve Jobs' garage, or Microsoft in Bill Gates' garage, or any other tech company in a garage (for some reason, the computer-minded are drawn to garages).
Others have more modest beginnings.
“I wish it was super exciting, but it really isn’t,” says Stephany Wieland, founder of the Stillbilly Project, an online apparel store celebrating Stillwater and its residents. “It was basically due to a lack of T-shirts that said ‘Stillbilly’ on it.”
When Wieland first moved to Stillwater from St. Paul many years ago, she heard the pejorative turned term of endearment constantly.
“I heard people using the term ‘Stillbilly’ to describe townies and locals and I laughed and laughed and laughed, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that would be the best T-shirt,’” she says.
It took her a few years, but eventually, she realized her novelty vision. She even had her own version of the garage from so many tech company geneses.
“I started out hawking them from the back of my car, like a professional,” she says. “I would sell them out of the back of my wagon like a legitimate businessperson.”
From there, Wieland started selling the shirts, emblazoned with wood-carved lettering design, at Stillwater Summer Tuesdays. The final step (for now) was an online store. Wieland also sells Stillbilly merchandise at Alfresco Casual Living in downtown Stillwater, and Marine on St. Croix-themed shirts up the river at HWY North.
The shop has expanded beyond the original shirts, offering additional designs as well as knit caps and stickers.
A wedding photographer by trade, Wieland says Stillbilly is still a side hustle—and mostly a one-woman show.
“It’s just me,” she says. “I get T-shirt design approval from my children and friends. That’s about it.”
While she recognizes her enterprise is still small, she’s hoping the idea has staying power.
“I think they’d be awesome to find in a thrift store, like someday someone will get sick of their shirt and they’ll donate it and you’ll see it in a thrift store like, ‘This is sweet,’” she says.
New designs are coming soon—Wieland says she adds to the shop whenever inspiration strikes—including '70s-themed summer shirts and tank tops.
Wieland’s personal favorite shirt celebrates the hot air balloons often seen soaring above Stillwater. An illustration of the balloon is buoyed by the slogan “Get High in Stillwater.”
“If you’re not from Stillwater, you’re like, ‘Holy cow, there’s just a lot of hot air balloons all the time,' and I always am like, it’s super weird that you’re outside in the summer and there’s always hot air balloons flying above your house and whatnot,” she says, adding “there’s a slight sassy reference that some people appreciate.”
While Stillbilly might be aiming for a narrow target, Wieland knows her audience well and isn’t afraid of alienating those who aren’t in on the joke.
“It’s for people who are just honest with themselves, how about that?” she says. “Most real Stillbillies are very sassy anyway, so it seems to work out.”