Melissa Kolb, 33, makes old things new. She started Mended Material in September 2012 to use her creativity and talent to turn what we might see as hopeless old dresses into lovely new ones with unexpected combos. (They’re so fun!)
There’s something magical about seeing Melissa’s pretty creations that exist solely because she saw their potential. Melissa reminds us that life provides so much—unexpected lessons, inspiring stories, people that help us move forward—but it’s up to us to take notice and put our own pieces together to create a wonderful life.
For Melissa, that means some days in the studio, some days waitressing, and every day working toward doing what she loves full time.
People with Panache: Your designs are so unique! How long have you been making clothes and bags?
Melissa Kolb: A little more than 10 years. I always bought secondhand clothing, and I just started changing it myself. I’d find a cute dress, but it was too long or didn’t have any shape, so I would tweak it for myself. About six years ago I began selling dresses for a couple of years. About a year and a half ago I started up again, sewing, doing shows and selling online. The shows are sort of like indie craft fairs—not expensive art shows, but not craft shows either.
PWP: But you went to school for architecture design, right?
MK: I got my degree in architecture in 2005, but I didn’t get my master’s because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something creative, but it wasn’t that. I dragged my feet for a couple years before I started getting into sewing.
But I don’t regret going to school for architecture. I owe my complete creative mind to it. I went into it because I was good at math, and that’s what everybody kind of told me I should do. But when I got into my design studios, it was a completely different world. I didn’t even care about the math classes. I was just all about the design, and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, and I feel like I use it in everything that I do. There’s a visual balance to all of it.
PWP: What’s your favorite thing to make?
MK: Definitely clothes. For me in particular, I feel like you can be a lot more expressive. I make bags more fun with a pop in the lining, but for me it’s definitely the clothes. Because they are all very, very different.
PWP: I guess you only meet your customers really at shows, but why do you think they’re into Mended? Because it’s unique or upcycled maybe?
MK: Probably more so the fact that it’s different. I don’t have any two products that are exactly the same. That’s something that was always important to me. I didn’t want anybody else to have the dress or bag I had. It’s why I hated shopping at malls. I feel like that sense of uniqueness is probably what draws people more than anything.
PWP: Who has encouraged you the most?
MK: Probably an equal tie between my husband and my sister. My husband is very, very supportive. I sometimes am apprehensive about things just because I’m putting myself out there. You start to get insecure, and he always really pushes me and is really confident in me. Same with my sister, she always wants to help. She pushes me too.
It’s not that I’m not confident, I am, but when it comes down to certain things, I second guess myself because I haven’t been doing this long enough to really know. Then I get that customer who really appreciates what they’re buying and I see them multiple times—that helps with the confidence.
PWP: What do you see for your future?
MK: Right now I’m trying to learn what sells the best, figure out what I need to be making and try to understand my customer and my market better. I would like to do more shows and figure out which ones attract my market—and do those shows over and over again. I enjoy doing that. You meet a lot of people and other artists. I think eventually I’ll want to sell full-time in the art markets, nontraditional retail. I’m kind of going one year at a time. I would definitely like to be doing this full time though.
“If you’re happy that’s all that matters.”
PWP: Do you have any advice for someone scared to follow their dream?
MK: I mean, I’m still scared. I feel like so many people get lost doing what they feel they need to do and never really completely figure themselves out. When you’re doing the day-to-day thing that everybody else is doing, it feels like that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I think it’s so important to find the littlest thing you enjoy doing—whether it’s a hobby or a full-time job—and stick with it. There are ups and downs to everything and you just have to do it. If you’re happy that’s all that matters.
PWP: Yeah, even if you just take a class you love in order to grow in some way. I think it makes people more understanding, too, if they’re doing something they love. Otherwise people don’t always understand why you would start making clothes, or start a blog just because you love sharing people’s stories.
MK: I feel like sometimes initially people didn’t take me seriously. Until you really start making some sort of profit or money on it, people don’t really see the point. To me, you have to be happy. Somehow, some way.
PWP: What makes you happiest?
MK: I enjoy working but I don’t think it makes me the happiest. On a day-to-day basis I’m happiest when I’m making a list or organizing something. It’s a really easy sense of productivity. I like feeling a sense of accomplishment.
On a larger scale, my husband and I go up north a lot to northern Michigan. What makes me happy is when we get out of town to be together or be with friends and family and get away from day-to-day stuff. It’s important that what you do every day for your job makes you happy, but it’s just as important that you detach yourself from that and you can be happy away from it. You need other things that keep you going too. I’m glad I do what I love most days—but I’m also grateful that I know I sometimes just need to get away.
[Photos by Alysse.]