Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up (if you aren’t from Seattle, what brought you here)?
I grew up in Issaquah, Bellevue, Redmond so I’ve lived in the area my whole life. The eastside is pretty close to the mountains and lakes and hiking and biking trails, so even though it’s a chic place, I was heavily influenced by outdoor performance clothing. I was in middle school when Nirvana was at its height, so flannel and ponchos and Doc Martens were the fashion statements of the day, and they were all about comfort in this damp weather. Grunge influences the way I designed my debut collection, “Moss.”
Define what “fashion” means to you.
A friend asked me, “Am I allowed to wear brown and black together?” I replied, “My cat is brown and black, and she is beautiful.” Guess what? We all get to wear whatever the f**k we want! What I want to wear is something supremely comfortable (breathable, soft, no itching), something that emphasizes my physical assets as well as my personality. To me, “fashion” is not a set of rules. It is my own perspective, my own expression. It changes every day. My outfit mimics the weather, the event/s I’m attending, the task I must perform. It must serve a purpose but also help me look the way I want to look. I don’t believe we should have to choose between beauty and comfort.
What made you decide to pursue a career in fashion?
My mom taught me a little bit of sewing when I was younger, and was a crafter. Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money for our clothes, so we had to be happy with hand-me-downs and off-brands. I fantasized that I could have an entirely different life–or be a different person–if I had the right clothes. Sometimes I would dream that I arrived home from school and my entire closet was filled with new clothes. When I got married, I got a sewing machine for my registry, and started teaching myself from a sewing book. After seven years of sewing in the evenings while teaching full-time in the day, I decided it was time to sharpen my skills in a real fashion-design program and get serious about turning my hobby into a career. I call it my “jobby.” I love it. It’s dynamic but gives me lots of quiet meditative alone-time and creative outlet.
What’s it like training at the New York Fashion Academy? How do you think your education has prepared you to work in fashion?
Among the other programs in the city, I chose New York Fashion Academy because it was best suited to my needs. I already had some practice sewing, but I didn’t understand the first thing about pattern-making. Terry offers flexible morning, evening, and weekend classes so I was able to continue working through the early part of the program. For running my own small company, CUP & PENNY, I feel very prepared now to do my own production, to recognize quality, and to know what to look for in a production facility as operations expand.
What fashion genres inspire you most and why?
I didn’t read a lot of fashion magazines growing up; I don’t know a lot about design houses; I don’t try to follow trends. That being said, I love looking and feeling good in the clothes I’m wearing. I love getting a little attention, but wearing practical things. I love wearing clothes that aren’t fussy, that can be machine-washed. You know those clothes you would wear every day if you could? I hope to create inspired, beautiful pieces that become a treasured part of a woman’s wardrobe. Something that feels and performs like a basic, but looks good like a classic.
What are your favorite pieces to design and create?
I’ve made a lot of skirts! They were the easiest thing for me, starting out. My very favorite item in my wardrobe is a gathered, full, A-line with a high waistband, like something you’d see in Mad Men. I made it from artisan-made nankeen fabric I purchased on an amazing trip to Shanghai. With generous inner side pockets, it carries all my things so I can go purse-less. CUP & PENNY’s best-seller is a one-size-fits-most wrap skirt. With outer pockets, it’s an apron. Over leggings, it’s a bike skirt. When I’m done with school I’ll finally have a chance to churn out a bunch of skirts in all the fabrics I’ve been hoarding. Next summer I’ll be selling those at fairs and markets around Seattle.
How do you select what materials to use on your designs?
I’m choosy about materials because I have easily allergic skin. Cotton, bamboo, and hemp feel the most comfortable. I love knits because they’re form-fitting, soft, and warm. It also greatly depends on the purpose of the item. If it’s a summer skirt, I’m going to use a light cotton or something drapey and breathable. If it’s an autumn/winter skirt I’m going to use wool, corduroy. For the Moss collection, I started with designs first and then sourced my fabrics. But sometimes I might walk into a fabric store and see something adorable and purchase it retail-price, not yet knowing what I’ll do with it. Lately though, my stash has grown too big and I’ve made a new rule for myself: I can only buy fabric if I know what I’m going to do with it!
Are there any designers or celebrity fashionistas that you love the most and what is it about them that you love?
Alexander McQueen is the biggest reason I want to design fashion. He expressed the most beautiful ideas, used his own life and family history for inspiration. He was an artist. His gorgeous, clever creations and theatrical runway shows really got me thinking about the way textures and shapes could create a woman, a character. I’ve always believed the outfits we put on each morning are costumes, for the character we’re going to play that day. His strong, powerful, sometimes even intimidating silhouettes for women are unbelievably sexy yet commanding. One of his gowns is made from oyster shells he personally collected from a beach; as an homage, I stitched a piece of sea-glass onto one of my shirts. Beauty is everywhere, even hiding in the ugly, if you are looking for it. McQueen found beauty in the everyday: moths, even garbage. His suicide reminds me to keep looking for that beauty, to see and do as many beautiful things as I can before my time on this planet is up.
What are your plans for the future?
Shows and markets are in CUP & PENNY’s future, as well as distribution through brick-and-mortar shops. It’ll be small-batch. I have a guy in New York who’ll do my production when my numbers grow, but for now I’ll be making my products by hand at my dining room table, expanding my product line bit by bit and gaining a following… One stitch at a time.
Lesley is the founder and editor of What’s Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events. She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.