Michelle Good is on a mission to prove that mending is better than ending.
As the founder of Gemine Design, she has created a contemporary line of accessories and apparel made from new and reused materials. “My inspiration as a designer comes from the story of an elderly couple who were asked by a reporter, ‘How have you managed to stay together for 65 years?!’ The woman replied, ‘We were born in a time where if something were broken, we would fix it, not just throw it away,'” says Michelle. “This is a mindset that is becoming lost in our time and, as a result, I have fallen in love with the idea of giving new life to the broken and forsaken.”
Her collections are eco-conscious, created by combining repurposed clothing/accessories with new materials. She also works with clients to customize and personalize meaningful pieces. This year, her nautically inspired Spring/Summer19 line, HIPNAUTIC, will be featured on the runway at Fashion Art Toronto (April 24-28).
We chatted with her this week.
SDTC: When did you realize you wanted to be a designer for a living?
MG: I am an only child, so I would spend a lot of time by myself in my room drawing. I just never thought to pursue a career in art until my love for fashion gave me an outlet, a way to put my art and creativity into something that gave me purpose. I was always buying cool vintage/thrifted pieces with the hope of one day altering them to make them wearable with a modern flair but lacked the skills to do so. It was not until I was taking fashion design classes that I began to understand the fashion industry more and how detrimental it is to our planet. This fuelled me to pursue a career in fashion design with the purpose of making a difference.
What is your earliest memory of creating/utilizing fashion?
I believe I was in Grade 10 or 11 when I went through my mom’s old clothes that she had kept over the years. I found this dress [and], despite its outdated style, I was absolutely mesmerized by the fabric. I remember wanting so badly to make it into something new—a fun dress for a dance or something like that. I saved some money and sought out a local seamstress and worked with her to make it into a dress that was more “in style” at the time. The concept of taking something old and giving it new life was always with me. It just took me several years before I could manifest it into a career.
You mention that you love “giving new life to the broken and forsaken.” Why do you think this idea appeals to you so much and has had such a profound impact on your design work?
My parents both started their own businesses around the time I was born—talk about taking a chance! As a result, they weren’t flush with money and my mom would often take me shopping at thrift/second-hand stores. It was one of my favourite things to do with my mom: hunting the racks for great finds. As I got older, it just became ingrained in me. I loved finding fun, unique clothes to wear that you would not typically find in your fast-fashion retail store.
So I suppose hunting for the discarded or “broken and forsaken” has very much become just an extension of myself and my upbringing. Now it is much more than that: it is a passion, and I firmly believe that sustainability in the fashion industry is a change that is essential to the well-being of our planet and the people in it.
Can you walk us through a typical day in your life, from getting up until going to bed?
I like to get up early, sit down with a cup of coffee and write out my day. I have ADHD, and sitting down with a planner and creating lists is essential in order for me to have a productive day. I will usually head to my studio and get to work. This could be anything from emails, creating illustrations, designs, and/or sewing. Exercise is also a big part of my daily and weekly routines, so I will do my best to make time for that each day, whether its a nice long walk with my dog, a run, or time at the gym. It’s really important to me to keep my mental and physical health in check. I find that it enables me to create and do my best work or at least be in a place that is as clear-minded as possible.
I also like to cook. My boyfriend is Italian, so food is always a big thing in our house! Despite how busy our days are, we end the day with a good meal. I usually make time for an episode of something comical in the evening to lighten my brain. Before bed, I make a list of my goals for the following day. If I don’t, I have a hard time sleeping, because my brain is too busy thinking of all the things I need to do! Lists are my saviour!
Can you walk us through your process of creating a piece?
I generally get my initial inspiration from finding ways to make a difference, spread a message, or support a cause that is important to me and relevant. For example, my last collection was inspired by female empowerment. There was a lot going on in the media with women’s rights and the #MeToo movement, and I was really inspired by the strength and tenacity of women standing up for what is right. I used a lot of bold, strong prints and metallics to evoke the strength and fearlessness of women.
Because my collections are sustainable and made largely of up-cycled materials, I usually get my initial inspiration of the fabric and the original design of the garment. From there I will sit with it and draw out the options of alteration. Sometimes I have a concrete idea when I start, but more often than not the final product is slightly different once I begin to take it apart. Factors like fabric type, cut, and design tend to affect how I mould it into something new.
When working on collections as a whole, I will typically lay out my sourced materials for inspiration. I will play with colour pairings and materials to get ideas as well. I spend a lot of time thinking and planning before I make any cuts or undo any stitches, solely because it’s not like I have an unlimited amount of each fabric/garment. Once I cut, I have to be fairly certain with my direction.
Fave piece you’ve ever created?
I think it’s a toss-up between my branded pendant jewellery and my final leather project in school. My final project was an outfit I made almost entirely of up-cycled materials. I had to present it to the class and talk about what gave consumers the incentive to buy it. I researched some cold hard facts about the negative effects the fashion industry has on our environment, and the shock on the faces of my classmates about how wasteful the industry can be solidified that sustainable fashion and up-cycling clothing was a direction I wanted and needed to take going forward as a designer. It felt so good to show that just because an outfit is eco-friendly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. I think a lot of people have the misconception that eco-friendly clothing means walking around in a burlap sack, and that couldn’t be further from the truth!
In addition to clothes, I make jewellery and accessories. While I was in school, I had heard about this entrepreneurial program for accessory designers that was run by the Toronto Fashion Incubator. It was a one-month intensive program that essentially taught you how to start a business for accessories, from product development to creating a business plan and everything else in between.
It was probably one of the most challenging things I have done and an experience that you just simply cannot get in your typical classroom/school setting. I ended up becoming a top-ten finalist and got paired with a mentor. This is where I created and designed my brand logo and created a fifteen-piece line of jewellery. The experience taught me so much. It really gave me a taste of entrepreneurship and the gumption to officially start my own business and take a career as a designer seriously for the first time.
What is your mantra these days?
“Let go or be dragged.” I have learned that no matter how much you plan and organize, things often do not go as you plan. You have to roll with the punches. I used to fixate and get overwhelmed and frustrated when things didn’t go as I had planned, and that was just energy I was expending in the wrong place instead of utilizing it to move forward in a positive and productive light. So now when I sense things aren’t working out the way I thought they would, I remind myself to let it go or else I’m going to be dragging myself through the mud.
What are you excited for at this year’s Fashion Art Toronto?
It’s always an incredible feeling to see what was once just an idea in your head become something tangible and real. It’s surreal to watch it hit a runway. What is even more exciting is that FAT not only gives me a platform to do that but also to educate an audience about the bigger picture and spread a message: The concept that sustainable fashion can still be stylish and fashionable.
This year the focus and inspiration for this collection is how the fashion industry is negatively effecting our water systems. As a result, I have designed a nautically inspired collection for Spring/Summer19 titled HIPNAUTIC. It is fitted with bright, bold colours and fun, hip designs to keep you sustainably stylish all summer long!