Photographer: Emily Keeney / Location: Honey at Alma Mater
Models: Lindsay Philley, Keegan Tasker / Make Up Artist: Sura Aziz / Directing/Styling: Inna Stefoglo
Clothing: Poppyseed / Hand Painted Shoes: Kelsey Archila / Ceramic Necklace: Jenny Schlatter
Rebekah Adams (founder of Poppyseed Clothing), and I met in Tacoma at a delightful little coffee shop called Honey at Alma Mater. It is an artist-driven work, performance, and gathering space. People were crowded around having business meetings and sharing their creativity.
I grabbed a little spot outside where I could enjoy the spring sun and have a quiet moment to talk with Rebekah about Poppyseed Clothing.
Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story with me. Can you tell me a little about you, your company and how you came to be here in Tacoma?
Hey! Thanks so much for having me. Well, I had originally planned to go to school to study Journalism. I sometimes say that fashion hijacked me. When I was younger, I used to cut up clothes and redesign them but I never thought of fashion as a career.
I sold my clothes through a little boutique in the small Midwestern town I was from. The woman who owned the shop encouraged me to look into fashion design as a future.
I looked into it and It turned out that the nearby college had a really good program for fashion design, so I enrolled.
Halfway through college I ended up getting married. My husband was in the military, and so we moved a lot and eventually I finished my degree at Meredith, a small women’s college in North Carolina.
From there, I did a few internships and eventually my husband was transferred to Tacoma for his job, and we ended up in the Pacific Northwest.
What did you do once you got out to Tacoma Washington?
I contracted on and off for about 4 years. It was at about the third year of contracting where I decided I wanted to start my own clothing company. I was really grateful for the experiences gained through contracting, but It was time to start my own brand.
Was your contract work in the Fashion Industry?
Yes. I started with the Tacoma City Ballet, That was really fun! Next I designed fabric for a menswear company based in Dallas. Finally, I ended up designing full time at a small start-up here in Tacoma.
How was working for the start-up?
It was so good, however, when my husband and I found out we were pregnant I had to evaluate my options. The company was about to move to Seattle. This would add hours to my commute, and I was about to manage life with a newborn on a start-up salary. It was a lot to think about.
My mentor reminded me that I had been flirting with the idea of building my own brand for a while now, and she encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and make it happen.
I was 7 Months pregnant when I started Poppyseed. It was now or never. Many people thought I was crazy to take on the challenge when I was pregnant, but I knew that if I waited till I had the baby, it would be 1000x times harder. So, I just dove in, but that is kind of the type of person I am.
What was it like starting out?
Not gonna lie, it was rough in the beginning. Even though I’ve had this entrepreneurial spirit since I was a kid, Poppyseed was a whole other ball game.
I had an ETSY from age 17 — My sister and I actually started our first “clothing company” when I was 13. And we would do the sketches on our Math homework...
...Did you actually make what you were sketching?
Oh yeah — Well, we tried! But after a while, my sister kind of lost interest and it became just my thing. I still never thought about it as a career. It was just fun for me. I don’t think people realize that their fun and their passion can be the same job.
When did you know that poppyseed was going to really take off?
What do you mean?
I mean, in the beginning you probably second guess yourself and wonder if your making the right decisions, am I right?
Oh, yeah. That still happens all the time. I think the bar just gets higher and higher.
When I first set up my LLC, My thought was that I’ve arrived!
Next I was excited about getting my first client. Then, you get your next client and It just keeps growing and growing.
Soon, we launched our Kickstarter to help fund our launch and that was quite stressful, but there is always the next thing.
I might say — “Alright, I just secured three new boutiques for my line”….but in the back of my head I’m thinking “It should have been five.” You really have to be aware of your little advances in order to stay positive.
Where do you get your textiles?
I went to the trade show “LA TEXTILE” in Los Angeles and made some really great connections. For our next fall line, all of our wovens are made in Japan. All of our knits are made in LA. I am only working with those two connection at the moment. I sometimes throw in some vintage linings, but I’m trying to be as ethical and sustainable as I can within my budget.
Do you ever find yourself unable to replicate a certain designs because of lack of materials?
Occasionally we have had to do limited edition runs on a design because the particular textiles may not be available for additional runs. An example is that I did some hand painted pin striping on some shorts, and they were really popular but I wasn’t going to do a 100 of them. Once they sold out, they were gone.
How do you deal with grading?
Grading is the bane of my existence. I work with a guy in Seattle who specializes in it. I try to do as much as I can myself, but he really helps me keep on top of it.
Do you manufacture in house?
Yes — I do now. We wanted to go the factory route on my first collection but the upfront expense was just too much risk. I’m just not quite ready to go that route yet. When I started the company I was 7 months pregnant and my husband was away with the military. I had to have a conversation with myself about what I wanted to do with this. I determined that Poppyseed would have to be a slow, sustainable, and steady progression if it was going to succeed. I couldn’t grow to big too fast or it would self implode. I am cautious in how I grow the company and I work a little on the slower side but this is because I am solo parenting when my husband is away with work. I can’t commit to 80 hour work weeks every week, as much as I would sometimes like to.
I would have loved to do a factory run for our first line, but it was just too much of a risk for my first collection.
Does your husband help with the business?
A little — when he can. He works like a sounding board. We chat about my projects, and he helps me work through solutions and design changes.
Have you ever done any menswear?
Not officially. Prior to “Poppyseed” I had a little line called “Rebekah Adams”. I was accepted to a competition called IDRS (Independent Designer Runway Show). At the same time I was also invited to show at fashion week in Vancouver. I felt like I was really doing something. It was 2014, and I was contracting and engaged in both of those projects at the same time. I didn’t win IDRS but I did really well in Vancouver. Still, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready for my own line. It took 2 more years before I started Poppyseed. I sort of got my toes wet in the industry but realized I needed more experience and wasn’t quite ready.
