In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet fashion designer Katie Goldman Macdonald.
Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?
I was born in Northern California and grew up in a small coastal town called Half Moon Bay. I’ve been drawing from the time I could hold a pen. In my childhood home, all of the closet walls are covered in drawings of “ladies in fashions.” Now I’m a clothing designer designing womenswear, so I’ve stayed pretty true to my initial career inclinations. I’ve worked in fashion for 8 years and am starting my own line this year. I live at the very top of Manhattan in a tree-filled neighborhood called Inwood with my boyfriend, Ben.
When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
In my early twenties, I thought I’d be living in New York and designing for a fancy fashion house. I thought it would be glamorous.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
I think that my family more than anything shaped my expectations of myself. As a child I thought that I would follow in the footsteps of many of my family members and go to college and then get a Master’s Degree or Ph.D and become very educated. For me to become a clothing designer was a very different path than anyone in my family had taken, so I felt a bit frivolous for picking something that was not necessarily an intellectual career and was more about aesthetics and consumerism.
What was your first job like?
My first job was at a “paint your own pottery” studio when I was 14. I was running a studio by myself at a pretty young age, operating a kiln and getting paid irregularly by an absentee entrepreneur. Sometimes she would give me used makeup as an added bonus. It was a strange situation.
What was your first apartment like?
My first apartment after college was on Larkin Street in Lower Nob Hill in San Francisco. I lived with my best friend from college and we did most things together. We spent a lot of time and energy designing the space and making sure it reflected how “interesting and cool” we were. In our hallway, we curated a “wall of disasters” which showcased shadow boxes holding things like shattered teacups and burned out lightbulbs. We also did things like get super dressed up to go to the local Whole Foods to go grocery shopping because we had crushes on boys who worked there.
In what ways did your friendships change?
I’ve always had high expectations for both myself and the people around me. I think in my twenties these expectations sometimes made me a rigid and judgmental friend. This is not to say I wasn’t supportive; I’ve always been a very loyal friend. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to see the grey areas of friendship a bit more and have begun to understand that people are complex and don’t always have the same ideas about what it means to be a good friend. I’ve learned that people are who they are and accepting them for it makes friendship easier.
What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I’ve learned so much in all of my relationships! I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned over time, is that when I know something is over, my mind isn’t going to change. I’ve often let relationships drag on for a long time because I was scared to end things, hurt my partner’s feelings or just deal with all of the sadness and anger that goes along with breaking up. I feel like I have gotten better at being honest with myself and my partners about knowing when things aren’t working out.
How did your relationships with your family change?
Recently I’ve felt like my relationship with my parents has changed a great deal. As my family collectively ages, I’ve become more of a caretaker than I was when I was younger. My dad has had cancer twice now and my mom has had a lot of orthopedic issues so I’ve been really involved in their care. Since I’m an only child, it’s been hard to deal with, but it’s also taught me that I can handle a lot and am very competent when it comes to dealing with difficult family situations.
How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think the older I get, the less scared I get. I’m getting better at things that scared me a lot as a younger woman, like quitting jobs. I think that one of my biggest fears has always been disappointing people and I am beginning to realize that the more I focus on pleasing others, the more I end up disappointing myself. Even though I still agonize over letting other people down, I think I get a little bit braver every time I take a risk and do something that might “disappoint” someone. I’ve come to realize that, as long as I am a kind and honest person, I can disappoint others if it means pursuing what I want, and the world will not collapse around me.
How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
I think I automatically adopted most of my mother’s opinions as a kid and teen. Throughout my twenties, I noticed that as I grew up and separated emotionally a little bit from from mom, I started to form more of my own world view. It was both difficult and refreshing. I grew to understand that I could still love my mom and value her opinions while forming my own. It felt both painful and liberating. It’s always kind of a blow when you realize your parents are just people and not everything they think and do is right.
Who was your biggest influence and why?
One of the most influential people in my life was one of my professors, Sue Sutton Palmer. She taught my first design course in college and I was completely impressed by the precision and perfection that she demanded from her students. I loved that she expected us to file the sides of our foam boards so there were no rough or uneven edges and use a special eraser to clean up any errant rubber cement that might have crept out of place. I think she inspired me to use my obsessive tendencies toward creating beautiful things and I liked that. She also always wore a uniform- a button-up collared shirt, a high-waisted skirt and Birkenstock sandals. We are still friends and I still admire her deeply.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I regret spending so much time feeling extremely anxious in my twenties. I had a hard time dealing with success and fear of failure. I had a business making terrariums for a while and I let it stress me out so much that I stopped enjoying making terrariums at all. After a while, instead of deriving any pleasure from the process of making them, I started seeing terrariums more as vessels full of anxiety rather than pretty arrangements of plants. It sounds really crazy (and it objectively was pretty crazy), but I’m trying to use that experience as an example of what not to do as I work on my own clothing line.