World-renowned designer Vera Wang says, “Success isn’t about the end result, it’s about what you learn along the way.” Here in North Hawaii, we caught up with four “designing women” who are talented creators that embody love, passion, creativity and play in everything they design, from clothing and jewelry to flowers and illustrations. Here’s what they’ve learned along the way.
Clothing Designer Taleah Smith, Indigo Sage Designs: Smith started designing clothing at a young age when she inherited her grandmother’s silk scarves. At age five, she was wrapping and making dresses out of them. Later, her mother taught her how to hand sew. By the age of 15, she figured out how to use her mother’s 60s-era Singer machine and started sewing tops, dresses and pants for herself.
“I’ve always been interested in creating things,” Smith said. “I moved to Hawaii in 2000 and had my first child, and then began making baby clothes out of organic material.”
Smith had many friends who had children too, and they soon started putting in orders. She named her business Indigo Sage, which has evolved naturally and at a comfortable pace. While holding other jobs, eight years later her second child, Lilia, was born.
“I wanted to be home again, to create my own hours and be my own boss,” she said. “I put my items on sites like etsy.com and began creating a presence for myself.”
At one point, Tahiti Heuter, who once ran the Waimea shop “Green with Envy,” asked Smith to create women’s clothing. She began making yoga pants, tank tops and dresses and found that branching out was the way to go.
To Smith, the best part of designing is selecting a fabric and drafting a pattern that goes with it. She works with natural fabrics including organic cotton, bamboo and cotton jersey blends, soy/cotton blends, silk and wool.
Smith said designing is a creative outlet that is more of a driving force for her than a business.
“I love making things with my hands,” she said. “It can be challenging to not have a salary, but it’s a balance of being creative and bringing in money. I think it’s worth it and I love it!”
Floral Designer, Jeannie Hallingstad: Freedom and creativity are what Hallingstad loves most about being her own boss. As a plant and flower designer, Hallingstad loves being able to create as a way of self-expression.
“I try to incorporate shells, moss, sea pods or twigs I find on my walks to make the arrangements stand out,” Hallingstad said. “I love the colors and textures of flowers and try to make everything unique.”
When Hallingstad was in high school, she loved plants and worked in a flower shop. She had an “intuitive thing” about plants and learned to propagate and grow many varieties. Moving to Hawaii, she worked at the Four Seasons Hualalai doing flower arrangements for a landscape architect, then at the Fairmont Orchid and later at Kukio. She started her own business in 1999 and has not looked back.
“Although you can say that I stumbled into this business, it’s really because of working with Scotty Seymour (the landscape architect) that I was inspired to go out on my own,” said Hallingstad.
Starting off with a small tarp in her backyard, she now has a large warehouse where she designs, stores her props and grows plants. She purchases most of her flowers from local sources and has never had to advertise, since most of her business is word of mouth. She creates floral arrangements for events, weddings, private estates, large functions and corporate events.
“When you own your own business, you must be dedicated,” Hallingstad said. “There are times that I work until 2 a.m. or four nights in a row trying to finish a job, but it’s definitely worth it!”
Jewelry Designer Amy Flanders, Mer Made Designs: As a child, Flanders’ family moved around a lot, but she always had a rock collection. Because her mother was a painter, she was exposed to the arts, attended art camp and studied art history in college. After graduating, she saw an ad for a job at a jewelry company and moved to Santa Fe, NM to work with Alaskan designer Denise Wallace.
“I worked on the art row, learned silversmithing and liked it,” Flanders said. “I learned to cut stones and work in the lapidary. It gave me more freedom creating my designs.”
By networking at gem shows, she met some fire-agate miners who eventually invited her to go with them.
“It’s pretty rugged out there in the Arizona desert, camping and mining for gems,” Flanders said. “I go once or twice a year to Utah, Nevada or Arizona.”
For 15 years now, Flanders has been creating one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces which she sells to galleries all over Hawaii and on the mainland. None of her jewelry is cast, and she cuts and fits many of the stones. Her Power Line rings and pendants are reminiscent of sunken treasure and her Pictorials line is elaborate.
“I’ve learned how to do a lot and it’s empowering to learn new things,” Flanders said. “I feel super blessed that I can support myself with my art.”
Illustrator & Jewelry Designer, Cassandra Wagner: For Wagner, it was illustrations in children’s books that sparked her interest in design. She loved touching paper and feeling the materials. At 16, she worked for a jeweler and later studied at the Gemological Institute of America, the “equivalent to Harvard in the jewelry world,” she said.
After becoming a gemologist and designer, she was hired by the prestigious Harry Winston firm, designing jewelry by drawing on vellum. After two years, she was recruited by Tiffany & Co. After working there for more than four years, she realized she had learned a lot and was making good money, but she didn’t find it meaningful.
Moving to Hawaii in 2012, she was able to break free from that world.
“It’s a much simpler life here,” she said. “I met Joshua Horan and began to create characters.”
It’s been full circle for Wagner, who now two years later is working on a series of children’s books, with Horan as the writer and Wagner as illustrator.
“Sometimes, when you start following your heart, it all falls into place,” said Wagner. “We are creating nine books where the story line is connected, and each will have a lesson in it.”
“How do you put a monetary price on passion?” asked Wagner. “Someone said, ‘You are an incredible artist.’” I just needed to believe it.”