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Meet Kelly Clark of Sew Bridal in Edison Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Clark.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
During high school I decided I wanted to be a model or an actress so I attended a local modeling school which would represent me after I graduated. Each person in my class received a black tote bag and our assignment was to decorate it so that each of ours was different. When I came back the next week, mine was completely redesigned with leopard print and crystals everywhere. I remember that my teacher saw mine and made a prediction that I would end up being a Fashion Designer as opposed to a model, and that really resonated with me. I was so excited about that assignment and thoroughly enjoyed every process of redesigning the bag! After thinking about it, I knew she was right and that I’d rather be behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Knowing I eventually wanted to attend Columbia College Chicago, I went to community college so that I could take as many art classes as possible; I think I actually took every single art class they offered. I wanted to become as educated and well-rounded as possible in the arts. I received my Associates of Arts Degree from Wilbur Wright Community College, while working to save up for Columbia College, which is known for their Fashion Studies program. I decided to minor in Fashion Business because I always knew I wanted my own company and needed to take the proper classes to ensure I could be both designer and operator.

While at Columbia, I found that all of my fashion sketches were of gowns and at the fabric store I would gravitate toward laces, satin, chiffon, and organza, which are all very bridal. Ironically, a couple of months before graduating, I found an internship with a woman who has been doing bridal alterations and designing custom bridal gowns in Chicago for over 30 years. I felt like it was meant to be so even though it was unpaid, I went for it. While there I learned everything I needed to know about design and how to be a calming force for stressed out brides. I interviewed with a local blanket company who was looking for a creative director/seamstress who was familiar with fabrics so that I had a job to support myself while I interned. In getting to know the owners of the company, they learned I was trying to start my own business and did everything in their power to educate me on the basics of owning a company. Through this job I gained a business mentor who gave me the courage to finally open my own shop after 2 years of interning!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I have faced plenty of obstacles, and even failures to get to where I am today. College tuition was paid solely out of my own pocket so I always had at least 2 jobs at once. After graduating from Wright I had to take 2 years off of school to work and save as up as much as possible, but Columbia was my dream school. I would work retail during the day and then bartend at night to take advantage of every waking hour. My plan was to work part-time when I got to Columbia so I could focus on my studies, but once I got there I slowly started realizing it wasn’t enough. I had to switch to full-time in order to afford rent and tuition. I was working 40 hours a week and going to school full-time. This didn’t leave much time for homework, so I remember pulling plenty of overnighters. Forget about a social life, I was pretty much a zombie for 2 years of my life. I’m not sure how I did it, but it was all worth it when I put on that graduation cap.

After graduating, it was difficult gaining people’s trust to provide alteration or design services since I was right out of college. I started doing alterations at an assisted living center to get some experience under my belt.

As an art student, I didn’t have a great deal of knowledge on many computer programs and processes that are crucial in starting a business. Everything from putting together a simple spreadsheet to creating an entire website seemed like such a daunting task. This was a huge obstacle and caused a lot of frustration. I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos so that I could teach myself how to achieve these goals. Sometimes you just have to get creative to solve problems and get to the next step of where you want to be! Nothing is easy when it comes to the journey of owning your own business, but I can honestly say that I learned something valuable from every obstacle and failure I faced.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sew Bridal story. Tell us more about the business.
Most of what I do is custom, which I think makes Sew Bridal stand out from other bridal shops. I created the ‘Build-a-Veil” system which allows brides to be their own designer of a one-of-a-kind veil, as opposed to shopping off the rack. I do not have a huge inventory of items because I enjoy sitting down with my clients to listen to what they want. I prefer face-to-face time so that I can really get to know them on a personal level. A lot of times I end up becoming their friend because I am honestly happy doing my job, and love helping the women who walk through my door!

I also specialize in personalized bridal party gifts, formal alterations, and vintage restoration of gowns and veils. I truly believe that weddings should be about the special moments with your loved ones, which is why I strive to make every product I create meaningful. My sister recently got married and unfortunately our grandma passed away before her wedding so I took fabric from my Grandma’s gown to make into a keepsake handkerchief for her to hold when she walked down the aisle. I make patches with a special message or quote that can be ironed onto the back of the groom’s tie so he can be surprised moments before walking down the aisle. I have also transformed a grandmother’s wedding gown into a Christening gown to make her Baptism that much for special for the family. I try to keep everything I do at a reasonable price so that these moments can be embraced instead of stressful. I just live for the little moments in life where you can let someone know how much they mean to you in a unique way.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
In business, I feel very lucky to have met mentors for both design and business, which are my 2 passions. Somehow, in a series of crazy, random events I was brought together with both of these people at the exact time I needed them. I also feel very lucky to have a support system of family and friends behind me who truly love me unconditionally and support me in life and business. You pretty much get what you put in to starting your own business. I do think if you really work hard and are determined, then the universe or luck or whatever you choose to call it will aid in making it happen!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sabella Photography

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