We had the good fortune of connecting with Amelia Walsh and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amelia, how do you think about risk?
I can basically say the majority of the decisions I’ve made in my life and career have been built on taking risks. From proposing to my husband when I was 17 to jumping in head first into new positions and pivoting my career again and leading me to FABRIC, I’ve definitely learned over the years that I’m the “leap before looking” type. For the most part I’d say it’s worked out phenomenally well for me. There have been some heart breaking moments that have come with it, but even if a decision doesn’t work out great, I know I learned so much from it. I would always rather see an idea come to life and it crash and burn then to have never tried. I have a hard time letting go of missed opportunities.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
First off, NOTHING in the fashion industry is easy. I believe the word ‘easy’ is a curse. It’s meant to make you believe there is a fast track or a way to skip over the difficult stuff; but it’s only during the difficult stuff we learn what we are made of and what is important in a career to strive and work towards.
I went through life on a mission to become a Fashion Designer. Fashion was a part of my future by the age of 7 when I learned to sew from my mother. But life has a funny way of showing you the plans it has versus the plan we have for ourselves and my designer dreams changed. I fell in love young, tossed my ticket to fashion school in California out the window, and decided to stay here in Arizona where my future husband and I would have a more stable foundation to grow. That did not mean I was going to give up my dream, it just made it extra difficult to achieve. Through school I worked the coffee house scene before becoming a variety of professional assistants while starting my own fashion business. Full-time work, Full-time school, married, and trying to build a company was my life; but without going to fashion school to teach me “what I’m supposed to do” I had to make my path on my own way. Fashion Degrees past Associates were NOT easily found specially outside of California or New York but I felt getting my degree was important for my professional growth. So I built my college game plan around what I could do, got my Associates in Fashion Design from Phoenix College and continued to ASU for Small Business and Design.
I decided what I didn’t learn in school I’d learn on my own through growing my own brand and working any and all fashionable opportunities I could find. Lucky for me that meant jumping into the fashion show scene. It wasn’t until after my first fashion week I met Margaret Merritt from The Agency AZ. The first person to spark my interest out of design and into the backstage world and another opportunity to learn a huge part of the industry that I wasn’t learning in school.
7 years, 7 schools, 3 Fashion Weeks, and 1 boutique later, I graduated.
Exhausted and ready to prove to others what I could do I started searching for that must have Fashion Designer title I had been wanting for so long, not realizing I already had that title in my own business but thinking I needed another companies approval for the title to be official. And one day I got it, right here in Arizona my first official Fashion Designer role. It was for an Eco-Friendly Fair Trade fashion accessories start-up. I didn’t realize at the time how much this job would open my eyes to the hidden problems of the industry. I had already been wanting to be sustainable with my designing but had no idea the impact that job would have on what matters to me about my professional career forever. Besides the insane demanding hours, the unrealistic expectations of the owner, the horrible pay, and lack of good leadership, I met 3 of the most talented women I have ever gotten to work with at that job. It didn’t even last for a full year but my friendship with those ladies is still strong. That was the last time someone else ever gave me the title of a Fashion Designer.
After that I was frustrated and feeling like nothing else was ever going to happen in AZ for me. I used my illustrator and photoshop skills to lean more into the graphic design world and pick up piece work from past contacts (hint- great customer service in the coffee industry really can lead to amazing connections during professional transitions). I was feeling defeated from my past position and debating if moving to another state would really make things better. Searching for jobs in itself is a full time job and I knew I had to look further than just Designer roles. That’s when I found a job posting for a Marketing and Launch Party Producer for a luxury denim company that was moving to town. I was hired to help plan a launch party and runway show as they moved here from California as well as help grow their marketing efforts as the brand grew and established its roots. After spending time growing my graphic skills and continuing to work behind the scenes with Margaret I felt pretty confident that, that was a job I’d be great at. It would be another fashion start-up but 2 years further along then my past employer and at that point, not being in the fashion industry at all was more of a risk then working with another startup. So, I dove head first into the world of denim which once again taught me parts of the industry that I never knew possible. The good and the bad. I moved up in the brand and even scored the title of President by the end. It’s there that I learned all things manufacturing. Literally, I had to build our manufacturing facility in north Scottsdale and I had never done that before. Growing a team from 3 – 33 all while learning OSHA rules, dealing with international sourcing and shipping, trade shows in both Vegas and NY, oh and did I mention I was pregnant at the time!?! My son was born just over 3 months after we opened our showroom and factory space in Scottsdale. It would only be a year and a half later that the owner would bring it all crashing down in a classic Hollywood mid-life crisis sort of way. The owner turned out to be not such a great guy and he lost more than just our business in the end. 4 years of all mine and my teams hard work came to a mad halt and in the end I was the one left to lay off the team and sell off the company I built piece by piece, machine by machine. It was devastating. But like most devastating moments, they come with a glimmer of hope.
