From off-menu eateries to underground java joints, too many of the best things fly off the radar. Usually discovered through word of mouth, hidden gems go beyond the iconic and provide us with quirky, unexpected and different. Philadelphia is known for many local designers, Norman Porter and Priscilla Costa are just two, but for those who like a relaxed, minimalist approach to dressing, you will want to sit up and take notice of Megan Swansen. A less-hyped designer, she has churned out small collections since launching in 2011 that dovetail neutral colors and simple silhouettes with laid-back glamour. Another testament of what a hidden treasure she is – as I was taking photos towards the end of our interview, she pulled out her uncle’s notebook that was passed down to her, and inside were pattern making assignment from the 1950s! Her Uncle Frank attended a satellite fashion school, so he mailed his homework to be corrected.
Maybe, just maybe the reason why Megan remains under the radar is because those who know about her want to keep her their own little secret. Sorry, guys, but the word is out.
Your story: I started sewing when I was in high school. I didn’t quite know what I was doing; it was more of an experimental stage. I mostly took garments apart to see how they were made. I made my prom dress out of recycled upholstery fabric that I draped and tacked until I had the silhouette I wanted to wear (I was looking a lot at Schiaparelli at the time).
I don’t remember what my first machine was – whatever was tucked away in our basement at the time.
I attended Moore College of Art and Design and a earned degree in fashion design. I’ve worked for several corporate companies in various capacities, and I’ve also collaborated with small boutiques and other artists. Touching many different projects and parts of the industry has given me the confidence to branch out on my own and create my own designs and business.
Design process: A lot of designers start their design process with a story. I’d like to think that I’m constantly updating the same girl’s wardrobe and life. The general story and girl stays the same – she just grows and evolves a little each season. I usually have specific shapes and fabrics in mind, and then I develop how those keeping in mind what will look best and what they will work with. I pick key fabrics and colors, and go from there.
Best thing you’ve made: A fitted fake leather moto jacket that was close to 30 pattern pieces! It was and still is my baby. I made a simpler version before I made it, but wanted to update the pattern and put it into production. At the time, I was working with factories in San Francisco. After a few sample versions of the jacket and many, many dollars, I was still not happy with it. So, I ended my relationship with the factory and made the changes myself. It was a labor of love and a big representation of my learning experiences and growth as a designer and a business woman.
I don’t wear it often; the remaining two are sample sizes and don’t fit me well. They’re in my archive and available for stylists to borrow.
Mentor: There are certainly people in my career who have taught me valuable lessons, but I wouldn’t call any of them mentors. Because I’ve worked in many different fields, I’ve absorbed a lot information and I’ve learned valuable lessons about what to do and what I never want to do. This combined body of knowledge I’ve accumulated has contributed to how I see my process in small ways, but not any single person in any specific way.
Manufacturing: I’ll be producing my spring 2015 line using a local Philly factory that will handle all sewing. I’ll create the original samples, grade the patterns and cut the pieces. I chose this route because I can’t do all things all the time, so outsourcing is the next step in the growth of my business. I’m very fortunate to have a good relationship with the factory and the process has been pretty seamless. Maybe because it’s my second go at production? I’m looking forward to growing with the team there.
Fabric: I buy my fabrics from a local wholesaler. There’s a great father and son team that handles a warehouse in Allentown. I’m really excited about the relationship I’ve been able to make with other local businesses in order to grow mine.
Uncle Frank: Growing up, I always associated my Uncle Frank with the Navy. My mom, aunts and uncles would always listen to his stories from WWII. He was sweet, but tough, orderly and focused. I didn’t know about his career as a successful pattern maker until I was in design school. He left me his pattern books when he passed away.
Where do you want to be in 5 years? Rather than being the next big, famous designer, I hope that my brand is self sufficient in 5-10 years. I want to have a tight little brand – small and successful.