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October 10, 2013

What Are You Doing Here?

Hanging with some of Seattle's best graphic design talent, including Mark Popich, Lesley Feldman (designer of the Oiselle logo), Misha Zedah-Graham and The Watsons

My life can be divided into two sections…before design and after design. The AD era began when I quit my day job as a paralegal (think death by a thousand paper cuts), and took a flyer as an Admin Assistant at a local branding and design firm. I didn’t have a design background, and on paper, I had no real reason for being there. But from the minute I walked into this well-appointed, design centric lobby, it was as if the heavens opened, the angels trumpeted, and I fell madly in love.

At the time, it blew my mind that there were people, let alone an entire office, dedicated to the visual aesthetics, color, typefaces, and designs used by businesses. And that within big business (our clients) these were increasingly viewed as company assets! They were valued, monitored, reviewed, and improved. Even CEO’s were getting hip to “brand value” and weighing in on decisions previously delegated to someone down in the art department.

So I was like a kid with a brand new toy. Excited about everything. Eager to learn. Ready to read, talk, and experience everything in this AD world. I befriended some of the designers and tagged along on social outings. One night, we went to an event put on by the local chapter of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). A couple of leading designers were speaking, including the esteemed product designer Michael Graves.

As we sat talking, one of the young designers turned to me, in her poised designer way, looked me square in the eye and said, “What are you doing here?” In other words, what was the new Admin Assistant doing at this design event that was, hello…for designers. I fumbled some kind of answer, “Oh, I thought it looked cool” but it was awkward and I felt the sting of her judgment.

As my career at the design firm progressed, and I went from being in the proverbial mailroom (wait, it was the actual mail room) to being a Brand Strategist consulting with management teams, a power within me grew. Not just the confidence of accomplishment, but also the ability to redefine myself. Not based on a linear notion of the past (eg, English Major to Paralegal to Lawyer) but rather on my personal interests and abilities. After the design firm, I started my own brand strategy practice that, ultimately, became the knowledge base for my most ambitious redefinition yet: apparel designer and founder of Oiselle.

Interesting to note that, along the way, running has been the proving ground for all of it. Again and again, I experienced the ability to start in one place (slow, out of shape, slightly overweight…yes, this was me at age 21), and through training and speed work and racing, end up somewhere entirely different. I will always be grateful to running for that. And I hope in some small way, Oiselle encourages women everywhere to take risks, to try new things, to redefine…and to not let anyone put you in a box. And if someone asks, “what are you doing here?” you can confidently turn to them and say, “probably the same thing you are.”

Or you can think of this little tidbit from Titanic.


KathyMGoetz | October 10, 2013 at 8:46am

love this - way to lean in!!

This just resonates with "What would you do if you weren't afraid..." - what a great story and example, thanks for sharing !! And thanks for your great design work too - had a great track workout this am in my Lesley Knickers :-)

janet | October 15, 2013 at 6:23am

Inspiring, perfect and

Inspiring, perfect and teaches us all to pursue possibility. Thank you

Mel Charbonneau | July 14, 2015 at 7:30pm

You inspire - and you belong.

Oh goodness, I just love this. You are so inspiring. I started a business with zero design skills as well... but I realized that if I was to bring the vision out of my head and into the world, I would need to learn - relentlessly. I spent hours upon hours watching tutorials online, tinkering and playing. I started getting good, and then everything got FUN. There is so much power when you can bring a vision to life through design and words. Thank you for reminding all of us that we belong and that wherever our feet and dreams take us, it's exactly where we are meant to be. xo