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.
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.
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.
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.