Local designer makes a splash

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

WINDHAM — When Joanna Kinsman was asked what career she might pursue some day as part of a seventh grade assignment, she chose fashion designer.

At the time, it just sounded “cool.”

“I’m not sure I really knew what that meant. It sounded like it had some kind of status,” she said, “but I could barely dress myself at the time, let alone in a fashionable manor.”

JOANNA KINSMAN, formerly of Fryeburg, is preparing to launch a luxury swimsuit line under her Miss Kinsman label. (Rivet Photo)

Today, the 26-year-old is on the verge of making a big splash as the designer of luxury bikinis. Her plans are to launch the swimwear line next month over the Internet and in boutiques by next summer.

In June, Joanna introduced some of her “Miss Kinsman” line at a fashion event arranged by Boston designer Conrad Lamour, whose resume includes creating a dress for singer Donna Summer and suit for P. Diddy.

“I like her design principle — her fine attention to detail and fabrics give her collection a niche. I consider her swimwear luxury classic handmade pieces,” Lamour said. “To make it in the fashion business, you need talent, business savvy, people skills and the willingness to work long hours. Joanna is very driven, has vision and is a quick learner. She will do very well because she has already had challenges and I’ve given her opportunities that will help her succeed. Providence Fashion Week is another bull she is taking by the horns!”

Breaking into the business is very hard, Lamour said, because while most people want to be involved and love fashion, “they don’t have any idea what the fashion business is.”

“The main advice I’ve given Joanna is like Nike’s (slogan) ‘Just do it.’ To be in Vogue you have to do Vogue things. I’ve also given Joanna not only advice, but I’ve used my connections

to advise her in her collection — from having a launch party for her, setting up a photo shoot and connecting her with a model,” Lamour said. “All this to advise her for Providence Fashion Week (her first runway show, set for August), and more importantly, make her prepared for the 2012 swimwear season.”

Uncovering her talent and making valuable connections in the fashion industry have put Joanna on the cusp of making a middle school whimsical idea a reality.

Willing to take chances

Like many high school graduates, Joanna Kinsman looked to “find herself” as she left Fryeburg Academy in 2003 and moved on to the University of New Hampshire to ski and study entrepreneurship. A six-time state Nordic ski champion and star cross-country runner, Joanna says her Academy days set her up for future success.

“I learned a lot of discipline and started on a road of confidence, motivation and overall self-awareness — and of course physical well-being and overall health!” she said.

Her path took an unexpected turn.

“I had a ski accident in my first race my freshman year, and medical red-shirted. The plan was to stay for a fifth year to finish my degree and continue racing, but I decided to move to Boston instead,” she said. “I intend to finish my degree at some point — maybe take classes online though I’ve fulfilled all of my requirements for business classes so I could take anything at all!”

Joanna lived in Boston for over a year, working as an event planner for various promotional companies. Later, she became a personal trainer. As time passed, Joanna realized she wanted something else out of her life. So, she made a big decision — relocate.

“I’ve always listened to my intuition, so when I decided I wanted to move to California, I set a date that I’d leave, found a place to live on Craigslist, and booked a flight sight unseen — I’d never been to San Diego before! I’ve moved a lot though, in fact, I’ve never lived in the same apartment or house since I left for college, and believe I’ve moved about 14 times since high school,” she said. “I never once thought about saving money before I left or worried about finding a job. Those things seem to always work out. I guess sometimes you have to put yourself in a situation you need to get yourself out of, which is, I guess, what I did. I bought a car and finally got a job after over a month of looking with an Internet marketer.”

Job responsibilities included attending events and making “great connections.”

“It got to the point where I had enough people asking me about virtual assistant work that I decided to leave my job and work independently from home. I traveled with clients to places like Colorado to ski and snowmobile; to Mexico where we went deep sea fishing; hosted clients with a private chef; and lots of trips to Las Vegas for events and networking parties,” Joanna recalled. “This was one of the best years of my life as a jet setter! My connections led me to meet my current boss, who asked me to move back to Maine to assist in an ecommerce and Internet marketing start-up as a part owner (Viral Technologies, located on Middle Street in Portland). It was an offer I couldn’t refuse!”

While living in San Diego, Joanna discovered she had a strong desire to run her own business, she had “a gift” and a passion for designing swimwear.

“To be honest, when I was in (college) classes, I felt very behind when it came to grasping concepts, but I’ve had ample time to learn with my experience working for entrepreneurs while in California,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of the things business school doesn’t teach you — photo shoots, PR and the overall research and development process that I’m still learning! I don’t think I could have landed into a more lucrative industry with Internet marketing! I was actually told later that part of the reason I got my job was because I was an athlete from the East Coast and we’re supposed to have great work ethic.”

A lesson Joanna will apply to her swimwear line is the need to outsource. Her logo was created by an artist in Colorado and she is working with a manufacturer in China.

“I think when people think of fashion, they think someone wants to own their own store. I plan to have as little overhead as possible, so selling in boutiques is much more attractive to me as well as the Internet to sell all over the United States and maybe the world. I’m looking at a big picture,” Joanna said.

So, when did she realize her talent as a designer?

“For some reason, swimwear designs began coming to me while I was living in Boston. I remember telling one of my friends while down in New York City about them because she had a fashion background. I hadn’t ever thought of starting my own clothing line!” she said. “While living in San Diego, I went to a lot of fashion and networking events, and more and more designs kept coming to mind, to the point where I decided I needed to take action. Interestingly enough, one of my best friends there told me that I’d know what it was I wanted to do when it literally kept me awake. That’s essentially what happened, so I began drawing, and working out how to have my designs manufactured. It’s been a completely new learning process to me!”

When Joanna was in high school, she designed her prom dresses, which her mom made.

“She’s a very talented seamstress. She used to work for a designer. Too bad she’s not interested in sewing swimwear!” Joanna said. “I’m sure this influenced my direction into fashion years later.”

Why swimwear?

“I really don’t know why I’m so inspired to design swimwear, but it’s almost as if I can’t help the ideas that come into my head. I imagine a lot of people have amazing inspirations, but many don’t act on them. I feel lucky to have a good blend of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness to have pulled it all together,” she said. “It became something I couldn’t stop thinking about when I went to sleep and again when I woke up. That’s when you know it’s not just something you’d like to do, but something you have to share.”

At the moment, Joanna is juggling two jobs — one working for Viral Technologies, the other designing.

“The situation is perfect, as it allows me to fund my creative passion, but with a stable income and security,” she said. “It can be tough to manage both companies, but when you love something it doesn’t really seem like work! I’d like to see ‘Miss Kinsman’ expand its line, hope to hire people to help me so I can continue to focus on my full-time business. I plan to add clothing and accessories to the line, eventually. The launch came up suddenly so now I’m focusing on sample and pattern-making for my collection, manufacturing, and then getting exposure and sales. With my Internet marketing knowledge, I’m confident that I’m in the perfect place for the line to take off.”

Who really knows how the next chapter of Joanna Kinsman’s fashion career will play out, but the former star athlete turned designer encourages anyone with a dream to pursue it and not be afraid to take some chances to make it happen.

“I’ve always listened to my intuition and done what I felt was the right thing to do, even when I wasn’t sure why. Move forward without fear, otherwise you may find yourself regretting playing it safe,” she said. “Surround yourself with people you want to be like and take every opportunity to learn something or meet someone new. You’ll be surprised by how once you put your intention out there to the world how fast opportunities will come your way if you allow them to.”

Joanna is the daughter of Dave and Connie Kinsman of Fryeburg. She resides in Windham.

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