A Lawrence woman brings her big-city clothing design experience back to her hometown.
Managing a large overseas clothing production line was a learning experience for Megan Campbell, but it put a damper on the young clothing designer's burning ambition to design her own line of children's wear.
Six months ago, Campbell returned to her hometown of Lawrence to make her designing dreams come true. And Campbell, 26, is the first to admit it's not going to be an easy task.
"I knew the only way I could do this was to come back here, where I have the support of my family," said Campbell, who is living with her parents, working part time at her parents' clothing store and has opened a studio in a small back room above the family's downtown shop.
Win and Linda Campbell, Megan's parents, have been Lawrence business owners for 32 years. They own Campbell's Clothing, 841 Mass., and Winfield House, 835 Mass., a home furnishing store.
"This is a great opportunity for me to get started on my own venture while I'm still young," she said. "But I know I won't be making any money the first year or so.
"My dad helped me make the decision to come back here to start something for myself and he's helped me understand how difficult the first year will be."
A learning experience
Even before graduating from Lawrence High School, Campbell had chosen her profession. She grew up knowing the fashion and clothing business at Campbell's Clothing and her mother taught her to sew in grade school.
So, in 1988 she took off to the Windy City to study fashion design at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Campbell discovered her dream somewhat by accident. While designing and sewing several dresses for her four nieces, one of her college fashion design instructors suggested she market the one-of-a-kind wear at a children's clothing shop in suburban Chicago.
The hand-painted garments were a success and Campbell had discovered her niche. But what she lacked was experience.
After college, Campbell accepted a job at Mothertime, a large Chicago manufacturer of children's and maternity clothing. As head of product development for children's garments, she quickly learned to design large groups of clothing ... and fast.
"I always wanted to design what I personally see in my head, but at this company there were a lot of design restrictions," said Campbell, who worked for the company from 1993 until earlier this year.
In addition to developing the products, Campbell supervised completion of her designs several times a year at the production center in Turkey.
Each jumper, sundress or pair of overalls has a piece of Megan Campbell painted within the fabrics.
Even though she is producing several garments with the same design, each item is still a one-of-a-kind because she includes at least one hand-painted piece on the garments, which range in sizes from 9 months to 24 months.
She describes the fun-loving outfits as "whimsical, simple style garments with unusual prints and colors."
Her nieces are what initiated the designer's creations, thus the company's name: With Love Aunt Meg.
"This is me putting an inner part of myself in the garment," she said. "My family has been such an influence that no matter what kind of artwork I'm doing, I always come back to the closeness of my family."
Three times a year, Campbell travels to Dallas to select her fabrics for the season. She said she tries to find unusual prints to mix and match. After designing the season clothing line, she sends an order for the fabric.
Before the fabric arrives, Campbell is busy in her tiny downtown studio cutting patterns for each size of the infant-sized clothing. Eventually, she hopes to have a computer that generates the variety of sizes.
The next step is to cut the fabrics, another time-consuming chore Campbell hopes to farm out when she's an established designer.
The cut pieces of fabric are sent to sewers in the area who are equipped with industrial-size sewing machines to give the garment a professional look.
In the future, Campbell hopes to hire a sales representative to show her products at large trade shows, employ assistants to aid in the production of the garments, work with large sewing companies in Kansas City and market her clothing to up-scale boutiques and possibly large department stores.
The first box of finished outfits arrived about two weeks ago. For her first attempt, Campbell produced about 200 summer infant outfits. The first display her designs are in the back window of Winfield House.
"We were so excited when I saw the big box of clothes arrive, my mom and I started tearing through the boxes. And a woman came in and pulled out one of the garments and bought it. They weren't even ironed and they didn't have price tags yet.
"That was a boost to my confidence," Campbell said.
Campbell hasn't designed any garments for infant boys yet.
"It's so difficult to make whimsical and cute look macho at the same time, but I'm trying," she jokes.
She should have several boys garments ready for fall.