Sunday, July 7, 2013

365 Inspirations—188: grady bleu Clothing Designer, Kathleen O'Grady

"Have humility—it will take you a long way. Value your work and your worth. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your own personal growth and your art and life will become better for it."—Kathleen O'Grady

I still remember sitting in P.F. Changs in Alderwood Mall with my friend Kathleen after her hair appointment. We were having fusion Chinese food and discussing dreams. I know she received a really good fortune that day in her cookie! I wish I could remember it. She told me of her plan to start her own clothing line. This was back in 2009 or 2010. Several years later she’s living that dream with her own line of clothing called grady bleu and I’m so inspired by what she has created. Here she is to talk about how it all came to be.

Thanks for being here Kathleen!

 How did you come up with the idea for the grady bleu line? When did it all first take seed?

It probably started in Japan when I lived there in the mid-eighties. I fell in love with garments dyed with indigo blue. The name for the company took seed in 2003 in Seattle. I like the lower case and the name because it has a bit of grit to it and includes the French word ‘bleu’ which adds a certain caché. 

Why blue? What is special about the color blue?

I am inspired by the history and tradition of blue, particularly how it was originally produced by using the indigo plant. The process by which the color blue is produced from indigo is special because of the labor-intensive process and because of the magical way the fabric turns blue – the fabric is green until you take it out of the dye vat and it turns blue when it comes in contact with the oxygen in the air. Blue, with its roots in indigo, dates back centuries and represents for me antiquity, history, and a certain quality of endurance. 

My line is founded on a core color palette of blues, browns, whites, beiges, blacks and greys.  In addition to this core palette, I create small exclusive lines integrating fabrics from around the world and I’ll be incorporating more and more indigo fabric into the garments.

On your website, you say, “We have lost the feeling of our relationship to clothes.” What do you mean by that?

For the most part, people have lost the knowledge and appreciation of good fabrics and quality design. In our world of speed and mass marketing clothing has been reduced to disposable items. How does one value their clothing – or anything for that matter, if it can be purchased so cheaply? Fast fashion has really degraded fashion and the value associated with the labor-intensive work that is involved in producing a garment; from the whole cycle of raw materials, to the labor involved in sewing it. And then of course there is Bangladesh and all the other “Bangladesh’s” that aren’t reported.  Then to have the garment be disposed of so easily….something is wrong with this picture. I think we (collectively) lament the poor labor conditions “over there”, but we all want the $4 T-shirt. 

You create clothes that are timeless, functional and elegant. Where do you get your design ideas from?

My design inspiration comes from a number of places and is often inspired by old-world cultures. When you learn about clothing you learn about a culture and what that culture values. These old-world artisan approaches are becoming lost more and more with globalization. It’s really a shame. 

I like Asian garments with wrap closures, vintage 1930’s lingerie and almost anything with pleats. My designs don’t follow trends. They are classic and timeless as well as fun and I think that is what people love about them.

What kind of fabrics do you use for your line and where are these fabrics from?

I like to use natural fabrics such as linen, wool, silk and cotton. I also like to incorporate ‘found pieces’ of fabric that tell a story in the garment. I have quite a trove of fabric from India, Nigeria, Thailand and Laos that I will be using in my designs.

Where can a person purchase your clothing? Do you have a catalog or is there a store or online website?

Currently, I am in two stores in Canada since retuning 4 years ago. I do pop-up shows but will be looking into setting up an Etsy store until I obtain my own design shop. 

Do you make all the clothing by hand? If so, how long does it take you for each piece?

Since returning to Canada, it’s been a challenge to find sewers. Sewing is a dying art in North America. As author Elizabeth Cline says in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,“...within the course of a generation, we have lost the knowledge of sewing.” Imagine. 

I do all the sewing for now. What often isn’t thought about is the added time it takes to lay out the pattern, ensure it is placed correctly on the fabric, pin it down, cut it and then sew it. It’s a bit like a puzzle. 

 Recently I saw you on a Canadian TV show talking about your line. How does it feel to watch your dream become a reality?

I’ve been designing for about 30 years, including when I lived in Seattle and before that in Vancouver. It feels great that it’s coming together. I’m passionate about what I do and want more people to enjoy my designs. What is that quote: “Overnight success takes about 15 years”? (30 years in my case!)

Do you have any words of wisdom for the readers here about making ones dream become a reality?

Have humility—it will take you a long way. Value your work and your worth. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your own personal growth and your art and life will become better for it. Be genuine. Know you are a good person and have many gifts to offer the world. 

Thanks so much for being here today Kathleen!

To find out more about Kathleen and her work, go to

See below for Kathleen's spot on a Saskatoon TV show:

1 comment:

  1. That is inspiring, nice reminder that there's no official timeline!