Down East 2013 ©
Beth Bowley has an apartment in NoHo (the neighborhood north of Manhattan’s Houston Street) and a house in SoRo (the affectionate local term for South Rockland). That’s so she can manage her eponymous New York-based clothing design company, and fourTWELVE, her Rock City women’s clothing and home décor retail store. This fall the Brunswick, Maine, native is embarking on yet another venture: Nuthatch Productions, a new clothing line designed — and manufactured — in Maine.
How did you find yourself in the fashion industry?
There was no other choice for me. I was making clothes for my stuffed animals and my dolls in fourth grade — as soon as my mother dared to give me scissors. When I was a checkout girl at a grocery store in Brunswick, I volunteered to sew everyone new uniforms because they wanted us to wear pink polyester ones, and I just couldn’t do it. I graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1984, and I stayed in New York for twenty years. My first job was at Perry Ellis as an assistant designer. Getting that job was a little bit unreal. I was catapulted into the world of Seventh Avenue fashion. I was just a hick from Maine.
Why did you choose to return to Maine?
Well, I already had a business in New York: I had started my branded line in 1998, and six or seven years previous to that I was doing design consulting. But I wanted to spend more time in Maine. My family is in Maine. I wanted to breathe some cleaner air. And I was ready to start the next phase of my career.
For about five years, every August, I rented a house in a different part of Maine to get a feel for where I wanted to end up. Rockland is centrally located on the coast. It’s gorgeous and it’s the perfect mix of creative and practical people. I love that it has a very solid year-round arts community.
What are the challenges of running a New York-based company from midcoast Maine?
Making the separation from my staff in New York. I have twelve people there and four in Rockland at the moment. The biggest challenge was getting everyone to the level where they felt comfortable making decisions without me. I still keep an office there. But if you can call a Blackberry a desk, that would be my Beth Bowley desk.
What are the advantages?
I wanted more space. Space is so expensive in New York. It’s so nice to get a big building that has potential and room to think and room to grow. Also, I can ride my bike to work.
How does Maine inform your creative work?
I have the time to breathe and to spend less time worrying about subways and buses and dealing with New York. Maine allows your brain to absorb your environment and have the opportunity to be thinking about creative things instead of logistics. And we have a lot of very creative souls in the area. I’ve seen a lot of very creative fashion choices, which to me are more joyful than somebody who has tried to replicate a look out of a magazine.
How has your store managed to make it through Maine winters?
We have such a great, supportive, loyal customer base. People come in my store and thank us for being there. It’s really nice to hear. And by adding the home part of the business, that’s also increased our winter business, since it’s more appropriate for holiday gifts. But who in January doesn’t need a new pair of corduroys to get through the winter?
What are your future plans?
Jinsook Lawrence (my business partner) and I are going to start sewing in September. We’ll be manufacturing women’s clothing right on the spot. Initially we will supply design and custom work for fourTWELVE. By mid next year we’ll offer it wholesale to selected other boutiques. It’s a whole new line, called Nuthatch Productions, and it’s all the stuff that we can never find that we want to buy: so very elegant, thoughtful clothing that can be everyday, yet function as an evening outfit, too. We anticipate hiring up to five people in the first two years. And then you’ll have to ask again.