Meg Lahti is a local designer and member of the Madison Fashion Network. She talks below about a day in the life of a clothing designer, what it took to make herself a priority in her own life, and how supporting local makers contributes to a community.
How would you describe your career in the fashion industry?
I left my job in May to concentrate full-time on building my clothing business, dimes & wednesday. I’ve worked in different facets of the industry since graduating college, learning as much as I could and applying that to running my own company. Despite working in the apparel industry since 2007, I really feel like this is the actual beginning to my career. I just participated in my first market event, I’m building inventory for my website, and I’m designing new items.
When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why?
I was 16 when I realized that fashion was a realistic career path. It was at that time that I decided I wanted to start my own clothing line. When I look back on my childhood I think it was a natural progression. I always loved making doll clothes and designing paper dolls, and I had a massive collection of paper dolls growing up. (Not going to lie, I still have all of them stowed away in a closet!)
I also remember being about 8 years old and playing “tailor” in the basement with dress up clothes and a mannequin. I got serious about learning to sew in high school and started by adding fabric to the side seams of my jeans and hand sewing clear vinyl kilts with faux fur trim and huge buckles. I loved the sense of freedom I had in creating my own look and knowing that no one else had that particular garment.
What does an ordinary work day look like?
I hope I never have an ordinary work day! I do try to make to-do lists, but sometimes inspiration strikes and I go off in a different direction than intended. At this point in building dimes & wednesday I’m wearing all the hats from sourcing to design and development all the way through production and sales. Some days I have a clear direction and others I feel I’m being drawn and quartered between what needs to get done. Eventually I hope to have more structure to my days, but for now the least I can say is that every day is interesting and something new!
What have you learned through your work?
I’ve learned a lot about myself through the process. One of the most positive things I’ve learned is how different your outlook can be when you’re finally doing what you’re meant to do. In the jobs I held prior to being a full-time entrepreneur there was always a feeling of discord in my life. I knew that I wanted to just work on my business, but the risks and financial uncertainty were enough to hold me back.
I finally realized that I’ve spent the majority of my life making sure that everyone around me was happy and comfortable, many times at my own expense. I thought “Once I have everyone around me taken care of I can concentrate on myself and my business” … And then I realized that’s not a feasible task.
All I was doing was standing with both my feet planted firmly in my own way. It’s been a struggle for me to put myself as a priority. It felt very selfish at first, but I can’t even explain how freeing it was to shed the overdeveloped sense of responsibility to everyone around me.
Why does fashion matter to you?
Fashion matters to me because it’s such an individual concept and it’s such an obvious way to express yourself. It’s something that you don’t have to take too seriously, that you can have fun with, and it’s so easy to change it up.
I think it’s interesting how your dress can affect the way you conduct yourself, or alter your mood and body language. I know that I feel and act differently when I take more care to dress myself when I’m going out than when I get dressed to do errands and schlep around the house on a Sunday afternoon. I love the feeling of confidence when you put on a piece of clothing that you love and feel great in. It just makes the whole day better.
What value does fashion add to the local (or global) community?
The global value of fashion is a two-sided coin. There’s the fabulous side with social media and international fashion bloggers uniting fashionistas across the globe. It’s awesome how we’re more in tune than we’ve ever been due to how fast trends can travel. I love looking at street style blogs from around the world. There’s limitless creativity, self expression, and inspiration!
However, there’s also the darker side of global fashion: the economics involved in producing apparel for the cheapest prices at the expense of the people and countries who depend on those jobs to improve their national economy. You’re sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but I won’t delve too far into that side right now.
The global impact of fashion does segue into the increasing value of local fashion. There is such a renewed interest in buying US-made goods, sustainability and farm to table restaurants that it makes sense to extend that to local fashion. I grew up with close ties to the artist community in Duluth, MN, so I’ve always been immersed in local makers and never gave much thought to it until I was older. The goods you buy from local makers or businesses have so much more meaning to them and the transparency of who you’re supporting (as opposed to a multi-level corporation) is, I think, just so essential to building a better community.
Local fashion also goes to show that you don’t have to move to NY or LA to be part of the fashion industry. We need to keep building up the fashion community and resources to keep the talent local and to show that the Midwest is more than plaid, camo, and blaze orange!
What are the next steps for you, and what do you need to get there?
For dimes & wednesday and my career I really need to focus on marketing and networking. Obviously, being involved in the Madison Fashion Network is a step in the right direction! It’s hard for me to say specifically what all the next steps are, however, because I have so many ideas for my business and right now I’m the only one so I can’t go in all directions at once.
I have received a lot of positive feedback from guys about my jeans and button-down shirts so I may be looking into adding some men’s styles sooner than I originally planned!
What’s your favorite thing about Madison?
I love the laid back atmosphere and attitude in Madison. I also love the diversity of the neighborhoods — it adds a lot of character to the city.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?
I love to people watch on State Street in the summer. I also like exploring different landmarks in and around the city, I think everyone should do tourist-y things around the city they live in.