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Rising Stars: Meet Keira McGee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keira McGee.  

Hi Keira, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
My story starts back in New Jersey, where I was born and raised. I began sewing and designing at a young age and knew I wanted to pursue a career in clothing design. I was fortunate to have access to Fashion Design classes in high school and went on to study fashion design at Parsons the New School for Design. Unfortunately, after two years into my studies, I was denied financial aid and forced to leave school. This setback pushed me to jumpstart my career, and I began working as a costume designer in New York at the age of 19. I spent a few years working in New York City on a variety of projects, including several broadway shows such as Hamilton, The Lion King, and The Rockettes Spring Spectacular. I was living the stereotypical “artist life,” so I constantly worked multiple jobs at once. I would start my day’s sewing in a costume shop, spend my evenings running wardrobe, and use the early morning hours/weekends to design and build costumes for smaller productions. This chapter in my life took a toll on my spirit, but it strengthened my sewing and construction skills, as well as my confidence in myself. 

After a few years of working in New York City, I found my way to the west coast through an opportunity to teach art classes out on Catalina Island. It was in this position I discovered a passion for the ocean and environment. It was here that I also realized how unhappy I was in New York. After a couple of months of living on Catalina, I ended up canceling my flight back east and applying to jobs in Southern California. Fortunately, this brought me out to San Diego, and I began working in the Costume Department at La Jolla Playhouse. 

In 2020 I faced another setback (along with the rest of the world) and was laid off due to Covid-19. This second setback became another major turning point in my career, but luckily by this time, I had learned to lean into these changes rather than fear them. It was the first time in my young adult life that I had time to slow down, think, and discover what it is I ultimately want to achieve with my work. I had a wonderful “lightbulb moment” as I realized I now had an opportunity to combine my two passions of clothing design and the environment. This was the moment I began Keira Designs. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The road has not always been smooth, but I like to think the detours, speed bumps, and total roadblocks all help push me further. My main struggle has always been a financial one since I live in expensive cities and do not exactly work in the most lucrative field. I struggle each month with student loan debt, despite having only completed two years of an undergraduate degree. I also struggle to continue fighting against the wicked problem of climate change and constantly question if the sustainable clothing I create is really making a difference. Thankfully, I’m an optimist, and I am surrounded by an incredible community that supports my mission. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
In January of 2020, I officially began Keira Designs which is my own sustainable clothing company. I primarily focus on “up-cycling” clothing, which means I take second-hand garments and put my own twist on them to give them new life. This redesigning process helps to combat the fast fashion industry and slow the production of fabric waste. Within Keira Designs, I also have a small line of clothing called “Shreddy Betty,” which promotes inclusivity within surf culture. This clothing line features my hand-drawn design of three women of various sizes and colors all getting ready to surf in the ocean together. I am most proud of my “Shreddy Betty” clothing line because it speaks to the importance of representation within surf culture and is intended to inspire others. 

Overall, my designs stand out from others because they are relatable and honest. I am not mass-producing picture-perfect garments to only be worn on special occasions. I strive to create your favorite pair of patched jeans or your comfiest sweatshirt featuring a design that brings you confidence. My intent is to create eco-friendly clothing that helps you feel your most authentic self. 

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you, and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
I was reminded how important it is to reach out to others. I know I was incredibly fortunate to be safe and mostly stable during this time of crisis, while countless others faced much harsher realities. I’ve grown closer to my community during this time and am grateful for each person I’ve met through Keira Designs. Support from loved ones and total strangers is what keeps us all moving forward and is what inspires me to continue designing. 

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Image Credits

Andy Putnam

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