My story begins when I was a young girl. I asked my mother for a sewing machine and to be taught to sew. For many years she said no because she thought I was too young. I was a determined girl so I kept asking. When I was 12 she relented and taught me the basics of sewing and I went from there, learning by trial and error. I don't remember having my own machine but we did have one in our house that I used. It was a Kenmore and my mother hated it. I think she blamed her sewing failures and frustrations on the machine. In reality I think she simply did not enjoy sewing. I did not hate the Kenmore because it was my creative tool. It was frustrating to use but I was happy to have it because I loved to sew. I loved everything about it. Sewing was my ticket to having the kind of wardrobe I wanted but could not afford to buy.
When I look back I can see that sewing and fashion were my earliest and strongest creative interests and that someone really should have directed me towards a related career. I had no idea that one could pursue a career in design or fashion. If I did have an inkling it seemed like a far off dream for smart and privileged people with the resources to get themselves to New York or Paris and the connections to land a job. I did not know one could go to design school to get training! I grew up in a small town in Florida and saw no possibility of ever getting to New York or pursuing an interesting career at all, let alone something as exciting and fancy as fashion. No one in my family had a clue about things like that. Sewing remained a creative hobby in my life, but nothing more.
That is until I was in my early 30's. I was always searching for the same thing: clothing that was extremely well made with a great fit. I was often frustrated by the offerings in department stores and boutiques because I found the quality and fit to be poor. I don't know why or how I developed an obsession with fit and quality - but I am very particular about it. I finally found what I was looking for in a shop that was located around the corner from the gallery in San Francisco that I was running with my former husband. Diana Slavin Womenswear is a small business where the clothes are designed, cut and sewn in house with a retail shop in front of the work room. Walking in to her shop was like walking into a dream I did not know I had until it was in front of me. I was incredibly inspired by the business model and the clothes! The clothes were what I had been looking for and not finding. They were extremely well made from beautiful fabrics and had a fit that worked for my body. I was so inspired by Diana's business that I asked if I could come work for her as an intern. She said yes and so I did. Diana's business opened my eyes to the possibility of working in design and fashion in a way that made sense to me: a small, personal business where one could have a direct relationship with customers. I decided to go back to school to gain the technical skills and formal training needed to pursue a career in design. I enrolled in the fashion design program at FIDM in San Francisco.
After graduating from FIDM, I took a job for a brief time with a private label accessories company that developed products for big brands. After a visit to their factories in Hong Kong and China, I saw clearly that this was not my path. I knew in my heart that my interest was in starting my own business based on the vertical design, manufacture and retail model I had been introduced to at Diana's shop.
I set about writing a business plan and quickly realized that opening a store with merchandise I ordered from other designers was going to be a better and more efficient way to begin than developing and producing a collection of my own. So that's what I did. I opened a retail store in San Francisco selling contemporary fashion collections and planned to start designing and producing my own line once I got the business up and running. The store ended up being successful but I never produced my own line. There was never enough time, money or energy left at the end of the day to execute that part of my vision.
I sold my store after running it for 5 years, relocated to Portland and took some time to pause. After a bit of down time, I started making things. I had often hand crafted elements for the window displays in my store that people really liked. I made window props from magazine pages that I cut into shapes and strung up into garland/mobile like shapes. I started to play around with that concept and made some prototypes of a decorative mobile I thought might be a viable and sellable product. I put them on Etsy and had a very positive response and quickly decided to create my own website. That was the beginning of Frazier + Wing. I never expected to be in the business of making decorative mobiles, but it seemed like a fun path to go down and why not? People liked what I was making, they were selling and it was creatively satisfying. I loved every minute of that time spent making and selling those mobiles. But, the dream of designing clothing was still alive in me and I still wanted to figure out a way to do it.
At one point I consulted a career/life coach to help me figure out why I was stuck with this dream that I could not seem to bring to life. I had all kinds of excuses - one of them being that 'I'm too old". Ha! She told it to me straight - she said your dream is not going to die. So you can either do it now or do it when you are 70. She said you will still want to do it when you are 70, so might as well give it a go now. I knew she was right.
So, finally, after years of researching, thinking, dreaming, and countless conversations with my husband, I have settled on what feels like the right business model for me: the made-to-order model. It's a model where I design a collection and make only what I sell, one piece at a time. It feels a little like being the modern version of an old school dressmaker. It suits my nature, my love of sewing and my desire to run a small business where I hope to create a personal connection with customers.