Mary Meyer Clothing: A Heart in New York

Alumna Mary Meyer (Painting 2001) was born and raised in California, but her affinity for the East Coast eventually drew her to New York, and she's never looked back.

Today she owns and operates Mary Meyer Clothing, a storefront shop in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn and a wholesale business. She produces and sells clothing of her own design, and also represents several other independent designers.

Her work is a mixture of organic and angular -- natural fabrics with sharp angles and bold shapes.

Meyer credits the success of her company to the enthusiasm for experimentation and innovation fostered during her years at CCA.

She also works with Step Right Up, a program she cofounded that provides art education in New York schools.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I'm working on the production of my summer line for my retail and wholesale collections -- getting the factory set up for cutting and sewing. February through May is when stores place their orders for fall.

It's an eight-month production schedule. So, right now I'm creating work that will go public in spring 2014. The designs that I conceptualized in January and February will hit stores around August or September.

Are there key materials, for instance certain fabrics, that remain consistent for you from collection to collection?

The basis of my work is jersey. It's the bulk of what I use. Lately I've been designing with more wovens in collaboration with the designer Purush. They're really unique fabrics. I do the design work, and he supplies the materials from India. Everything is hand woven in small quantities, with natural dyes.

Your website sells work by a variety of designers besides yourself. How do you decide who you want to represent?

Most of the other designers I carry are friends or people I've met through friends, mostly new designers. I also carry pieces that I find and buy at trade shows. Sometimes I'll just see something I'm into, and shoot the designer an email, "Can I carry your brand?" Usually they're eager to say yes.

Are you originally from the Bay Area? How did you decide to attend CCA?

I was born in Marin, in the redwoods. My mom worked in the film industry, so we divided our time between there and Los Angeles. I attended school in Venice Beach. I loved the urban lifestyle of Los Angeles. It was very exciting to be around all the stars and all the fashion! And then I would get to spend my summers in the woods, back up in Marin. I loved having that balance.

When I was getting ready to graduate from high school I applied exclusively to colleges on the East Coast, but then decided to take a couple of years off to travel. When I returned to California, I had friends at CCA who really liked it, and that decided things.

How did you evolve from being a painting major to working with fabrics?

Technically I was a painting major at CCA, but I was interested in a lot of other disciplines. That was what drew me to the school -- the variety of the facilities. Ken Rignall was my Printmaking professor, and I was very inspired by him.

As long as whatever we were doing was innovative, he was excited by the project. He was happiest when we wanted to do something that he didn't know how to do. He loved that the most.

In printmaking I focused specifically on woodcuts and etching. I also worked with textiles -- weaving and fabric dyeing. They are all different types of process-oriented work, so there was a lot of crossover in my learning.

I loved my educational experience at CCA! Linda Geary was very influential, one of the best teachers I've ever had. She is good at getting you to inspect the artist's mind. She asked tough questions, and that was really important for me. My advisor, Mary Snowden, kept me on track in terms of progress toward my degree.

How did your business start?

When I graduated from CCA, I was waiting tables and making for myself the clothes I couldn't afford to buy in stores. And finally finding the time to explore work I hadn't had time for while I was studying.

People at the restaurant would ask me about my outfits: "Where did you get that?" They kept wanting to buy my designs. So my business started that way -- very organically. The first time I sold clothes was at the CCA Holiday Fair, and I sold out!

How long did it take your clothing design company to really get established?

It took a few years. I started my brand in California in 2003, and then moved to New York in 2006. I loved the Bay Area, but I had always been drawn to the East Coast. It wasn't until I moved to New York that I found my "design voice."

I hit my stride as a designer, and felt a stronger connection to my work and what I was doing.

I developed a deeper understanding of how my clothing connected to my fine art work. In California I had divorced my disciplines too much. In New York I put them together, made the connections.

How do you navigate the fashion world in New York?

I've always preferred to work outside of it. I have a lot of colleagues that I keep in touch with, and I follow what's happening on blogs, but I'm not immersed in that world. I'm doing my own thing.

How do you strike a balance between the business side and the creative side of your company?

It's really hard! I'm always trying to juggle the two. My work studio is located inside the storefront, so it's all under one roof. The space is a large and open with 18-foot-high ceilings. In the back of the store is where we process wholesale orders.

When everything is happening all at once it's overwhelming, but if it's a slow day retail-wise I can always get design work done.

It helps keep things separated mentally to have my work space apart from my living space. I'm clearer minded and more focused. At the end of the day I can leave work behind, and let it go until tomorrow.

What is Step Right Up? Why did you decide to teach in your spare time?

Step Right Up is an arts program that I helped establish. It's a labor of love. We work under the umbrella of Arts for All, a nonprofit that provides arts education for those in need in the New York area. We're writing and producing plays with local public school kids.

Usually we work with elementary-school-age kids and high school students. My friend Bonnie does the writing and directing, and I do the sets and the costumes. Art education is something I've always enjoyed; I love it so much!

I taught after-school classes while I was in high school, and while I was studying at CCA. I participate 10 to 15 weeks a year, and when I'm doing a play plus everything else, my life is really bonkers.

How do you look back on your time at CCA?

I feel that my education is a strong part of what I do now. People ask me in interviews if I keep up with my painting, and I say yes, I'm doing it all the time! I use those skills throughout my work.

Also a big part of my job is constant problem solving -- a skill I feel is really cultivated in an art education.

And I do love running a business. It's an art unto itself, to do that well. I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. My employees and I love coming to work every day.

I don't take my success for granted. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.