Graduates Of the Last Decade: G O L D !
This year is Seattle Pacific University’s 125 years anniversary and for Homecoming, they celebrated by lifting up 125 graduates of the last decade. Our founder, Gina Moorhead, has been included as one to celebrate. Here’s her interview…
Describe your work, volunteer activities, community involvement, and hobbies. What do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy my work – As my projects and vision evolves, I have the ability to travel, exercise my creativity, encourage, help and collaborate with driven colleagues. I’m always learning – it’s my fuel. I’m an active individual and fearless to try new things whether it’s rock climbing or going skydiving. I enjoy live music, exploring my Nordic heritage and cooking. I love spending time with my grandfather, a morse code communications officer on a WWII aircraft carrier and my boyfriend, an astrophysicist for the Nasa. It’s on trend to be a “nerd” or specialist in your field – I tend to surround myself the like.
How does your time at SPU connect to the work you are doing today?
Seattle Pacific University gave me the experience and exposure to corporate and independent designers in the fashion industry. Having this knowledge base has been instrumental in my understanding of a multi-faceted culture and the growth of my business.
Who is a faculty or staff member who made a difference in your SPU education? How did they support you?
Dr. Sharleen Kato and Dr. Jaeil Lee. Both head of the Family and Consumer Sciences and Fashion Design departments, respectively. I was always warmly welcomed in for office hours and beyond. They made me feel like a part of the family and an influential young force in the future of the fashion industry.
How do you stay connected to SPU?
Response magazine & social media, and when I have runway events or pop up shops in Seattle, I make sure to always send an invite to Dr. Lee and alert the Alumni Office.
What advice would you give current SPU students about life after graduation?
Be good to yourself and others. “Både och” as they say in Sweden. Cherish the fact that nothing and no one is ever one-sided. We are all both and we all need both. Professional and quirky, happy and sad, suit and sequins, calm and chaos.
Also – Endure, ride the wave, finish what you started, navigate uncharted territory, don’t be so quick to give up, surrender, stay true to your vision and don’t grow up too fast, it all takes time.
How did you gravitate to the world of fashion design?
I started young. I mixed and matched purple and red and polka dots at the same time. I watched my mother sew. I grew up in a community of doers, create-what-you-want-ers… I felt like all disciplines were taught and learned. If I wanted to make a dress or pair of pants, I just had to ask the right questions- and I did- And I made them. I was surrounded by people passionate about their professions eager to influence those of the next generation that were impressionable. I pursued the path to be a doctor, a marine biologist, and a sociologist but found the challenges of fashion design more exciting. I continue to be absorbed into the limitless scope of the field.
Why SPU? How did it impact your educational goals and career dreams?
Seattle was a natural transition from being from the midwest: rich with water-front living, sailing, and Scandinavians. The idea of being a near-city dweller and surrounded by water and mountains resonated with me. The breadth of SPU’s course catalog and their low student-teacher ratios impressed me and I was proud to accept my enrollment. I found a warm & encouraging community at SPU; I especially enjoyed the opportunity to cultivate relationships with my professors. SPU’s beautifully green and floral campus made me feel comfortable and at home. It opened my eyes to explore the surrounding cities and a chance to build bridges within the Pacific Northwest and beyond. SPU gave me the experience and exposure to corporate and independent designers in the fashion industry. Having this knowledge base has been instrumental in my understanding of a multifaceted fashion culture and to the growth of my business. Upon graduation, I filed for my business’ trademark and am thrilled to now have Gina Marie as an incontestable registration with the United Patent and Trademark Office. With that mark, I have been able to travel for fashion to England, France, Spain, Vietnam, Turkey, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and soon, Sweden.
How did being in Seattle help you and hone your design skills?
Art always draws upon its environment in some way and within Seattle, I know that I sought to link many elements of this place with fashion design. Looking back I see that the music scene has played an influential part in my source of inspiration. In the end result piece of my design, I have little tolerance for discomfort – it must let you move and dance freely within it. When I design a collection, I often consider color first, and as luck would have it, Seattle is home to one of the most influential color forecasting specialists at Pantone, Inc. I learned too in Seattle that art is not invented, it is a progression and it builds upon what has come before it. I came to understand this history with an internship at a theatre company in North Seattle and try always to acknowledge the pedigree in a design while still creating new fashion for this era. Seattle is a wonderfully international little universe. What it has to offer is nearly limitless.
Give me some insight into the development of your “ artisan tailoring,” “sustainability,” and “responsible design” emphases.
Gina Marie apparel and accessories for men and women are made to last, they’re designed for quality and not just following trends. The goal is to offer something interesting to fit in with a person’s lifestyle – a life with multiple places of belonging. I wanted to change the idea of people wearing clothes. I’m unsettled by the culture that has been long developing in general fashion in which apparel is so quickly discarded. By buying an item based on how cheap it is, you’re engaging in global fast fashion. I wanted to go to my local woolen mill in Minnesota, go to Vietnam, meet the people behind the production- and then come back and tell the story of this garment to the buyers. To be able to say “someone made this for you, she drinks her coffee black and she has two great kids” gives you a respect for that piece; combine that sentimentality with quality, and the piece becomes something you take care of, you enjoy, you treat it like more of a gift to yourself rather than something to be used and discarded. Working with the tailors, I’m able to apply the finesse I know will make the piece that gifts to a buyer.
