Gretchen Bohling

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Gretchen's parents fostered a creative upbringing for her that later turned her passion for fashion design into a career.

Take us back to when you were a kid

I had a pretty great childhood. My parents definitely fostered a creative upbringing full of activities and arts and crafts. My sisters and I took playing with dolls to an entirely new level. We would put on theater shows and dance recitals for an audience of stuffed animals in the living room and would build entire barbie cities in our basement including streets and grocery stores - bless our parents for letting us take over the house. In the summertime, my favorite thing to do was create what my sisters and I called "chalk cities". These were chalk drawings of cities on our driveway. My sisters and I would mark out our houses and create a downtown full of parks, movie theaters, and libraries all out of chalk. Our neighbors would even let us use their driveways to create neighboring towns and we would connect them via the sidewalks by creating highways. Once the chalk cities were all finished we would ride our bikes through the made shift streets and highways from house to house and building to building. Needless to say, it was always a bummer when it rained but that just meant we got to create a new chalk city to play in. 

Who did you want to be?

Honestly - I don't think I really knew what I wanted to be career wise when I was a kid - I just wanted to have fun and learn as much as I could and one day grow up to have a family and kids of my own. I have always had a creative spirit and never wanted to work a typical office job. I was the kid who dressed up her dolls and made clothes for her barbies. I've always loved fashion and had a natural talent for sewing and finally decided in high school that I wanted to study fashion design and eventually make a career out of it. 

"I was the kid who dressed up her dolls and made clothes for her barbies."

What was last Monday like for you?

I started the day off with the delivery of a flower girl dress I tailored for a client who has a wedding coming up. Her three-year-old flower girl had outgrown her dress - yikes - enter me to the rescue :) After that, I headed to my studio to meet with another client who was coming in to get some of his dress clothes tailored. After I finished up with that appointment I got to work on finishing a couple of orders from my online shop and open studio event that past weekend. Last Monday was extra special because I went to a Holiday party with several other female entrepreneurs at the Knotty Nail (shout out to Becky for organizing it and bringing us all together!!) It was a great night because I got to meet several awesome ladies that I already followed Instagram :) It was a great Monday!

Walk us through the days leading up to starting Gretchen Bohling Designs?

I worked in the fashion industry in Chicago for years after graduating from design school there in hopes of learning the "business and marketing" side of owning your own fashion brand without having to go back to school and pay for it. I worked in retail management, wholesale, personal styling, and custom suiting before finally making the leap to start my own business. When I left my full-time styling job it was kind of spur of the moment actually. I always knew it was going to happen because it had always been my long-term goal but I hadn't planned it out too much when I actually decided to make the plunge. It came down to me ultimately not being happy working for someone else and being so stressed out from working too many hours.

I remember deciding to make the leap and start my own business when I was on a short weekend trip visiting my family. It was my nieces first birthday party and everyone there kept asking me how my job was and how I liked it... We've all been there when you put on a happy face and lie about how much you love your job, how great the company culture is, and how happy you are working there. It was while talking to my family that I realized I wasn't happy, the stress of my full-time job was really taking a toll on me. It was time to quit and go out on my own. When I got back to Chicago after that weekend I ended up quitting my full-time job, subletting my apartment in Chicago and moving to do Des Moines all in a matter of three weeks...crazy but I've always been the type of person that if I don't just do it I never will - I'm an over-thinker.

It came down to me ultimately not being happy working for someone else and being so stressed out from working too many hours.

What keeps you busy?

My small business keeps me really busy. I'm not married yet and I don't have any kids so that helps with my hectic schedule. I've got an 8-year-old dog with the energy of a puppy that keeps me busy when I'm not working. My studio building allows dogs so I can take him with me to work whenever I want which is awesome #blessed!! My brand Gretchen Bohling Designs offers a handful of products and services so it keeps me pretty busy from day to day. I sell my ready to wear clothing line online at www.gretchenbohling.com and in-store at Wanderlust in the East Village. I'm currently in the process of talking to a couple more stores in central Iowa that are interested in carrying my line as well so that is super exciting!! I also make custom clothing for my clients - anything from wedding dresses to replicas of your favorite sweatpants. I offer tailoring services to fix and alter clothing, teach private sewing lessons of all levels at my studio space, and work with a couple of non -profit organizations to teach sewing class and fiber arts in some of the public schools in the area. 

How do you stay focused?

I listen to a lot of podcasts :) Anything from fashion-related business podcasts - to criminal podcasts - to bachelor franchise related podcasts depending on my mood. It keeps me focused because it's not as distracting as playing Netflix in the background and it helps me feel like I'm not working alone in the studio all day.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge for me has been the roller coaster of emotions that comes with owning and supporting your own business. Some days it feels like everything is going so well and business is wonderful, but other days it feels like I'm barely scraping by and I made a huge mistake leaving the security of a consistent paycheck. It's definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done accompanied with some monumental sacrifices, but I LOVE what I do and my business is growing.

