How I got my start: Melissa McKeagney & Little Girl Pearl

My name is Melissa McKeagney and I’m starting a line called Little Girl Pearl. I live in the wilds of New Hampshire. In my day job, I work for Northwest Airlines as a flight attendant and have traveled the globe for about 16 years. My business, Little Girl Pearl, developed out of a need to clothe my child in something other than t-shirts with awful sayings on them.

I have always loved to create things, but as a kid (and these things don’t change) I was a terrible artist. Nothing I drew resembled much of anything, even though the impulse was there. When my Mother taught me to knit when I was 14, I fell in love with fibers, and later textiles. My Grandmother owned a millinery shop in the 1950’s and 60’s, and actually made shoe clips for Neiman Marcus. One of my earliest memories of my grandparents is visiting them in Florida, and just pouring through their treasure trove of bits of velvet, teeny tiny flowers, buckles, clips, and beads. It was a budding artist’s slice of heaven. My Aunt worked in what I consider “avant-garde” fashion in Dallas in the 70’s. The garments she sewed herself were outrageous, and are housed somewhere in the city to this day. There are full-length goose feather coats, hand-stitched pheasant vests, and others. The scraps were made into Barbie clothes for us kids (although none of us remembers what happened to them).

So I suppose there is something genetic to my compulsion to make things. I started sewing for myself in college, and later projects for my apartments and homes. When my daughter was born, my frugal Yankee nature took over, and I started sewing for her. I took a look in the local boutiques, and realized that I could make her clothes cuter and better for a whole lot less money. Strangers approached me and asked where I got her clothing. As my stash and compulsion grew, I opened up a webpage on Etsy. My first order was an absolute thrill. I don’t think I slept that night, as I was so excited.

I don’t even really consider myself a designer per se, because I never went to design school. I feel way in over my head at Fashion-Incubator, but I’m learning little by little. Most of the time I’m shocked when someone tells me they would never have combined fabrics the way I have, because it always seems kind of obvious to me. I am the dreaded infovore all the way, though. This has always been an aspect of my personality that has frustrated me. I need to work my way through a project completely in my head and be able to “see” the end result before I jump in. This is a serious liability, and one in which I hope to overcome. A healthy caution is fine, but getting bogged down in logistical thinking has a lot of drawbacks.

If I had to do it over again, I definitely would have gotten Kathleen’s book first before I opened up shop. (I swear she didn’t pay me to say that!) But even now thinking on that, it might have prevented me from going ahead with my business, just knowing that there is so much out there that I don’t know. See? Classic infovore.

I haven’t been at this very long, so I can’t think of too much advice that I’ve received from others or can offer in return. I must say that my husband is very encouraging, and he works in aerospace, so he understands manufacturing processes much better than I. He has been able to help me with efficiencies, and honestly, the CPSIA is also forcing me to take a very hard look at my business practices. While onerous, it has propelled me to focus, and really see where I can take my business and improve it.

I am continually humbled by the wealth of knowledge on F-I. If I make it to the other side of the CPSIA, I can’t wait to take advantage of the rest of the forums, and thank all who contribute.

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  1. Heather says:

    I loved your story-thank you for sharing it! I’d love to see some of those avant- garde things that your aunt made. I think you’re right about being an artist – it’s in your genes and you can’t fight it :) Heather

  2. colleen says:

    Thank you for posting; your clothes are really adorable. I think you’re a real designer! The last several issues of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) have had stories about large stores demanding discounts on wholesale orders, asking for markdown money, etc. and I question how manufacturers survive?! This got me thinking about the pros/cons of selling direct, as you are, on Etsy. If you don’t mind me asking, are you sewing the garment after it’s ordered or are you maintaining inventory? What are your goals for the business? Is it feasible to “quit your day job” and live on the proceeds from Etsy sales? What are your experiences sourcing fabric? Yes, I’m an infovore, too. I don’t want proprietary info., but am curious to learn more about how a small company operates. Thanks

  3. colleen says:

    Thanks, Allison. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m in the midst of a nightmare remodel!! Once I’ve returned to my barely finished home (an 8-12 week remodel that has dragged on for six months) at the end of January, I will join the forum. I am looking forward to it.

  4. melissa

    HELLO!!! I can’t believe how similar my story is to yours – I guess I never got that moch background on you in NYC last MAy…WOW – too cool…so glad to see you here. I hope we get to see alot more of each other in the months to come!

  5. Sonia Levesque says:

    I just love the style of your clothes. VERY currant, very sweet yet modern. Love love love!

    All the best chance with your company!

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