Monthly Archives: August 2014

Meet the MFN: Melissa Behrens

Maggie Welsh and Melissa Behrens launched the Madison Fashion Network last October to grow and centralize the fashion scene here in town.

Melissa talks below about how she got started in fashion, the impact of fashion on our daily lives, and how fashion defines cultural changes. (We featured Maggie previously here.)

Melissa Behrens

How would you describe your current career in the fashion industry?

I don’t necessarily see it as a career in fashion. I didn’t go to school for this and don’t necessarily have formal training in anything fashion-related. I see myself more as an entrepreneur who happens to be taking on fashion-related ventures right now. Current projects I’m working on are coordinating the Madison Fashion Network and making my own handmade jewelry.

When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why? 

There was really not a defining moment when I decided that, yes, this is what I want to do. There have been a lot of bumps, a masters degree, and careers changes along the way.

I was primarily interested in art growing up. I’d work on craft projects at home all the time and I took tons of art classes in school, mostly focused on drawing, painting, ceramics, and photography. But my interest in “art” also extended into wearable fashion. I’ve always found it to be a great form of expression and creativity.

Being a really shy, introverted child I used clothes, accessories, makeup, and hair as a way to show a little more of my personality that wasn’t otherwise heard. I learned how to sew in a home ec class in middle school and begged my mom for a sewing machine. I ended up getting one for Christmas/my birthday one year (I’m a Christmas baby) and I taught myself everything else I didn’t learn in school.

I would mostly do re-fashioning sewing projects—picking up things from resale stores and making them more my own or tailoring them to fit a little better. I’ve also taught myself a lot of the basic jewelry making techniques that I now do from books, YouTube and blog tutorials, and a lot of trial and error. I’ve recently started taking some metal working classes so that I can learn so more advanced techniques like soldering. I still have a lot to learn.

Geometric Brass Art Deco Necklace with Hanging Blue Sodalite Beads

What has been the hardest thing about being in the fashion industry?

I’m not sure I’m necessarily “in” the fashion industry, but I think the hardest thing is not being taken seriously. Fashion is sometimes seen as something that’s fluff, unnecessary, or vain. When you’re interested in fashion there’s sometimes this presumption that there aren’t “brains” behind what you do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What has been the most rewarding thing about being in the fashion industry?

I’ve met some of the greatest people in this industry. The connections you make are amazing. Everyone is truly inspiring, everyone has their own unique style and point of view. Fashion is constantly changing and I think it’s exciting to see what’s what’s coming next, what’s new, what’s different. It’s never boring.

What’s an unexpected turn your career has taken?

I have a masters degree in counseling. I always thought I would open my own practice or go on and get a PhD and be a researcher. That didn’t happen….

Melissa Behrens

What impact do you think fashion has on the individual? 

Everyone participates in fashion in some way, even if they don’t think they are. They’re buying clothes somewhere and putting them on in some sort of manner that makes the most sense to them.

I think what you wear on some level defines who you are and showcases your personality, character, and mood. I honestly think clothes have a huge impact on your mood. I know when I slump around all day in sweatpants and ripped t-shirts I can feel kind of crappy and lazy. But getting dressed, putting on makeup, fixing my hair—there’s something about the process of getting ready in the morning that makes me feel more ready to take on the day. I feel more put together, organized, prepared, confident, professional, all those good things.

What impact do you think fashion has on society?

When fashion is talked about on a societal level I think it’s usually pretty negative. We see a lot of coverage in the media about super thin models; unrealistic photoshopping; how it influences very young girls to judge themselves harshly and compare themselves to the magazine ideals; and the depression, anxiety, and eating disorders that “result” because of fashion.

But what I’m more interested in is how fashion defines cultural, political and societal changes. When we look back on specific time periods I think people immediately go to the fashion and style trends of those times. You know, women are now wearing pants. 🙂

Brass Fringe Statement Necklace

Why is supporting local fashion important to you? 

I think supporting local fashion makes fashion more accessible to the average person. When people think of fashion they think of the very high-end designer houses and over-the-top runway shows in New York, Paris, Milan.

Locally, people aren’t connected to that scene at all. The average person can’t necessarily afford couture and most people never have the opportunity to see a live runway show. I think by supporting local design we give up-and-coming designers the opportunity to show their work and it also provides a more approachable access point for the consumers to see what fashion is all about. A win-win for everyone.

What’s your favorite thing about Madison?

It’s a very smart city. People here are very educated and intellectual. You can have really meaningful conversations with complete strangers.

Henry

What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

I love taking my dog, Henry, to the dog parks.

