When I was a kid, the big, blank, white walls of my dining room were nearly irresistible. With a pencil gripped in my tiny, sweaty palms, I salivated around the idea of marking them up and fleeing the crime scene. Oh, to go back in time and tell my young self that someday, people would open their arms to these impulses and welcome it into their spaces.
Last week, I had the incredible pleasure of painting a mural on a wall inside of KINDRED Bridal in Knoxville, TN. I met owner Madelyn Cunningham earlier this year at a Marketing and SEO class in Knoxville. I was immediately drawn to her youthful, driven, sweet nature and flattered when she proposed that I paint a mural in her space. Since then, through phone calls and emails, the concept took shape and we planned the project. I’ve had the chance to learn more about her over the past few months and I’d like to share that opportunity with you as well!
PHLOX: What inspired you to create KINDRED?
MADELYN: The designers I carry are my greatest inspiration. Their artistry and dedication to their work and to creating for women's bodies is incredible to me. They create pieces that make you feel sensual, unique, and beautiful for a day when it matters the most.
P: Can you speak about the name KINDRED and what it means to you?
M: Everyone, at some point in their lives, has felt a keen connection to a place, or a song, or another person. It's an unexplainable sense of familiar, like an old friend you've never met. I want my brides to know the stories behind their dresses and be more invested in the process - ultimately finding a kindred spirit in a garment that will represent them, and their love, on the most important day of their lives.
P: Why were you interested in having a mural in your space?
M: I love art. I took every art history class I could possibly fit into my schedule in college. I have tattoos of artists I love. I knew before I even had a space that I wanted to support artists with my business and redefine what a bridal shop looks and feels like - commissioning a mural was always the plan.
P: Can you talk about the process of opening the space while working multiple other jobs?
M: I would be lying if I said I didn't have my moments where I felt in over my head. I mean, I still do. I don't think there's a specific formula for how to open your own business while holding down your day job and honestly if you asked me what it is I wouldn't know. I have a lot of people ask me how I have time, and my short answer is that I am very intentional with my lunch breaks and to have a very specific vision. I knew, from the beginning, exactly who and what I wanted and it made decision making fast and easy. I also made a habit of listening to podcasts and interviews of people who had started business or even just people I admired - hearing a similar story of rejection, or struggle, or lack of sleep always pushed me more. I often had to take a step back and tell myself, "There are millions of business owners and people out there that have done this. Your stress isn't special or the only of its kind. They did it, and figured it out, and so will you." I know that sounds harsh but getting humble gives me perspective in the midst of it all. Having a partner who is supportive and holds you accountable is also invaluable. Someone who is checking in like, "Why aren't you doing that thing you were talking about?" or "Hey I feel like you're putting off xyz because you're scared so let's talk about what's the worst that can happen" - that was a big deal for me. Accountability is an amazing tool if you're willing to meet it halfway. Ultimately, and I say this knowing how corny it sounds, if you're doing it because you love it you will want to do it. I pushed through my 50 page business plan and financial projections because I knew that would get me to the good stuff. I never started a business because I saw dollar signs - I did it because when I thought back to the times I felt most alive, it was when I working in New York and experiencing the talent and creativity of fashion designers - and I asked myself, "How can I feel like that every single day?"
P: Which designers are you most excited about today?
M: I love and have a special place in my heart for everyone I work with and made a decision very early on that I would only carry designers I was really, really excited about. I would never do it to fill a void or because I think it will sell, I do it because it speaks to me and that inevitably shines through when we put our brides in gowns and can't contain ourselves. Kate McDonald has been a dear friend for years and I would be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled to be carrying her designs after modeling for her for years. I watched Leanne Marshall on project runway years ago, so having her presence in the store is a little out of body for me because I worship her gowns.
P: Do you have any upcoming events in the space that people should know about?
M: Our Open House is October 13 from 11-1p! We are opening up the space to say hello, get to know the community, and give away some really amazing things from my designers and other local small businesses in Knoxville.
P: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring?
M: My Harry Potter book set, a yoga mat, and sunscreen.
And now - I’m asking for your help! I’ve been dreaming of taking a trip across different parts of the U.S. and painting murals as I go. Do you know of any businesses, non-profits, organizations, or friends who might be interested in a mural? Would you like a mural in your home? I may be coming to your city! Please reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through my website or instagram to share your thoughts or talk about bringing my artwork to your walls! To stay updated on this trip and more projects, please join my email list. Thank you so much!