"The biggest challenge for me has been the roller coaster of emotions that comes with owning and supporting your own business."

How did you overcome it?

When I feel discouraged I remind myself that every entrepreneur goes through the same ups and downs and it helps to keep me grounded and motivates me to keep going :) I also think about how lucky I am to be doing what I love and how unhappy I was working for someone else doing things I didn't necessarily want to do or help me grow in the way I wanted to.

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why?

If I could redo something it would be the amount of thought I put into the financial aspect of owning and growing my own business. It seems pretty obvious that you need a substantial amount of capital to start and maintain a business and I knew that going into it but I definitely didn't plan it out as well as I should have. My business is completely self-funded which is super risky and adds an element of desperation when things get hard. In hindsight, I wish I would have looked into other funding options prior to starting in order to provide myself with more cushion financially especially when I think about my future and the bigger picture. 

Someone is starting their own thing. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice?

Just do it or you never will - seriously :)

Why Des Moines?

I chose Des Moines when I moved from Chicago because I grew up in small-town Iowa and my sister lived nearby. I knew I needed to have a lower cost of living in order for my business to survive so moving to Des Moines and living with my sister while I got my business off the ground made perfect sense. The original plan was to stay here for a year and after things started to run smoothly with my business would move to Colorado where a lot of my family lives and run it from there. Fast forward to now and I've been in Des Moines for almost 2 years :) I can tell you that I am not planning on leaving anytime soon. I LOVE it here and the community is so supportive of small businesses and artists it's a wonderful place to start and stay! I have been able to grow my business in many ways here in Des Moines - I found an incredible studio space in the new Mainframe Arts building that has been a real game changer for my business. I love my space and the culture and environment of the building are very inspiring and an amazing space for me to grow and expand!

"I found an incredible studio space in the new Mainframe Arts building that has been a real game changer for my business."

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye?

It's not necessarily one new thing - but all of the construction downtown has definitely caught my eye since I've moved to the area. All the new apartment buildings and the new commercial buildings going up are signs of growth and it's exciting because it means Des Moines is doing something right.

You can grant Des Moines one wish. What’s that wish?

I wish we had more affordable direct flights in and out of the Des Moines airport to different areas of the country because I have friends and family all over and I don't get to see them that often.

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go?

I suggest they walk around in the East Village because it's a fun neighborhood with a small town community feel and a big city vibe - the best of both worlds!! There are a ton of locally owned shops that sell such cute things to local makers. While they are in the neighborhood they can visit the capital and check out the historical building. There is plenty of great food, so man places to get an amazing cocktail or beer, and they can stop into Wanderlust to shop my collection ;)

"The opportunities here have been amazing, and the community is super supportive."

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

I'd say one of the most underrated things about Des Moines is that its a super supportive community for creatives. I feel like the people of Des Moines know this but people that don't live here have no idea. Everyone always asks me why I left Chicago to come here and start a Fashion Brand - like I made the wrong decision or something. That couldn't be farther from the truth as there are so many reasons it's proven to be the right decision for me. Aside from the obvious financial aspect and cost of living I wouldn't be nearly as successful in my business as I am now if I had stayed in Chicago. The opportunities here have been amazing, and the community is super supportive. In Chicago everything becomes really competitive, and not always in a good way. The fashion world is quite snobby in Chicago for lack of a better word. Customers typically only care about buying name brand labels to show off their money. It becomes more of a competition to one up the girl sitting next to and less about a true appreciation for fashion and style. Here in Des Moines people care more about local art and giving back to the community through their buying habits and less about notoriety - it's amazing and completely underrated.

What are you most proud of and why?

I'm most proud that I get to do what I love everyday and that I've made it happen all by myself. It sounds super cliche but it's true. I literally am doing exactly what I dreamed of and get to design and create in an amazing and gorgeous studio space. I still pinch myself from time to time because it's hard to believe. 

"I hope to have my clothing line in at least one more store within 6 months."

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished?

I hope to have my clothing line in at least one more store within 6 months. I will have launched my spring/summer collection by that time so if it all works out I will be introducing some specialty pieces at a new retailer!

One thing that matters most to you is what?

Family. I love my family and am very protective of them. I'm the oldest of my sisters and we lost our mom to cancer when we were in grade school.  I learned to never take time with the ones you love for granted and to appreciate those close to you always. Going through that at such a young age instilled a drive in me to make my dad proud and to become a strong independent woman just like my mom was.

Photo credit: Abigail Bohling (her sister)

Derek Jensen