August 30, 2011
Going head-to-head with Stormy Kromer Senior Designer, Tamara Ehle.
We work in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—a rugged, outdoorsy place that suits our wool-cap-wearing customers just fine, but seems an unlikely fit for someone who’s devoted her life to both fashion and design.
Her name is Tamara (pronounced ta-MAR-a, it’s a beautiful new twist on a familiar name that hints at the fresh new looks she’s bringing to our 100-year-old cap company) and she fits in quite well, thank you.
You can read her like an open book: one with brightly colored pictures, an inspiring story line and a genuinely happy ending. And when you find out she’s responsible for designing Stormy Kromer’s new line of caps, jackets, pants, vests, shirts and a vast array of women’s clothing, you’ll be glad she came up to our little corner of the world. Here’s what she has to say about how she got here:
SK: You’re a fashion designer living in the Northwoods. How did that happen?
TE: I followed love, literally. My husband had always wanted to live in the Northwoods, so we packed up and moved. Then, one day, he had a meeting in Ironwood and said he wanted to stop by the Stormy Kromer factory. I found out they gave tours, so said I’d come along, bring the kids, and make it a family outing. When I got there, that’s when I really fell in love.
SK: So, the tour went well?
TE: I’ve worked in and visited clothing manufacturers across the country and around the globe, but I’d never seen anything like Stormy Kromer. My heart was racing, my stomach fluttering. I was so excited to see the giant fabric rolls I wanted to hug them. The people, the technology, the laughter—I was infatuated and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
SK: You’d worked for the likes of Harley Davidson and Lord & Taylor. You have a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Were you ready to hand over your résumé on the spot?
TE: When you live up here, you don’t expect to find a fashion designer job just down the road, so I hesitated for a few weeks before deciding to go for it. But they were looking for someone like me. I just couldn’t believe it.
TE: Other than my husband’s cap, no. But it seems everybody knows someone who had that cap, so everything we do reflects that part of the Kromer heritage.
SK: That’s a long-standing heritage, too, with a predominantly male audience. How did you see yourself working into that?
TE: I felt like I could collaborate with the company because it was going in a new direction—adding new styles and products, reaching new customers and demographics. I’ve studied and collected vintage clothing my whole life, and I love finding ways to make it new again. This just seemed like the perfect fit.
SK: How else have you helped Stormy Kromer move beyond being simply a hat company?
TE: Again, everything ties back to that original wool cap. We’re just taking that 1940s feel and making it work even better today, whether it’s on the Bunkhouse Trousers, our ladies’ Walking Coat, or our Deck Shirt. I’m looking at interesting new plaids, changing the size of the squares and playing with color. We’re keeping the classic Kromer cut while updating the styles and working with a younger, more modern fit. We’re taking the outdoor lifestyle and making it more attractive to more people.
SK: When did you first know you needed to be a designer?
TE: When I was four, I cut up my mother’s lingerie to make Barbie clothes. Let’s just say Mom was not impressed.
SK: What’s more inspiring: a great outfit or a really good walk in the woods?
SK: What else influences you when it comes to Stormy Kromer design?
TE: Everything from runway shows in New York City to comments from customers down the block. I shop in thrift stores; I look through old photos and boxes of old clothes; I watch how sunlight hits the leaves; I wear our products out in the elements; I imagine Mr. and Mrs. Kromer when they were young and try to tailor my designs to how they’d live today; I look at flowers blooming as often as I look at color forecasts; and I get really excited when cutting out the patterns. I feel like a sculptor liberating a form from a piece of stone.
SK: So, um, what are you wearing right now?
TE: I knew you’d ask me that! I’m wearing a blueberry zip-neck top and black climbing pants. Usually, I wear a rainbow of colors.
SK: How would your friends describe you?
TE: Optimistic. A dreamer. Full of ideas. And always having one more thing to say.
SK: So what else do you have to say?
TE: If I had not found Stormy Kromer, I would have withered up and blown away. There aren’t words big and majestic enough to describe how I feel.
SK: How should people decide what look is right for them?
TE: Try everything on, and I mean everything on the rack—from left to right. Even if you think it won’t fit right or is the wrong color. Trust me, you’re in for a few pleasant surprises.
SK: What will we see next from Stormy Kromer?
TE: Ooh, I can’t tell you that. But look for some very feminine colors, younger-looking cuts and some fun, functional accessories.
SK: So, is it okay to wear white after Labor Day?
TE: Of course!