You don't have to leave the Inland Northwest to make a name for yourself in the fashion industry. Sure, it helps to be based in major metropolitan areas like L.A., New York City or even Seattle, but that can also be expensive, and competitive.
While the following people and their creative ventures are seeing success far from their hometown roots, the choice to leave, or even get into fashion, wasn't necessarily intentional.
Founded by Melinda Maria Spigel (née Raney)
Melinda Spigel remembers saving up her babysitting and allowance money at age 10 to spend it on supplies from longtime Spokane jewelry supplier Rings & Things.
"I've been obsessed with all things jewelry since I was really young, and I continued to make it throughout the years," says Spigel on the phone from Los Angeles, where she lives and operates her international jewelry company, Melinda Maria.
Spigel originally left Spokane after graduating from Ferris High School, moving to Seattle, New York and then L.A. While designing jewelry on the side, Spigel also worked as a production assistant and makeup artist.
Founded in 2005 as a one-woman company, Melinda Maria now has retail stores around the world. Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani and dozens of other celebrities are wearing Spigel's chic designs.
"When I first started I wanted to have a line that was for cool, hip, sophisticated and edgy women, and I wanted my price points to be something that someone could get on their own — they didn't have to save up," she explains. "I felt in the market there was the really high end, and the really low end... I wanted it to be a fashion jewelry company, but that was made like it was fine."
The result of that mindset is Melinda Maria's diverse spectrum of elegant to edgy designs, offered in gold and silver finishes and with semi-precious stones. From stud to dangling earrings, chunky and stackable rings and bangles, and necklaces of all styles, Melinda Maria's jewelry appeals to women of all ages. Prices range between $25 and $275. Collections are available at Nordstrom, with the full line available on the brand's website.
Founded by Megan Murphy Lengyel
The trend of wearing comfy, stylish and functional athletic apparel beyond the gym has made athleisure wear one of the fastest-growing apparel categories. Despite what the windows of some popular retailers may indicate, though, not all women want to wear flashy neon tanks or '80s-inspired printed leggings. So professional artist and Spokane native Megan Murphy Lengyel took matters into her own hands, founding the luxury activewear brand SQN Sport in 2013.
"I could never find anything that I wanted to wear," Lengyel says. "It wasn't how I dressed, so I started designing what was meant to be a little cult line for women who dress contemporary with minimal aesthetics, and it snowballed into what it is now."
Based in Sun Valley, Idaho, SQN has two other stores in Aspen, Colorado, and Malibu, California, as well as an online store.
The brand is an acronym for sine qua non, Latin for "only the essential." That philosophy is applied to Lengyel's designs: minimalist pieces that are made in the U.S. out of high-quality, performance fabrics in solid, neutral tones; gray, black, white, and soft blues.
"We fill a niche in the market. We're not trying to take on Lululemon or Athleta. We're looking at making pieces that are functional and designed well," Lengyel explains. "We really try to look at what looks good on women."
SQN also produces stylish pieces that can be worn over those basics (average prices are $45 to $90), like ponchos and wraps.
Krochet Kids International
Founded by Kohl Crecelius, Travis Hartanov and Stewart Ramsey
Locals may be most familiar with Krochet Kids International, the nonprofit apparel line founded by three Spokane natives that's been operating out of Costa Mesa, California, since 2009.
Started nearly 10 years ago, while the three friends and avid beanie crocheters were studying at different colleges, Krochet Kids began as a venture that taught 10 Ugandan women in a destitute government camp how to crochet, so they could be hired to make trendy cold-weather hats sold as the nonprofit's first line.
Five years ago, Krochet Kids began producing lines of men's, women's and kids' casual apparel, bags and other accessories. This allowed the nonprofit to expand and hire women in Lima, Peru, to manufacture the goods from materials sourced there.
All of Krochet Kids' goods feature an inner tag that's signed by the woman who made the item.
"We really believe that there is power in knowing that your items are made by people," says co-founder Kohl Crecelius. "We want to introduce customers to the people who made the product. We want to bring a face and a human element to a really faceless industry."
Shoppers can learn the stories of the women who made their hat or bag with profiles on the nonprofit's website, where they can also leave thank-you notes for those women. ♦