Beyond the sewing machine
Most college students stay up all night stressing over exams. It’s normal to spend your day jumping from lecture hall to lecture hall, taking hundreds of pages of notes throughout an entire semester; however, there is a hall on Kent State’s campus where that is far from the norm.
Working deep in Rockwell Hall are the students that truly define what it means to be an unconventional college student. The sound of pen against paper is traded for thread sewing through material, a sound that sophomore fashion design student Madeline Mehler knows all too well.
“I think there’s something very therapeutic about working with your hands,” Mehler said. “There’s something satisfying about having an idea and being able to go to the fabric and have it happen right in front of you.”
Kent State’s fashion program ranks third in the country, according to Fashion-Schools.org, and 19 in the world, according to Business of Fashion. The accreditation and prestige it boasts pushes even long time designers, like Mehler, to work even harder at their craft.
Mehler has been a seamstress for almost ten years. She reminisces on her first dress she constructed as a mere 7th grader, long before she ever thought she could make this hobby a career.
“My first dress was made out of navy blue linen, which sounds terrible, but I thought to myself, ‘I can kind of do this,” she said.
Mehler comes from an entrepreneurial background, ranging from tailoring businesses on her father’s side to a floral company on her mother’s side. When she was younger she saw herself pursuing a career in music management, something completely out of the ordinary in her family.
“It was very analytical and mathematical. I was good at math, and you need that to be a music producer,” Mehler said. “I was terrified to tell my parents that I wanted to go to school for fashion design.”
Focus shifted for Mehler at that moment, writing songs and honing in on her producing skills took the backseat while her design exploration and blooming love for entrepreneurship was center stage. Business was something she and her mom could bond over, which eventually sparked their interest in making a company together.
“We made natural body scrubs and eventually launched a spa product line that made natural body products,” Mehler said. “We even went to craft fairs and had a great price point.”
This taught Mehler about the world of business and how she could apply this to her collegiate career. It spoke volumes to how much people, especially people her age, valued homemade and unique gifts.
“To have a unique idea that people wanted to pay money for was a good feeling,” Mehler said.
Being at college brought a sudden halt to the duo’s successful business, the weekends that were usually spent at craft fairs were now spent perfecting Mehler’s drawing skills and working on clothing items for her fashion classes.
As a fashion design student Mehler was consistently busy pushing out new designs and sketches, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy her creative cravings.
“This past summer I got bored again, which is usually how a business starts in my family,” Mehler jokes.
Through her time at the fashion school she has found a love for handmade work and product made in America. She condemns fashion designers that “make a logo, print it on a million tee-shirts and call it a clothing company,” that makes fashion less personal and very disingenuous.
“I don’t think that’s selling an idea, that’s just selling a brand,” Mehler said.
She was inspired by her exploration of fashion sustainability during her study abroad trip this summer in Germany. “Handmade in the US” was something she wasn’t willing to bargain on.
“It’s 2016, there is no reason that (outsourcing) should still be a thing,” Mehler argued. “I combined many concepts together to create my clothing brand, Sultrie.”
Mehler saw the room for there to be “rookie mistakes” along the way; investing in too much inventory, going into the red and falling behind in her schoolwork were among her main concern.
She prides herself on her brand’s unique “made-to-order” component, a step many brands are too afraid to take. In addition to this, she does a mix of designs from scratch and upcycling to uphold her values of sustainability.
Annie Skoch, a junior fashion merchandising and fellow entrepreneur, has supported Sultrie since its beginnings and prides Mehler on her ability to capture the young adult audience.
“I love supporting other people’s passions,” she said. “There’s no better place to experiment with your brand then at college, it’s a great place to test the market.”
Skoch and Mehler understand the importance of building a strong following while you’re young, which is why Mehler holds pop-up shops around Kent. These help get the word out to the public about your product and put your items on sale publicly.
The future for Mehler is more fluid since she has a busy semester coming up with upper division design classes.
“I want to create a bigger web presence for Sultrie. I’d love to move to Etsy and other websites when I have time to sit down and actually do it,” Mehler said.
She will continue to work for LaunchNet, an on campus marketing firm that helps student entrepreneurs spearhead their ideas into actual reality. She plans create a new student organization that will allow more pop-up shops and visibility to student creators.
“It’s truly a magnetic thing,” Mehler said. “Seeing what people have to sell is unique.”