Editor’s Note: Meredith Alex comes from a town called Freedom, which is a good place to start if you want to be an artist, designer and entrepreneur. Alex, AKA, “MadGirl” chose Portland after living in Los Angeles, but her plans stretch far beyond Casco Bay. Her business, MADWORLD, is relaunching this fall with a new focus, a business team and a plan for world domination.
IP: Busy day today?
MA: Yes! Lots of errands and running around. I have a reception wedding dress that I’m finishing. I’m sending a bride off in her reworked mother in law’s wedding dress that I am turning into a reception dress.
IP: How’s your business going?
MA: Good. I am really excited about the revised MADWORLD launch this fall. We have new products coming to market, a new brand, and a fresh new look. My vault studio is a great work space and has been my madworld home for the past winter since I left Commercial Street last fall. We just had a video crew from MSN.com there and they thought it was so cool that the studio was the luggage vault for the old railroad station. I used to play in my grandmother’s steamer trunks of clothes, and now here I am sewing in this big room that they locked the steamer trunks in when they got off the train. Isn’t that cool?
IP: What brought you to Portland?
MA: I grew up in Freedom, Maine. So I haven’t lived in Portland before. I moved here four and a half years ago. I really love Maine. I had moved away to work and go to school in California—in Los Angeles—and when I decided to come back East, I lived in the midcoast for a while and raised a family. Portland was a natural gravitation for my business. I really like the vibe of being close to other cities, being able to hop on a plane, being two hours from Boston and also the combination of the arts and the food and the culture. It’s such a wonderfully diverse, livable city for someone who’s creative. There’s a lot to offer and I think coming from California, where there’s a lot of ethnic diversity, Portland fulfilled that for me. I love being around different cultures. I’m a real people person. Having that around you, hearing different languages, the different styles and different dress, for me as a designer it’s inspiring. I live in
[Portland’s] East End and I love seeing women wrapped in their beautiful colorful fabrics and hair wraps. That was a big draw for me.
IP: How would you describe Portland?
MA: I actually just answered that for the MSN.com interview. I said ‘Madras,’ which is a type of fabric which is sewn together in different directions. What I liked about the Madras analogy was that it’s very New England—it’s very preppy in style, but when you look at it, it’s wild, it’s got patterns going in different directions. It’s conservative yet liberal, and I think Portland’s got a mix of both. You have this seafaring working waterfront town combined with the most creative green artsy spaces. It has a lot of both qualities sewn together in one fabric. When you back away from it, it’s really interesting to look at. That’s how I see Portland. All viewpoints come together, they work together, and they own businesses side by side. It feels like no matter the backgrounds, religious beliefs or political beliefs, people put them aside to work side by side to create a greater whole—Portland. It’s a great community.
The other idea you could relate to it is a quilt. A crazy quilt. In the old days, they would be made of men’s suits and all the scraps of fabrics that women would save. [Crazy quilts] have all these different layers, and they’re warm and strong. To me, a community has to have that. It has to have the diversity. It has to have strong threads sewn together throughout the neighborhoods and here, you feel that. Even though there are very distinct neighborhoods, because of the the city is confined to a peninsula, people live as one community and love the city of Portland.
IP: How would you explain what you do to a five-year-old?
MA: I make people smile.
IP: That’s the most succinct answer I’ve gotten to that question.
IP: You design, you create art and you’re a businessperson.
MA: Right. I’m an entrepreneur, an installation artist, and a designer. As a designer, I have my own lifestyle brand, which is growing and expanding into multiple markets. All of the products I’ve designed and invented are based on visual fun. Modern design with a colorful twist. In the new company there’s MADWORLD as the umbrella company and the new products we will start launching in the fall will create a viral energy that speaks to all ages of people, all over the world. MadGirl Custom is one arm under the bigger MADWORLD umbrella. I have my pimped-out pumps under MadGirl Custom and I’m really going to be marketing those in the upcoming year.
IP: What are you doing right now?
MA: I just finished a men’s suit out of Crown Royal bags and I’m working on the wedding reception dress for a new bride. If you have an idea of a really interesting piece—you have an old quilt you want turned into a party dress for example—it’s a one of a kind piece, that’s an example of the kind of custom work that I do.
IP: You basically reuse things.
MA: Yup. In the MadGirl Custom arm of the business I do. MadGirl Custom also is the part of the business that does the big dress installations and the fashion shows. MADWORLD is focusing on manufacturing my designs.
IP: You’re thinking really big.
MA: Oh, yeah.
IP: How big?
MA: It’ll be big. We’ve got a whole launch planned. Not everything comes out at once. Everything is timed. What’s really cool is that under MADWORLD we have all of these categories in different markets and MadGirl Custom is what’s unique to my artistry. If people want to work with me one-on-one they would come to that. The MADWORLD lifestyle brand products are really going to be pushed wholesale. And It’s not all fashions. It’s decor too.
IP: It’s much bigger than Portland. How are you managing it all?
MA: My new business partner [Lesley] is the COO. She’s the missing link I haven’t had before. I can wake up every night and sketch a new idea out but the innards of running a business doesn’t excite me. It’s really nice to have a team. Some artists and entrepreneurs are really interested in doing it their own way-completely. They have their own style and they don’t want to share but I’ve been doing this on my own since I moved to Portland. I’m excited to have passive income from having things I’ve thought up be mass-produced. We’re going from one-offs to mass production.
IP: I don’t really hear terms like “passive income” being talked about by creatives.
MA: What’s really cool about the way the business is unfolding is that there’s still this artistry component—the MadGirl Custom—and that’s the part that will continue to still have a storefront. A working fashion studio, is what I like to call it. Having a retail store was never my goal, but a working fashion studio where people can come in and meet with me, talk with me…that’s what’s really I love most. The people I meet. My studio is really like walking into a magic elf workshop. It’s inspiring. People get to see all the bits of lace and the hot glue gun and the magic. You can’t hide the recipe, you have to share the recipe. What’s really cool about having a brand that’s really specific to your energy is that it has your energy, your colors, your style and your patterns and nobody can do it exactly like you.
MA: I have a wonderful team of marketers and I like guerrilla marketing. We’re going to do some really cool stuff in Portland and in other large cities.
IP: Beginning this fall?
IP: Now with your new business partner, it sounds like you have a full ‘business brain’.
MA: I definitely have a full brain now. What’s been really nice this past winter has been sitting back and deciding what parts of the business were working or not working. I really tore it (MADWORLD) down to the bones and built it back up with a really great team. I feel so much more organized.
IP: Do you have any advice for other creatives or businesspeople?
MA: The biggest thing is never give up. You have to never, never give up and you have to make your opportunities happen. That’s the key thing. Cold call, put yourself out there and sell yourself. I’ve had my ups and downs. But the key is to keep moving forward. I did and things happened for me, and I met people—new business partners and investors—by talking about my ideas. Every person you meet could be a potential opportunity. Keep your doors open. Stay positive.
IP: So what would you be doing if not here for this?
MA: I have like ten things I need to do right now. It’s not anything interesting, like working on the next sculpture.
IP: It never is, is it?
MA: Well, it will be. I have a deadline for another installation tomorrow.