It was always going to be fashion for me. I had a natural flare for it. I made my outfits with calculated precision and reckless abandon all at once, crafting fabric onto my body, synching up the waistline, cascading over the hips, Oh the joy of creation, to take a piece of fabric and turn it into a work of art tailored to enhance the best features of the body…
I was a teenager when I first started out. I was in that in-between stage of graduating high school and waiting to attend college. ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ was an active belief in my home so keeping us busy was of prime importance especially to mama. And so it was that in the space of one summer break, I transformed from a clueless bored and restless teenager into a business savvy fabric-expert fashionista that designed and made clothes not only for herself but also for her sisters (for free) and friends (at a fee).
Crossroads I – Finance
Somewhere along the way, this gifting I had, this natural talent I seemed to display, was sold to me as a failed career choice. Perhaps it was its presentation as a stopgap between high school and college. Or perhaps it’s because it came easy to me, I’m not sure, but somewhere down the line, I internalized that fashion design wasn’t a real career; that all it represented was an in-between gig, something you do while you wait for something more important, and that settling for it would indicate a kind of failure, a falling short. I suppose this notion was in keeping with the old belief than only left-brain professions can secure one a bright future and that all right-brain creative activities are best left at the hobby level.
My folks, wanting me to have a secure future, sent me off to college when the summer hiatus was over, and so off to college I went to study accounting. After graduating I worked in finance as my day job and kept up with my fashion at night. I pulled many all-nighters; going to bed at 4am was my norm, while still arriving at my day job at 9am sharp the next morning. This went on for about six or seven years. When I realized my day job cheque would lay around for months, forgetting to cash it simply because it didn’t even come close to what I was making daily attending to fashion, I knew it was time. I gave up finance and focused on just fashion for the next years 5 years through transitions of marriage, baby, relocation, etc.
Crossroads II –Finance
Ready or not, a new season dawned in my life, giving me the chance to re-evaluate which direction I wanted my future to take. I was starting over, marriage behind me, baby to raise alone, new country to settle in. Crossroads appeared as once again the choices were placed in front of me; fashion or finance. Fearful for my future and that of my son, I made the safe choice; I’d go with finance, a secure career that guaranteed a hefty pay-check; it certainly beat the experimentations of fashion, where the dreaded image of the ‘starving artist’ was never too far from my mind.
Additionally, I was afraid that under my new circumstances, new geographic location, etc., I might not be able to duplicate the success I’d previously had, or rebuild an impressive client list like I had previously done –I often imagined my business not taking off and me being stuck in some tailor’s backroom stitching nothing but buttons all day long, never earning enough to make ends meet.
The die was cast, and off I went back to college to study finance further so as to increase my earning capacity. College was boring and I hated most of it. I hated working in finance even more, yet I somehow managed to climb to the top of my chosen field, culminating in me heading the finance department of a worthy establishment with a hefty budget in the millions –no small feat.
Crossroads III –Finance
Fast forward a decade, a chance to choose again; now married to Mr. Grey, my baby boy a thriving teenager, and another relocation. I was home for a year, waiting to get my paperwork in order before I could join the workforce in my new home. In support of my dreams and the hunger in my heart, Mr. Grey bought me a Singer and an Overlock Machine, and all the fabric a fashionista girl could want in the world. By this time, I hadn’t stitched a thing in about a decade. To say I was rusty is an understatement; I was literally murdering fashion, attempt after attempt. I feared I’d lost my mojo, that the magic was gone, the talent wiped out. I had no clue where to begin, and so when my paperwork cleared and I could start working, I hurriedly packed the machines away and quickly ran back to work in finance because it was safe and predictable with a guaranteed pay-check.
I hated finance even more. Even studying for an MBA did not make it bearable; if anything it made it worse. I realised I was only enjoying modules on operations, not so much the ones on finance, the very major I was specializing in. Halfway through my MBA studies, I had this inexplicable urge to change careers, veer off from finance into operation; but what operations exactly –I wasn’t sure. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I took a one year course and earned a diploma in interior decorating –that’s how desperate my hunger for creativity was. Following that ‘fix’ I stayed the course with finance, completed and earned my MBA, then quit. It was time.
Crossroads IV –Fashion
After I quit, I dusted off my machines and got back to creating, making a couple of outfits in the process with less than impressive results. Oh God, how could I have forgotten I’d lost my talent, that my mojo was gone, that I now sucked at both designing and making clothes? Feeling anxious, I packed my machines away and set off to travel across the pond, mostly in search of myself; it’s what we do when we feel lost, we go back home to the familiar. So back in Belgium I ended up with the hubby and son. As they returned to responsible living, I extended my stay and a one month trip became three months, then a full year, and in there somewhere, a career change emerged, along with a fierce determination to live my most authentic life. I was in search of a soul-alignment that would allow me to apply my true gifts to the business of living.
As soon as Flight Academy was over and I was on the line, I started to obsessively think about fashion again, yet I was painfully aware that I could no longer sketch beautiful designs, let alone make them! What should I do to regain my skills? I’m going to have to apprentice under a master, regain my craftsmanship –I concluded.
Coming back from a trip, I picked up my mama from my sister’s and to spend the week with me and we talked about everything including fashion. I told her I’d tried time and again to get back in the game but that it appears I’ve lost my mojo. ‘That’s normal’, she said, ‘keep designing and by the fourth outfit, you’ll have regain your skill.’ Oh my, is it as simple as that? Wise mama.
While on the job at a hotel somewhere in America in the first half of June 2017, I was watching Asa of the Shahs of Sunset show her Kaftans collection designed together with her mother, and I felt… I’m not sure, I think I felt like I was getting left behind… I thought my mama is here too, and she taught me everything I know, I could do that with her… I’m watching Rose, my IG friend launch her fashion line of Cami Tops and I feel fiercely proud of her. I watch Lydia E Millen show off haul after haul of beautiful clothes, and boy would I love to dress her! I’m watching my UK friend, Merab, buy a business here in the US and start the relocation process to come and run it. I’m listening to audio books on gratitude, The Law of Attraction, Joe Vitale, generally feeling inspired. My favourite author Jeff Goins, who I credit with starting me on this journey with his book ‘The Art of Work’, released another book mid-June 2017, ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve’, and my resolve was firmed up all the way. There’s no time like the present…
A series of events have brought me here; and it appears that fashion has come full circle for me –I have found my passion for fashion again. For every minute I’m not out flying, I want to be running my fingers over silky fabric, a lacy top, a frilly dress, a tailored suit. My intention is to build a fashion dynasty, but even that begins with one stitch at a time. I’ve dusted off my machines again and my hubby has purchased more fabric for me. Fashion has come home to rule the roost and creativity lives here again. I am aligning with my purpose and fulfilling my desire to create beautiful things and beautiful spaces. Stay with me, the journey continues…
ღ Helena Grey xo