- Words by Mundi Ross
Gretchen Dawley has landed herself in LA by way of North Dakota and making waves in the bridal industry with her Havana inspired gowns. Her strong work ethic is thanks to the hours driving the grain cart for her dad, and her creativity comes from her mother. One of her favorite moments as a child was the day Gretchen Dawley’s mother taught her to sew.
“I was 8-years-old, and the first thing I ever made was a pair of capri pants with an elastic waistband,” recalled Dawley. “I remember thinking that I was officially a designer for accomplishing such a feat. I owned those capri pants and wore them with such pride, the true vision of 8-year-old confidence.” Fast forward through years of being in 4-H club sewing and doing projects, a brief stint as Miss Teen ND, applying to fashion school in LA–and here she is; designing wedding gowns and truly living her 8-year-old dream.
Gretchen will be coming through Colorado Springs on May 23rd for a truly magical event at COCO Crafted. Mark your calendars.
Why the bridal industry? Did you view designing for bridal as more of an opportunity to set yourself apart? Less competitive market?
It’s always been wedding gowns for me. They are my first love. After seeing the movie The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez and receiving my first Brides magazine at 10 years old, I was sold. I would scribble and trace my favorite gowns from Monique Lhuillier and Vera Wang at all times. I consider myself an old-soul living in a nostalgia-filled world first, business woman second. If I ever lost my sense of dreaming, vision, and inspiration, the business would lose its heart and feel very hard to do. It’s already hard trying to make a business survive on your own. If I lost the heart and soul of it, it would be nothing. I chose one of the toughest, most competitive niche markets in the fashion industry to tackle, but creating such a timeless, one-of-a-kind garment makes it so so worth it and is the most valuable experience.
I think what sets me apart is the story behind it. The brides that choose to work with me care about the inspiration behind the gown, the quality of the fabrication, and the meticulous construction that goes into it. The wedding world is tough. The overhead is expensive, the patterns have the most pieces, and the fit is so important–so whoever chooses this market has to love it, or be crazy like me. (Wink)
What motivates you?
Each story I tell through the gowns, and each woman I have the privilege of dressing, gives me my motivation. It’s the women, the stories, and the love that keeps me going. There’s really something so special about a woman in her wedding gown. There’s a certain light about her, and I get to enhance that with the perfect gown. That’s pretty special and motivating in itself.
Where or how do you draw inspiration? Also, share a little about your current collection?
I don’t design based off trend, but based off real women who have stories that need to be shared. Each collection is based on a different time period in a different part of the world. Because I’ve had a love affair with Havana since a young age, I chose to make my first collection about 1950s Havana. I knew there were certain aspects of the Cuban culture I wanted to highlight right away, but it wasn’t until I got to travel to this Caribbean paradise that my inspiration took off. Walking the streets of Havana, I felt the most alive I have ever felt. Through speaking with the locals, wandering the alleys and neighborhoods oozing with salsa music at every corner, and indulging in this insanely rich culture, I was able to solidify the stories and concepts I wanted to focus on for this particular line.
Once I returned home and dove into these concepts, I soon started unearthing stories of different heroine women in history, and felt so convicted to bring their stories to life through the design of my gowns. I chose to highlight the salsa culture, the high society of that time, and the beauty in the distress of a place stuck in time. By the end of my research, I ended up telling the stories of six women through the six gowns in my collection. I have two salsa singing powerhouses, a female revolutionary, a prima ballerina, an old-money socialite, and a mistress to Fidel Castro; all powerful stories that all overcame more than I could ever imagine and tell our 1950s Havana collection narrative so well.
So you’re on a mini tour, and I’m curious to know the why behind taking the collection on the road?
My business is such a personal thing for me. It’s my heart and soul, and I want that to translate in every way. I want to meet brides face-to-face and build a bigger community within the bridal world. This is a way for me to meet brides and creatives that I would probably never get to meet if I didn’t come through town. It’s a way for me to share the 1950s Havana story in a fun and interesting way by engaging with the locals and seeing their take on the concept in a beautiful way. It’s also a way for me to find my place in this industry and share that with others.
What can you not leave home without?
That’s a good question. Currently, it’s my laptop and my journal. My laptop is what I run my business from, and my journal is what keeps me sane. Whether I jot down ideas or sketches, it’s where I keep big pieces of my brain.
Any advice for young designers looking to set themselves apart?
I would say to not overthink what you’re doing or what you’re about. I’ll also give you the most typical response and tell you to never give up what you’re passionate about. Making your dreams come true is really hard and adding the technical business side to it can make it feel impossible sometimes. However, persistence, passion, and faith in your purpose and vision will always prevail. Stick with it, be kind to yourself, and be patient.
What would you tell yourself the year before launching Gretchen Dawley Bridal?
I was giving myself lots of pep talks and reminding myself that every stepping stone, crummy job, or bad experience wasn’t going to last forever. Each and everything we do or go through only refines us and teaches us something we didn’t know before. A year before the launch, I had a goal set, but I also had to tell myself to be ok, or at least learn to be ok, with whatever the outcome would be. We can plan as much as possible, but there’s that extra step that only faith can take the reigns on.
Join COCO Crafted at their event with Gretchen here in Colorado Springs on May 23rd, 2017! COCO Crafted 121 E. Costilla St.
You can find details here.
Joining the event: The Universe Conspires, Amber Mustain Floral, Salted Sweets