For many creatives, living the dream means working from home. But for Minneapolis clothing designer Kathryn Sterner Sieve, it means working while traveling the world.
This past summer, the designer quit her day job with Target to focus full-time on Winsome, the clothing line she founded in early 2014. But that was only the latest phase in her big-picture goal: to launch her own mobile clothing design studio. Since last winter, she has quietly been pulling together the framework of the new endeavor, beginning with the purchase of a 1975 Airstream trailer, which she’s already in the process of gutting for a complete rebuild. She plans to fill it with a couple of sewing machines, a cutting table, ironing board, and storage for fabric and inventory— “the minimal amount of things needed to continue designing and producing small, edition-based runs of garments,” she says—plus a kitchenette, bathroom, and sleep quarters.
Her goal is to travel the country while partnering with bloggers and boutiques for pop-up shopping events, while also giving her the opportunity to connect with her outstate customers and offer more visibility to the clothing production process.
Today, she has launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the funding needed to complete the build-out, and get on the road. With a a pledge of $10 or more, pledgers receive a reusable Winsome tote bag; with a pledge of $45 or more, receive a Winsome faux-suede clutch; with a pledge of $100 or more, pledgers receive a Winsome easy-care silk top ($120 retail value); and with a $500-plus pledge, pledgers receive a Winsome grab bag filled with four garments from her 2016 collections ($600–$800 value). Oh, if and if you feel like dropping $2,000 or more, you can score naming rights to the mobile studio. To pledge, visit kickstarter.com.
I chatted with the designer to find out more.
The designer in her studio
You’re just returning from a trip to Iceland and Paris. What brought you out there?
Originally, it was just personal travel—I went to Iceland with a group of friends, and met up with a friend in Paris after that. It turned it into an excuse to do some fabric shopping. I visited a couple of wool companies in Iceland, and did some fabric shopping at Le Marais in Paris. [Ed. note: Sieve left Paris six hours before the terrorist attacks.]
What inspired this idea to create a mobile clothing design studio?
To be honest, I can’t really remember how the whole idea was conceived, aside from essentially, I love to travel and I need to travel, and that’s really difficult to do when I wanted to dive into Winsome full-time. I started dreaming of the idea of the trailer and I knew I wanted to leave Target, so it was essentially a way for me to still enjoy that idea of being on the road and experience new places, and still be able to work on Winsome. One of the reasons I like owning my own independent brand is to bring the process to other people, and connect with people who are interested in the brand beyond social media. While social media is an amazing way to share what you’re doing, it’s sort of a one-way road. It’s sort of faceless—there isn’t a lot of opportunity for human interaction.
Do you know of any other mobile clothing design studios out there?
Not specifically fashion design, but people are doing these sort of mobile ideas—there’s a gal who’s making hats out of a trailer, there are mobile recording studios, and there’s the whole food truck movement. Plus, people are living in smaller houses—the Tiny House Movement. So I asked myself how can I could apply what I do to these other ways of living and mobile spaces.
Why did you decide to go the route of traveling design studio instead of just sticking to online or going the traditional route of selling your goods at wholesale markets?
I wanted to try something different. There’s so many clothing labels out there. I thought, what can I do that can get people excited? What is something other brands aren’t doing?
The designer in her studio
Winsome has amassed quite a few Instagram followers since it launched. Do you plan to leverage that in any way?
It’s a way to help get the word out. Getting a ton of Intagram followers isn’t and has never been the end goal. It’s about how I can take that one step further. From Instagram, people can get a glimpse of what’s going on, but I hope to reach more people from my trailer.
What do you hope to achieve with the mobile studio in the long-term?
It would probably sound way more professional to say I have a goal, but it is totally an experiment. My rough plan is to either be on the road continuously while periodically stopping back home, or treating it as I’m going to go to this destination and then come back. I have yet to sort out how the travel is going to work. I don’t think that the trailer as a full-time studio is sustainable. Clearly, I will want to grow the brand eventually, but I just think it’s a fun way to get inspired and try something new, and it will probably give me some better creative insight on how I want to build Winsome. I think it’s sort of a launching pad for the brand and for me personally as a designer.
What aspects of the business do you hope the Kickstarter campaign will help fund?
I’m intending on using it almost exclusively for renovating the trailer. It’s a 1975, 30-foot Airstream trailer, and hasn’t been renovated since it was purchased in 1975, so it needs a lot of work. I’m currently in the process of gutting it to essentially the shell. I want to take out all the walls, the floor, and the installation, and I want to reinsulate it so it’s efficient. In order to create a functional studio with the space in the trailer, I need to relocate the kitchenette, so the plumbing will be timely and costly. I hope to rewire the electricity to include solar power, battery power, and an external plug-in. Just buying the flooring for about 250 square feet alone will be costly–it’s kind of amazing how little things add up. I’m estimating I’ll need about $20,000 to renovating the whole thing.
What if you don’t reach your Kickstarter goal? What are the stakes?
The stakes are the difference between me getting on the road next summer and me getting on the road question-mark. I left my steady income to dive into Winsome full time, so that doesn’t leave a whole lot left over. It would mean so much to make this project come to life in a somewhat reasonable timeline.
To find out more and pledge, visit kickstarter.com.
Floor plans from the new Airstream trailer: