As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women in the fashion industry who are doing wonderful things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace Thomas.
Grace Thomas is the founder of Builtgracefully, a personal wardrobe styling company based out of Portland, Oregon.
Grace works with each individual client to help define their unique style, educate them on how to find silhouettes that flatter their figure, and create a closet where less is more. While her personal aesthetic can be described as minimal, classic, and tailored, she loves to work with clients in a range of different styles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Hi, my name is Grace! I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is pretty much the opposite of a fashion-centered city. My parents both had a history of working in fashion, having owned a top women’s fashion boutique in southern California before relocating to Oregon. Growing up, I was always drawn to creative expression, whether it be through fashion, dance, performing or art. After 10+ years working in various different roles in a corporate setting, I decided to take a side hobby and make it a side hustle and launched my styling business, Builtgracefully.
Outside of my career life, I am a newlywed (almost 1 year in) and the second youngest of 5 siblings. I love to travel, eat pizza and pasta as much as I can, and watch 80’s movies on Friday nights with my husband.
When and how did it all begin?
I always knew I wanted a career in fashion. Through a chance meeting with a mutual friend in college, I found out that there was a personal styling company in Portland looking to hire a styling assistant. During my time there, I started to learn the day-to-day job of a stylist. We worked with high net worth clients in Portland, NYC, and LA to curate their everyday wardrobe, and seasonal closet, handle travel packing, and source limited edition luxury items. After several years in that role, I went on to work for a corporate retailer, where I held roles in buying and merchandising. However, I always knew that styling was my goal. During the pandemic, I had seen how styling had pivoted to serve clients virtually and had friends and family asking me to style and shop for them regularly. That’s when Builtgracefully was created. I knew I wanted to work 1:1 with people again and wanted to build a brand that was authentic to me. Three months later, I launched my brand, two months after that, I launched my website, and 1 month after that, I had my first paying client!
What sparked your interest in fashion?
From an early age, I’ve always loved fashion. I have such early memories of watching runway shows on TV on a channel that I am sure doesn’t even exist anymore or asking my parents to purchase the latest Vogue on newsstands, eager to absorb anything I could about fashion. I loved the creativity, the colors, and the romance of it all and couldn’t wait to be a part of the fashion industry myself. Getting my outfits together was one of my favorite activities, sourcing items from Goodwill or consignment shops, saving up to buy a brand name purse or even sewing my own pieces out of secondhand t-shirts; I was always looking for a way to show my unique style.
What is it you like best about being a fashion designer?
The thing I love the most about being a fashion stylist is the connection I make with my clients. Opening up your closet for essentially a stranger to come into is a very personal thing, but the trust they have in me means so much. The best feeling, though, comes when I see a client in their new outfit and can tell by the look on their face how amazing they feel. They realize they don’t need to have the ‘perfect’ body or reach their ideal weight to feel great, but that all it takes is a little confidence and the right clothing.
Creative expression can take many forms; what made you decide to start your own fashion brand?
I wanted to create a brand that was authentic to me. A brand that leads with kindness, hard work, fun and inclusivity. I was envisioning my future and the type of work I would want to be when I start a family. Something that I would be passionate about long from now and that would fill my cup. Styling and building my own brand has given me the ability to be my own boss, try something new each and every day and push myself in ways even I didn’t think were imaginable.
In your opinion, what are the most critical aspects of the fashion industry?
The fashion industry can be pretty cutthroat and competitive. It is an industry that, at times, doesn’t have the best reputation. If you’re going to take a leap into this industry, don’t let that break you down or deter you. If you work hard, have passion and be kind, you’ll find your way.
What is your best and worst fashion moment?
My best fashion moment is definitely my wedding day. After having to change directions due to COVID, I ended up with the perfect dress. I wore a Shona Joy ivory satin dress with a chapel-length veil, my mom’s diamond earrings and simple neutral heels. I would re-wear that outfit every day if I could.
My worst? Honestly, looking back, anytime I really tried to embody a style that wasn’t right for me. I’ve always had a classic, tailored, neutral style. There have been times I’ve been swayed to try a trend (hello, neon crop tops and statement sleeves), and those are by far when I feel the worst. I’ve learned to stay true to myself in my style.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion means so many things to me. It’s a way of expressing myself to someone I’m walking by on the street. It’s my creative outlet and inspires me in so many ways. It’s the way I perceive a new city I am visiting. It’s so much fun. I love that fashion can mean something different to everyone and allows for such individuality.
What is your first fashion memory?
My first fashion memory would have to be my ‘Barbie Fashion Show Birthday’ when I was 6. That year, I was obsessed with Barbie (as most girls were) and fashion, so the obvious choice was to have a Barbie fashion-themed birthday party. The requirement for all attendees was to bring their Barbie and dress it up in their best outfits. We used an ironing board as the catwalk, and each of us made our Barbie strut her stuff on the runway while we described her outfit. Clearly, styling others was always a passion of mine. Ha!
Name your favorite fashion designers of all time?
Chanel will always have a special place in my heart. Coco Chanel was probably the first real designer I learned about, and I later loved learning about Karl Lagerfeld. The classic styling of Chanel embodies the timeless style I love, and they create such classic pieces that never go out of style. I have still yet to buy my Black Classic Flap Bag, but one day soon, I will.
I also will always have a special place in my heart for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and The Row. I’ll never forget. The collections they create at The Row are beautifully crafted, on-trend while not being trendy and are investment items that embody my personal style.
List some of your design influences, both past and present.
I love to look at street style, celebrity stylists and designers to influence my styling perspective. Some of those have been Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. I love following Monica Rose and Dani Michelle on the celebrity styling front. New York City and everything about it, from the street style to Broadway to the architecture, is such an influence on my aesthetic. European fashion and street style also is great source of inspiration.
Are there any types of clothing that you avoid wearing?
I really try to avoid things that don’t feel like me. It’s easy to be swayed by what you see out in the market, on the runway or even a celebrity wearing, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to look right on me. Additionally, while I will give fast fashion a little space in my wardrobe for seasonal trends, I like to fill my closet with quality fabrics and items that I know will become staples in my wardrobe.
What do you think about work ethics, and what kind of ethics you believe in following while working with fashion?
Hard work, creative thinking and passion are ethics that are so important in this industry. Fashion seems glamorous, but there are long nights, grunt work, and the not-so-fun side of it as well. You have to be able to take on the hard stuff to get to the fun stuff. Thinking outside of the box has been a key to my success in fashion. I have to work differently with every single client of mine and put my ego aside. You have to put yourself out there, trust in your eye and figure out ways to be a quick problem solver. If you have a passion for fashion, the long nights won’t get you down because the joy you will get from this type of work will be worth it all.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to have grown Builtgracefully to be a bi-coastal brand. I would love to be working with clients all over the United States and hopefully the world. I have my sights set on expanding to the New York market first and working my way up from there. I would love to give opportunities to other fashion lovers like me and grow my business by hiring a small team of assistant stylists. However, no matter what, If, at the end of the day, my clients feel the best version of themselves after working with me, then I’ll know I am doing something right!
How would you describe your personal style?
If I could use three words, I would say classic, tailored and sophisticated. I love a natural palette and silhouettes that are feminine but simple. I invest in pieces that are versatile and can be worn several ways versus trendy items. Pieces that fit well are key to my wardrobe.
If you were not a fashion designer, what would you want to be?
There are several jobs that have been right for me in the fashion industry, such as merchandising or buying. But If I couldn’t pick a job in the fashion world, I would want to be a baker. I’ve always loved to bake and as someone with love for creativity, being in the kitchen is a great way to get my juices flowing.
What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
While social media can have a negative impact in a lot of ways, it has also allowed small designers and brands to get air space in an industry that has been so hard and expensive to cut through. I love that these brands are being discovered, and designers are getting an opportunity to showcase their work.
I have come across so many small brands or up-and-coming brands on social media, and without this visibility, they likely would have never come across my radar.