Going back in time with fabric designer Maddy Maxey
Maddy Maxey: Smart fabric inventor, fashion designer, creative technologist. Founder of Loomia, 2013 Thiel Fellow, Forbes 30 Under 30 winner, Autodesk Pier 9 Resident, and, since last week, Marie Claire Young Women’s Honors awardee. She’s collaborated with Google and Zac Posen, advised the White House and is starting to develop ideas with Topshop. Maddy’s everywhere, so it feels like she’s been around forever, even though the Navy Yard-based designer is only 23. We asked Maddy to pause for a minute to chat about what she’s learned from the people, and places, she’s collaborated with. Starting with a near-catastrophic encounter with a London cab:
A London Cab
The first time I went to London I was meeting with Topshop and got hit by a black cab in Shoreditch. It was my fault and his fault; I didn’t get hurt. But more than that, it was an eye-opening experience to pay more attention to the details of things. This year and next year, I want to focus on mastery of my craft and start to develop a hyperspecific understanding of my work.
Winning the Marie Claire Young Women’s Honors – The Lord & Taylor Rose Award
The ceremony was really lovely. But what I learned at that ceremony is that everyone there decided to do, and devoted themselves to, something very specific. Sabrina Pasterski built an airplane when she was 14! It’s nice to remember that when you build something meaningful it’s going to take a long time. That’s the story everyone had at the ceremony. Another lesson was from Gina Rodriguez, the actress who created this awards ceremony. She’s generous and shows that you can be warm and find success. We’re often told you have to be cold and brutal to make it happen – especially in fashion – and you really don’t.
I think there’s a stark difference between skill-based and status-based industries. There’s the theory in fashion that you have to act cold, and create an insider and an outsider divide to maintain your status. In manufacturing, you don’t protect your status by being mean to someone. All your skills and information, your help and your openness to the community aren’t pathways that someone can take advantage of. No one is going to take, or even learn, your skill through osmosis. In the creative tech space, skills defend you.
Autodesk Pier 9 Artist in Residence
The real thing that I learned was the value of having a sense of curiosity. Autodesk’s Pier 9 is great at curating a community – people notice your process and ask really specific questions. Like, “Why do you wrap a tight thread in plastic and how do you keep it from stripping?” They ask why instead of how which starts more open, interesting conversations. The people there are just really brilliant and highly creative. I found it really inspiring that entrepreneurs trained as mechanical engineers end up creating careers as artists. Chris Eckert helped design factories and automate production. Now he makes these anthropomorphic robot eyes that follow your retina and ask you for money. At a certain point, people feel guilty and give – even though they know the robot isn’t alive! It doesn’t need money, doesn’t need food. Chris’s work makes you empathetic for things that aren’t alive, and he can build the connection because of his classical background.
Working at New Lab
Loomia is really small, and that creates a bit of a natural silo. At New Lab, there are so many other companies making physical products with tricky target markets. Seeing their process reinforces that focusing on day-to-day tasks lead to large-scale results. There aren’t many spaces where startups are working on hardware and I’ve found it important to be in the middle of the action.
Collaborating with StrongArm
What’s remarkable about (Founder) Sean (Petterson) is the amount of energy he puts toward invention. Regularly deciding to research, develop, prototype and test the market on new ideas is very rare for someone who runs a business. Learning that you can lead a company and still play around as an inventor is a helpful reminder that I’m OK going down new alleys :).
Working at Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator
The BF+DA production facilities are a great gem. I was there for just over a year. (Director) Deb Johnson is so inspiring and shows that the challenging reality of working in a new industry is a lot less complicated when you centralize resources. Having an affordable studio, rooms for meetings and space to spread out was enormous. Kelly Peralta who runs the Shima Seiki looms has this deep knowledge about connective thread, programming machines and stitching strategies. That mastery is very inspiring to always learn more.
Launching The Crated (now Loomia) with Mari Kussman
Mari (who is now creative director at Nanotronics) was a little older and had a lot more work experience than me. And a lot more realism in a lot of ways, which turns out to be really important. She comes from a strictly fashion, creative director background where you look at projects with a critical eye. I learned a lot from her process – like how to develop my own process. Mari taught me that there static parts to the process, a personal general aesthetic. Hers is black and white cyber punk. She described mine as a lot more “futero” or future retro. 1950s optimism with colors and patterns. Pointing that out – uncovering that for me, really – was so important. It helped me start to capture patterns and structures that spoke to the futero aesthetic and helped me build a book of references to use when I create. Mari taught me to think about the tools and processes that are core to my style. So that when I make new things, or go on new projects, I can start with the foundation, the world, I’ve already build and leap off from there.