Kelly Thomas Malone '10 - Saying "I Do" to Customer-Driven Design
Kelly Thomas Malone ’10 spends her days among wedding finery and catering to brides preparing for their “big day.” Some of her clients walk into White Magnolia Bridal in Atlanta with specific ideas and others rely on her expertise to guide them. Regardless, Kelly has a unique freelance business that puts her in an elite group of artisans – she hand makes bridal veils, robes, and garters for brides-to-be.
After graduating from Georgia Southern University in 2015 with a degree in fashion merchandising and apparel design with an emphasis on bridal design, she landed an internship with bridal designer Melanie Brook Watson, who was in the early stages of creating her own bridal line. That experience taught Kelly how competitive the bridal world really was and maybe there were career options for her outside of just design. In 2015, a friend approached her about making her wedding veil after Kelly had shared details of a cathedral-length veil with hand painted floral cutouts she had created for a florist.
Here and there, friends and acquaintances would come to Kelly with custom requests. “I taught myself based on people coming to me,” she shares. “Everything I do is custom and I think that sets me apart because I don’t use a pattern. Depending on a lot of factors, I hand cut what each bride wants because each veil is created based on her unique personality and taste.”
Today, Kelly makes approximately 12 to 15 veils each year. She learned quickly that she had to implement a time table to keep up with the volume of requests. “For one of my earlier jobs, I had to turn a veil around in one week while teaching myself how to create the stitching – that was an all-nighter,” she recalls. “But, at the time, I would do anything for anyone because I wanted the exposure. Now, I want the opportunity to make each one perfect.”
The veil making process is an art, not a science, so depending on various factors, it could take from three weeks to two months for Kelly to make one of her creations. She requires pictures from the brides she is serving to know where to look for her resources. For a traditional bride’s veil, Kelly may use sources from all over the U.S., but for someone who wants more elaborate detail or something more trendy, she may need to outsource trims and material from as far away as Germany. At each stage, she checks in with the bride for approval and allows herself ample time to hand cut the pattern then attach any lace or detail followed by hand stitching the finish work. She is a perfectionist, so every step of the process is labor intensive and requires her close attention.
Bridal veil design does not occupy all of Kelly’s time, though. She is the manager for White Magnolia in Buckhead and takes to heart the challenge of helping every bride find “her” dress. That challenge is met by knowing every aspect of designer they represent, plus spending a lot of time with customers.
“I’m a perfectionist, so if I have a bride who wants a veil with specific details then I have to offer my opinion,” says Kelly. “If I don’t think a style or detail will compliment a bride’s dress, then it is my professional responsibility to help direct her towards something that does look good. I have learned that there are some brides who want what they want, and that’s sometimes difficult for me to make something if I don’t think it is a perfect fit.”
For Kelly, satisfaction comes when a finished veil truly reflects the look of the bride and who she is as a person. She has also learned in the bridal business that the most important piece of advice she can offer clients is to find a dress and accessories that make you feel like yourself. This is advice that she had to take to heart because her own wedding was September 8, 2018.
“In my own experience wedding shopping, I’m someone who likes fashion and likes to stand out but I wanted to look like myself,” she shares. “If a bride comes to me with something elaborate, then I ask her where she shops, I want to see pictures of her, and I try to go in the direction of her personality combined with dress. I understand that the veil should complement the bride, not stand out more.”
With her own wedding plans to fill her time, Kelly was eager to make her own veil and utilize the advice and knowledge that she regularly shares with others. “It has been hard because I don’t have an answer for my own questions, like I do for my customers.”
Kelly has experiences from her Stratford days that provide daily influence. From her time in art classes with Casper Fredrickson, she recalls being pushed to always do better and try different techniques, which in the design world, helps her to continually take things to another level. Nancy Todd taught her the value of never taking shortcuts and always seeing a project through to make it the best that it can be. And then, of course, there were the yearbook deadlines with her mother, Juleen Thomas, where she learned to use graphic design software programs.
So what does the future hold for Kelly’s custom creations? She has not decided – and that is just fine with her. Many artisans are taking their businesses online, but with the custom nature of veil design, she is not sure that is the right path for her. “I like the custom base of my clients and if I do pursue it through standard methods, then I feel like I’ll lose that personal touch,” she shares. “I want to keep it small because of that connection with the brides. I’d love to have more brides and customers, but I don’t want a mass produced product.”
Kelly’s time in the bridal world has taught her that it is a trendy business and there are many designers taking advantage of the appeal for a customized product. She likes that designers are becoming more versatile and giving brides chance to make changes to fit their personalities. She also likes the challenge it presents her in a business that is driven by customer satisfaction. “I want to help brides make decisions that make them happy, and I see an increase in bridal world where customizations are becoming more mainstream. This opens doors for brides, and for myself.” From her training in apparel design, she can offer customers insight into the construction and design side of the bridal business, so she can educate people what elements will work and why.
For now, Kelly is content providing a customized product to a select group of customers. One of her veils is available to customers at White Magnolia, but otherwise her business is based on word-of-mouth referrals from friends and customers. “I’m not aware of anyone else who is a freelance veil designer, like myself,” she says. This allows her to keep creating with attention to details and the unique needs of each of her clients in mind.
Facebook: Kelly Thomas Designs