Photos courtesy of Melissa Behrens. See more of Melissa’s jewelry on here.

Meet the MFN: Maggie Welsh

Madison Fashion Network cofounders Melissa Behrens and Maggie Welsh

Maggie Welsh and Melissa Behrens launched the Madison Fashion Network last October to grow and centralize the fashion scene here in town.

Maggie talks below about why she’s in the fashion industry, what fashion means to her, and why local matters. 

Maggie Welsh

How would you describe your current career in the fashion industry?

After working in the industry in NYC as a handbag designer, I moved back to pursue my own line here. In addition, I work at iona (a women’s designer boutique) as the Marketing Director.

When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why? 

I wouldn’t say that I knew I wanted to be in “fashion” necessarily as I never allowed myself to think ‘unrealistically’ until I was quite a bit older. When I was very young—about third grade or so—I hand sewed Barbie clothes for my younger sister. I was always voted “most creative” and loved anything to do with art. For many years I thought I wanted to be an art teacher (I admired my grandpa who was an art teacher), but after a heartbreaking year where I tutored seventh graders that couldn’t read or do simple math, I knew I couldn’t be a teacher.

I then studied Cultural Anthropology. After a year in, I decided it was not for me and dropped down to part-time. I was sewing handbags on the side for fun, and my boyfriend (now husband) asked why not do that as I really loved it. For some reason I had ruled it out because it was ‘unrealistic’ (not sure why I studied anthropology then!).

I made the switch into the Textile and Apparel Design major at the UW and was really excited about the opportunity to go to FIT my last year. It took me a while to allow myself to realize I wanted to be in fashion, but once I made the switch, everything clicked.

Maggie with a backpack of her own design

What has been the hardest thing about being in the fashion industry?

It’s highly competitive and you tend to work long, underpaid hours. At least in NYC you do. But, if you love it, you love it.

What has been the most rewarding thing about being in the fashion industry?

Seeing your designs made into real pieces every season is amazing.

What’s an unexpected turn your career has taken?

Setting up the Madison Sewing Studio was definitely not ‘the dream’ I came back to pursue, but I felt it was a necessary piece missing in Madison. I’m glad to say that we have successfully set up a space at Sector67 that will hopefully stay for a long time to come.

What impact do you think fashion has on the individual? 

This could go in so many directions. Fashion impacts a person every day no matter what they’re doing because every morning you get up and put something on. Whether you buy at Walmart or Alexander McQueen, you’re still a consumer of fashion. It’s the easiest form of self-expression and that’s why I love it so much.

What impact do you think fashion has on society?

Again, a hard question to answer. It has so many impacts. One impact I like to think a lot about is the effect fast fashion has on society. Fast fashion is the really ‘trendy’ fashion that goes out of style fast and is usually made very cheap. For example, H&M and Forever 21.

Consumers typically throw or give away their “fast fashion” pieces every season which eventually end up in a landfill. These items aren’t made to last and are also made with materials that are unfriendly to the environment and made in bad conditions (obviously, there are also exceptions). Fast fashion was not always in style and I do believe that we’re slowly realizing that it’s better to buy one item for more that will last longer, made locally and fairly over buying ten cheap items. The history of this is rather fascinating considering ‘Ready to Wear’ garments are only a century old and before that everything was handmade to fit the individual.

Maggie Welsh

Why is supporting local fashion important to you? 

For a number of reasons:

  •  Fashion is a business that could add to our community and create jobs for students that I know leave every year because there isn’t a job for them here. Aside from Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Kohl’s in Milwaukee, and Target in the Twin Cities, there aren’t a ton of opportunities, especially on a smaller, non-corporate scale.
  • With manufacturing costs rising overseas and more desire for local manufacturing, local fashion is becoming more important. I think we’re at a bit of a turning point and Madison is really affordable for its size. There’s a lot of opportunity.
  • It’s fun. Seeing peoples’ talent is pretty amazing. There should be a bigger platform for them. Connecting people is the first step.

What’s your favorite thing about Madison?

It’s an easy place to think clearly and get things done.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

Oh man, that’s a hard one! Ahh, I really love walking to James Madison Park and looking out on the lake—that’s perfect place for that clarity I was talking about. I also love the local food scene, and the development of the local DJ scene since the last time I lived here has been huge!

Photos provided by Maggie Welsh. 

Welcome to the New Blog

As the official blog of the Madison Fashion Network, here we hope to share Madison’s fashion happenings from events, exclusives with fashion folks and Madison’s style. After all, Madison has more than plaid to offer and we plan on brining that to the forefront.

xo MFN