Meg's Loving It

By Susan Macaulay

meghan-kinney.jpgDriven, dynamic, and yet totally down to earth, New-York-based fashion designer Meghan Kinney loves what she does and does what she loves.

“I’m a great big believer in figuring out what you love and then doing it,” she says. “No one’s saying you have to do one thing for the rest of your life, but figure out what makes you happy and sort out how to fulfill yourself doing it.”

And that's EXACTLY what Meghan has done.
She started designing and sewing clothes at 14, left home and family in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) at 17 to go to fashion school in The Big Apple, then opened her own store there when she was only 22. (Play the video clip at the end of the story to hear more)

Other than the occasional glance over her shoulder, she pretty much hasn’t looked back since.

Three plus one = more!

Today, at age 36, Meghan is a successful businesswoman in a tough trade. She owns three of her own stores – the original one in New York, and one each in Toronto and L.A. Last year she opened her first franchise shop in Dublin. It’s done so well, plans for a second Irish franchise are already in the works.

But back in the early ‘90s, her retail operation was born out of necessity.

“I was just trying to survive. I mean, I was going to go broke because I was on my fourth season wholesale and it was NOT going well. I was trying to make money my last, it was like a crazy rollercoaster… I was just two minutes from having to call the whole thing done.”

Her parents were living in Hong Kong at the time, and on a flight over to visit them, Meghan had what she calls “an epiphany.”

“I’ll never forget, it was the weirdest thing, it was a 12-hour flight and I got a four-seater across in the middle all to myself,” she explains. “I had just finished shipping my last season, and I remember laying there thinking, there’s not going to be enough money to do the next one, and I then this light bulb kinda’ went on: I should just open a store.”

When the first Megshop opened in New York in 1994, Meghan couldn’t afford to pay rent on both the shop AND an apartment, so she lived, literally in the back of the store.

Ten dresses pay the rent

“My apartment was in the back and my store was in the front and I had figured it all out – I just needed to sell 10 dresses a month to pay the rent,” she laughs. “I had all this stock because people had cancelled orders on me, and people sent back stuff that was crappy, so I opened it up with all this crap and started selling. And that’s how it started.”

Truth be told, it started a lot further back than that. Meghan’s mother AND grandmother both owned stores of their own and she spent a lot of time hanging out in both of them when she was growing up.

“I try to emulate the atmosphere of my mom’s store because subconsciously I believe what she and her partner Jackie created should be what all shops are about,” Meghan smiles. “It was one big women’s powwow session. The relationships with the customers were really personable, it was just all about massive girl chat sessions downstairs around the coffee table. It was just all girl chat all the time, in a really, really, good fun way. And I just remember wanting to be part of all the conversations, all the time.”

Mixing business and pleasure

It was in her mom’s store that Meghan learned to mix business with pleasure – a skill that is one of the cornerstones of her own success.

“In amongst the sort of day to day woman talk there was also “I think your ass looks good in those pants,” or “you should buy that shirt in that colour ‘cause it looks good on you” and they’d call people and say “this stuff just came in and I think you’d like it,” and that’s exactly what I do with my job now. And it truly is because that was engrained in me, it was awesome, and I loved it. It was just really fun.”

Meghan started her own shop on a shoestring, and kept it going – and growing – with passion, determination and a lot of hard work.

“Passion and survival are the only reasons I’m still in business –100%. Because you have to get creative when you need to figure out how to keep the ship afloat. I mean there’s something amazing about what comes to you when it’s a matter of survival. It’s fantastic,” she says.

“Happily I’ve never had a moment when I’ve said oh my god, if I don’t figure out how to do this the whole thing is going to go broke,” Meghan says. “But I work seven days a week at it. I work every day and I love it, it’s my passion. It doesn’t feel like work at all.”

Hats off to hands-on

While some designers prefer to distance themselves from the retail side of the business, Meghan thrives on it. In fact, she’s hands-on in every aspect of the business, from design and production, to being on the shop floor interacting with customers.

“I love being a designer. But I also love being a retailer. And it’s great that I can wear both of those hats. I get to create something, throw it out there and get a direct response from my customers. That’s so much more powerful than selling through a rep or having other people judge your work first before it actually gets to the customer.”

“It makes me feel super good every day to interact with the people that are buying my product. And, if they don’t like something, I learn why, and that helps me grow. That’s why having the store is so great.”

Do what you love

As she opens more shops, Meghan admits she can’t be in all of them all the time. More and more she’s having to strike a balance between attending to the operations side of the business and having the customer contact she feels is so important, as well as fun.

“I will always work in some element of the floor,” she promises. “I can see myself now, one of those old ladies, sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette, with grey hair saying, like, your ass looks fantastic in that outfit! Just because I like the environment. I like to see people enjoying the stuff I design. I don’t want to be holed up in an office somewhere not having a clue what’s going on out there.”

Today, Megshops and her custom design business together turn over around USD 1 million annually.

And what if it all fell to pieces tomorrow?

“I love what I do so much that if I lost everything, I could scale it back to totally, “ she says with complete confidence. “I could live in my shop and sew one dress a month and as long as I could do what I love. I would be OK.”

And you know what? She would be.

Susan's note: I interviewed Meghan Kinney in October 2007 when she was in Dubai to spend time with her father Brent who was dying of cancer. He passed away on November 17, 2007.

This story was posted on AWR in June 2008, a few weeks before Meghan discovered she was pregnant with her first child. On December 1, 2008, Meghan and her husband Martin welcomed a baby daughter into the world; they named her Brent (B for short), after her grandfather.