What is Poppyseed all about?
Well — I love design but I have to solve a problem. As I mentioned, I was pregnant when I started so a lot of our clothing is maternity friendly but not maternity exclusive. We want women to be able to wear something that is comfortable before, after and during their pregnancy. Also, — It’s not just about pregnancy — it is about comfort. Poppyseed is about clothing that fits regardless.
That is very entrepreneurial approach? What drives your vision.
That’s an interesting story. In college, I did a line of clothing inspired by beetles….
The band or the bug?
The bugs — I was in North Carolina so all these women were making dresses with pearls and such, and I was making a collection of jackets based on beetles. This is when I realized that I tend to lean towards the gritty side. That still works for me now.
So what are you doing now?
For my spring 2018 collection I competed in IDRS again, but this time under Poppyseed and this time, I won. The collection was based on my coming out of postpartum depression. It’s called “Break The Surface” and it was inspired by the idea of breaking out of the fog of uncertainty. Designing this collection was really therapeutic for me and helped me in my journey through postpartum depression and anxiety and out to the other side. It is a very vibrant collection with a lot of strong, feminine pieces.
My next collection was called “Launched”. Launched was based on taking all the work that you have done, and moving it forward. It was influenced by space and women in space. There aren’t any literal space motifs, but it has a muted color palette with a touch of 70s influence meets 90s hip hop.
Fascinating. I realize this is a bit off topic, but interviewed Suk Chai of SCHAI design recently. Have you heard of her? She has a beautiful brand line and I feel like you have a similar approach in what influences you.
Yes, I have actually done some consulting with her. She is super great — I really look up to her.
Yeah — She is really an interesting person to talk with. She has a wealth of knowledge about the industry.
Are there are other people who have influenced your work or helped you?
There are a lot of designers that really inspire me by being great people or having a cool vibe/approach or their brand. Brands that really show a sense of authenticity. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think I really learned the most from Suk. I look up to her a lot. She treats fashion like art and I really think that’s exactly what it is. I have a strong stance on “fast fashion” and consumerism. Check out TRUE COST on Netflix — it will blow your mind. I like Suk’s approach on all of that and I have learned quite a lot by watching her.
Marj Turner — who is a part of FGI (Seattle Chapter of Fashion Group International), she really helped me out. I did a mentorship with her while I was pregnant, and we’ve remained close ever since. She is really great. I remember one time about 6 months after the birth of my son I had invited her up to the studio and I think I was really just kind of waiting for her to tell me it was OK to quit. Instead, she sort of metaphorically grabbed my shoulders and shook me and said “Don’t quit! You have the talent, I know this is hard, of course this is hard but you need to keep at it.” I really don’t know what I would have done without her.
There have been people on both sides of the fence. Some designers I’ve run into are tight-lipped when it comes to advice or tips. I believe it is because there is such a desire to make it work that sometimes people worry that there may not be enough success to go around. I believe there is really more than enough consumerism to support us all.
How do you deal with all of that?
My philosophy is really about serving women in my community. I have a blog about women entrepreneurs called “Watch Her Hustle”, where we interview female entrepreneurs every couple of weeks. From young adult authors, to boutique owners, to app developers — It allows women to see how others in their industry got their start. I hope that it helps to inspire other women who many be starting out. This is a way that I can contribute. To help women get a foot in the door by pointing them to people who made it before them. I truly believe we can and should work together to lift each other up.
What important take away have you learned from starting Poppyseed?
For the first year I positioned myself in the third person when I talked about the brand. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t want everything to be smoke and mirrors and I became a lot more honest in interviews and social media and how I spoke about everything. I started talking about my experience with postpartum depression and the anxiety and being more open with those around me. Everyone wants to see baby pictures and hear how wonderful everything is, but people don’t want to talk about issues like how hard it can sometimes be for a woman to connect to this person you created. It’s OK to feel that way. It’s part of a process that can only improve if we talk about it. I felt it was really important for me to be more honest about these things. The response I got was really overwhelming. A lot of people responded by thanking me for talking about these issues. I didn’t mean to — but I sort of became known for being really raw and real about these issues. Hopefully that’s a good thing — because I really do think it’s vital to talk about what we are going through.
Agreed — It can be hard to know how to handle it. You want to be the success that you are to eventually become...however, at the same time, you really don’t want to overshare. Obviously you’re doing it right because I found you at the top of a short list. What lessons have you learned from growing your business?
It's been interesting. It’s hard to realize as you grow that not everyone is as invested in your success as you are and I’ve found myself being too trusting at times. I have learned lessons from it. There is definitely a business side to it all that requires you make certain (and sometimes tough) decisions. You can’t just bring people in because they have a bit of a fire in their eyes and seem motivated. It has to benefit the business..
This has really been an honor. One more before we go, If you could give advice to yourself prior to starting poppyseed, what would it be?
I would say — Don’t work as much. I went back to work when my son was like 6 weeks old. I wish I could go back and tell myself to take better care of myself. When you are flying they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping your child. I realize that it is impossible to help others if unless you are coming from a place of strength and good health. I would tell myself to relax, don’t work so much, go on a date with my husband, spend more quality time with my baby dude. Basically just slow down and remember to be better to yourself first and then tackle everything else.
Thank you so much for your time. I realize we have covered a lot of bases but I know you have a fall lineup to get together so I will let you go. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Rebekah Adams is the founder of Poppyseed clothing and her fall line will be available at Clementines shoes & women’s apparel in Seattle’s Beautiful Pioneer Square.