I travel to the sources of the materials and making of my fashion in hopes of doing my part to change the way we consume. Wool is a sustainable and renewable resource. It’s so readily available and it’s such an ancient fiber and yet no one is using it. It comes from an animal that can roam in a pasture and live it’s life while it’s producing this warm, breathable fiber. It has natural antibacterial properties, it wicks sweat and water away, yet it doesn’t need to be constantly cleaned. You can weave wool, knit wool, you can create so many textures and tweeds. But I don’t work only with wool and other fibers can still be used thoughtfully. This year, I was happy to have the opportunity to do a bit of storytelling behind the capsule collection of vibrantly colorful and quirky South African Vlisco waxed canvas bags and slippers. Next year we’ll roll out cotton prints from India in wearable, ready to travel, dress up dress down styles. We’re selling these items selectively at TrueEthic’s socially responsible and environmentally sustainable shop in Minneapolis.
How has your Nordic heritage informed your design aesthetic?
Like most kids in Minnesota, I grew up in a Nordic heritage culture… Spending time bundled up in nice warm clothes and going outside in the snow. You get used to the strong Scandinavian traditions, colors, and textures that surround you, and after a while, you see that it’s woven in you a sense of fantastic natural beauty and simplicity.
Upon completion of Grad school, I flew back to be closer to my grandparents in Minneapolis. Their home holds many Norwegian and Swedish treasures; including ancestral sewing machines, handmade wedding dresses and baptismal gowns, vintage Pendelton wool button-ups, Norwegian sweaters and a vintage cast iron cobbler shoe set. So I rediscovered all the things that things were vital for my family for the last 150 years but now I’m making garments inspired by them that are new and now.
My next goal is to settle down for a bit in Stockholm Sweden. I look forward to getting acquainted with the European fashion markets and involving the brand in Stockholm fashion week.
How is your work being received? (As a Project Runway junkie, may I say your garments are fine, refined, elegant, and something you want to reach out and touch.)
I’m sure no one expected me to be where I am today but I learned that longevity and endurance of your passions differentiate you enormously. When I design a collection I have to wait to release it for the proper season. The collections are designed a year in advance and created six months before you see them in stores. To wait to see the reviews can make you crazy, but careful trend forecasting and research have so far paid off.
People find Gina Marie polished and fearless – like Grace Kelly meets Swedish House Mafia. Through the difficulties of starting one’s own business, channeling the motto of being “fearlessly tailored” has helped challenges, answer questions and overcome doubts. The first big review that we got was from Minnesota Magazine who published a photo shoot of Gina Marie garments worn on a supermodel for America’s next top model – And they put us on the cover of the article. That was great stress relief, designing felt more freeing because I knew I was on the right track.
People have responded well to the transparency of the brand. I source small cuts of special materials from different places around the world and take time to tell the story. The first year was Italy. I fell in love with the most gorgeous mens shirting cottons and suiting wools. I was new to sourcing material and I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for – but I became fully engaged when I found it. I made shift dresses out of shirting cotton and pleated skirts from suiting wool. I fearlessly borrowed from the boys. It was well received by Seattle Met Magazine where the stylist editor noted that “For Gina Moorhead, her work encompasses her passion for high performance-meets-high style, from perfectly tailored wools to soft daily essentials.”
Forgive me, but pursuing fashion design in Minneapolis seems an unlikely pairing. As one who has worked in London and New York, why have you centered your world and your business in Minneapolis?
The United States fashion capitals couldn’t be further away from Minneapolis… I never dreamed that I would be in the position that I’m in now when I was growing up. I certainly never thought it was going to be possible to live life here and work in the profession that I had chosen- highly ambitious designing- because I knew no such brands like it here.
To find a tailor isn’t easy. To find a tailor and source fabric outside of Asia, New York or Los Angeles is nearly impossible. What Gina Marie has created is special. Minneapolis is a no-coast metropolis, surrounded by farmland. It’s a city with a population over 3.5 million that’s furthest away from the next large city in the continental US- yet that extremity can inspire something new in fashion I think. Gina Marie is built on things that would never exist in another fashion design brand. We source some of our material in Bemidji, a little town in northern Minnesota five hours through the woods outside of the cities. You know you’ve arrived when you see an 18-foot tall sculpture of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. It’s a little town with a brewery and a restaurant and nearly nothing else happening except this woolen Mill. There’s a sense that you stumbled on perfectly preserved Minnesotan Heritage hideaway.
I like to think that I’m doing my part to reverse the game from fast fashion to personal tailoring… Instead of pushing for over-consumption and cutting corners, I’ve created the best brand I could here and people are really responsive to it. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to run a brand like this in a place where I’ve always called home.