Not so long ago, Maria Pinto was designing $1,000 dresses and 100-piece collections. She had a West Loop store and her own manufacturing facility with 35 employees.
But the financial burden put an end to all that in 2010.
Now the Chicago designer known for dressing Oprah and Michelle Obama is back with a small, moderately priced line of dresses and jackets called M2057 and, as of press time, $236,000 in donations toward a $250,000 Kickstarter campaign. Grid caught up with Pinto as she was making final funding pushes in Chicago and New York before her Kickstarter ends Monday.
Why are you still working in Chicago?
We’re a global market and I’m here to prove that Chicago is a viable place for a designer to work. Now, does that mean there’s not added layers and challenges? Of course not. We want to keep artists and designers and architects in Chicago. I felt like that was something that really needed to be challenged.
Was it hard to scale back from having your own tailors and store?
What I tried to do is take all the things I really want to retain from the Maria Pinto brand in terms of beautiful materials, beautiful workmanship, fit and value. But what I’ve done is then translated that into something that’s at a more accessible price level. There are two sides that make a garment expensive: One, expensive materials, and two, really highly constructed garments become very expensive. I’m finding this balance between material costs and labor costs. Sometimes I’m using very expensive materials still but constructing them in a more minimal way so you offset the costs. And I can still produce a really great garment for $250.
I used to do a 100-piece collection every season. And this is 13 pieces and it’s very edited and very mindful of women’s body types. It’s a very disciplined approach to managing design.
How do you juggle the rest of your responsibilities while you’re making this final fundraising push?
I’m going into a cycle right now where we’re doing a lot of marketing so it’s a lot of evening events. If I’m going to be going until 8 or 9 at night, then some personal stuff’s going to get bumped to — oddly enough — the middle of the day. It used to make me squirrely. “I need to be at my desk.” It’s OK. It’s hard to break off and give yourself permission. There’s always that guilt of “I should be doing something.” Work. Guilt. Nothing worse than being brought up Italian. Catholic Italian. Guilt, fear, blame, anxiety.
How do you get past that?
You realize that it’s insignificant. And it’s an old way of thinking. And you move on from it. Not to say that’s easy.
How are you installing this balance in M2057, the new company you’re creating?
This past 3½ years, when I was able to paint a lot — I don’t want to give up on those things. That’s why I’m trying to find the right balance.
I have a greater consciousness about it. I have a greater awareness. I look at everything and go, this is a cycle. When you’re a startup, it’s a whole cycle. I know this isn’t forever. But I’m really excited about where that’s going to go.
What if you don’t make your Kickstarter goal — which means you don’t get the $250K?
We don’t talk about that. We don’t even think that way. I totally believe in putting all of your energy in a very positive way. I really believe it’s going to happen.
ABOVE: Maria Pinto in her home design studio. Photo by Sara Mays