I had met Angela Johnson while still in school and bringing my brand to Scottsdale Fashion Week. We had been on the Board of Directors for the non-profit Fashion Group International together and always shared our day dreams of having a sew house and a better industry here in town. She had heard of our factories closing and brought her new business partner, Sherri Barry, in to look at the equipment for a fashion incubator they were developing, later to become FABRIC Tempe. I reflect back on this moment so much. Like, if you can identify a point in time to actually see stars align that was it! I couldn’t see it through the heartache at the time but from the ash’s of one fashion disaster, another awesome opportunity started to grow and would even eventually be setting further the ground work for my future.
I left that company never wanting to work for someone else again. Never wanting to put my future in someone else’s hands and I was then feeling like I had the skillset to do it all so why not venture out on my own with purpose. New mom, still married, recently unemployed, and determined to “make it work”. I continued with designing for clients through custom work and contract gigs for a plus size brand and leggings company, I also proceeded with runway/behind the scenes production, and why not start a whole new business concept while we are at it, The Marry Mart. The Marry Mart is a curated immersive bridal festival for the modern bride and groom, but that’s for another day. The Marry Mart was a business idea I had that I just had to get out of my head and bring to life. I had no idea how well it was going to do, but at the time I needed something like that to believe in after leaving my last job, something I had control over.
During my time of freelancing I was privileged enough to be asked to teach at Arizona State University in their fashion program. The idea of teaching had only briefly entered my mind when freelancing a few lessons at FABRIC over the years but now to teach a full semester class was a whole new idea. The timing worked out, mostly during non Marry Mart times or fashion show seasons and as an Alumni, I thought it would be a fun opportunity, and it was. Teaching Apparel Construction and then creating a Fashion Show Production course made me realize I wanted to do more and deeper. Not just for my business, not just for someone else’s business, but for my industry. Teaching at ASU taught me that I can play a much bigger role in the development of the entire industry. I was feeling beaten up by the fashion world and I don’t want these fashion students to go through the same. No matter the title, not matter the job, I want to improve my industry and make it better for future fashion professionals because it can be better and should be better.
After that last sentence I think it’s pretty obvious what drew me to FABRIC Tempe. That’s basically their entire mission. To make the fashion industry a better place. When Angela asked me if I’d be interested in the Creative Director role I had so many thoughts running through my mind and questioning if I wanted to work for someone again, or if I was just ready to leave the industry entirely. But when a company comes along that matches your moral integrity AND your creative outlet needs, YOU TAKE IT. And so far it’s been the best professional decision I have ever made.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Morning Coffee at Lux Central Roosevelt Row on a First Friday
Day Trip to Jerome
Antique shopping on 7th Ave in Melrose area
Record buying at Stinkweeds
Drinks at Undertow
Over night at Grand Canyon Under Canvas
Lunch at Phoenix Burrito House
Poolside at The Scott
Shopping at Frances and Bunky Boutique
Dinner at The Old Town Tortilla Factory
Concert at The VanBuren
Game Night at Cobra Arcade
Beers at Wren House Tap Room
Hiking at South Mountain
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My Grandparents for always showing me there’s no goal too far or obstacle you can’t over come, my parents who taught me how to turn stubbornness into determination, my husband for always pushing me past my limits and always believing in my abilities even when I didn’t, and to all the amazing female leaders, mentors, and colleagues I’ve had along the way. I wouldn’t be here without you!
Photographer: Ryan M. Walsh @rwalshphoto Laura Segall @laurasegallphotography