I’ve known I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a kid. I toured fashion schools at local universities before I was even in middle school. I took private sewing lessons and I was the youngest student in my painting classes. My parents never told me that I couldn’t be a designer. But when it came time to choose a college and a major, I picked a liberal arts college and a major in journalism.
It’s hard for me to look back and pick an exact time when my dream of designing became a deeply hidden desire. It was a slow and gradual process in which my fears of inadequacy took over my passion and drive to be an artist.
I never had any interest in being a writer until I read Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” in the 9th grade. I felt inspired for the first time ever to write about something that moved me. I went to my school’s newspaper advisor and told her I wanted to write something for the paper about women’s issues. I went to a Catholic high school and it didn’t occur to me that this topic may have been controversial or that I may need some sort of writing experience to have an article published in the paper.
I ended up finding out the school’s journalism course was a requirement for writing for the paper but the advisor graciously agreed to work with me after school to help turn my feelings on paper into an actual article. I continued to write for the paper and eventually became the opinions and commentary editor as a senior all without ever taking the school’s journalism class. My desire to be the best was met by how good of a writer I turned out to be.
In the meantime, I never stopped creating art. In fact it was during that time that I made my first pair of earrings –decoupaged with the phrase “Carrie Bradshaw is fabulous” (we all start somewhere)! Art was something I did for me and no one else. My lowest grades in high school and later college would be my art classes. No one ever told me I was the best artist they knew. And when writing came into my life, I received the validation from others that art had never given me.
When it came time to make a decision about where to go to college, I never even toured an art school. Fashion was not an option. I was such a good writer that I thought the validation I received from writing would sustain me. I realized that I could utilize my passion for fashion and interview designers and review fashion shows. I thought writing about fashion rather than creating it was the safest way possible to engage this passion.
But for every article I wrote about fashion, there were ten more I wrote about finance or some equally un-stimulating subject to me. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college about to graduate with a costly journalism degree that someone said “if you are a writer, you’ll write about anything and you’ll write things that no one will ever see just because you have to get them out on paper” and then it all clicked. I had never once written a piece that didn’t get published. It was the publishing itself and the awards, bylines and praise that came with it that motivated me to write.
With the realization in hand, I pushed these thoughts out of mind, finished my senior year in 2010 and entered my new career as a full-time freelance writer for a major online publication. I was lucky enough to have a writing gig about college entrepreneurs and an editor who let me tie in fashion whenever possible. But I also had a contract writing about consumer issues. One day I was interviewing CariDee English from “America’s Next Top Model” and the next, I was writing about recalls on baby seats. The fashion articles motivated because I thrived on telling these stories but the consumer issues drained me.
So I did what every logical person does, I quit them both for an internship at a newspaper that paid minimum wage. I thought that if I didn’t like working at a newspaper, instead of freelancing for online outlets, that I could give up. Every writer’s dream is for a byline in one of the city’s biggest papers, right? That was supposed to be my dream. But it wasn’t and deep down, I knew it. I was just delaying the inevitable decision between fear and love.
All the while, I had started a vintage clothing business with friends that I had met at a magazine internship in 2009. This business was successful in all senses of the word – it was groundbreaking, innovative, and made money from day one. But even as I helped to run this business, I felt lucky that my friends let me be a part of it. I didn’t see myself as having any worth to bring to the business itself. I never thought I could run a business without their help; not because I didn’t have business sense, but because I didn’t have artistic vision.
So I wrote, and I unknowingly lived out my real passion through my business. Gradually, the business became more of a hobby as my partners shifted their focus elsewhere. I had to make a choice, I could try and run this business that always felt like theirs or I could start one of my own.
I came to the realization that both my writing career and my business were not sustainable as they were. My internship had just come to an end and I was scrambling to start finding freelance gigs again. It was that same month that I made a pair of earrings out of wire and the supplies I had left over from the metalworking class I took in college. I made them because I wanted a pair of earrings that looked like these exact earrings. That was the original reason why I created any sort of art in the first place. I never thought anyone would buy them.
But I happened to be wearing them when I ran into a store owner I knew through my vintage business and she said “I love your earrings. You should sell them.”
I was shocked and floored. I am sure she thought nothing of the comment but to me that finally connected the necessary dots. If I make something that I like and that I believe in, eventually other people will like it too, and they will like it so much they want to pay for it.
I started nervously making more pieces until I had a collection. I started asking people around me for advice; and step-by-step, I saw that I could do this.
I launched my Etsy store on February 3, 2012 with about 15 pieces, three months after I made that first pair of wire earrings. On June 9, 2012, someone paid me money for those earrings.
I stopped writing completely once I started Ready-to-Stare. I thought I needed to erase my identity as a writer in order to create one as a designer, especially since I felt so unsure of calling myself that in the first place.
Now that I am secure in my role as a designer, I see that no one else needs to make that distinction but me. My ability to write doesn’t make me a weaker designer, it actually enhances my designs. I aim to tell stories and empower people through fashion. I’ve mastered telling these stories visually and now I feel confident that I can continue this story through words as well. I am writing this knowing no one may ever read this and for the first time, that feels right.
This post was originally published on May 15, 2014