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.)
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.
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….
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. 🙂
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.
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.