Brooke Wilder is a name that evokes the imagery of a fearless woman, standing at the shore, taking the world in. Gina Marie Roberts shares with ELYSIAN how she took a step into her second act as a woman when she enrolled in design school and dedicated her resources and efforts into harnessing her creativity into fashion. Her clothes are beautiful and thoughtfully designed, and her story is an inspiration to always look forward, as your best is yet to come.
As the founder and owner of Brooke Wilder, can you tell me more about the origin of the name?
When I originally started the company, I knew that I wanted the brand to kind of represent a broad idea of a woman. When I started, I didn’t know who that woman was. But as I started to find my own self, I started to realize that this is my inner wild child.
Originally, I was looking for something that contained the essence of the person who would be attracted to my pieces. And that was someone who was natural and flowing and dramatic, a little bit of romantic. And, of course, a brook actually is water. So it’s flowing movement, it is life force.
And then Wilder was meant for someone who was unafraid to adventure, someone who was unafraid to explore. That is the essence of the woman who I designed for and honestly, she’s the woman I’m letting out as we speak.
What an interesting and creative way to create a brand and an ethos for a designer brand.
I was actually inspired by Tommy Bahama. I was reading some articles about their story and how the brand started. And everyone thought that Tommy Bahama was a person, but Tommy Bahama was a group of men that went on vacation one weekend, and they were sitting on a beach drinking tropical drinks and decided to come up with this idea. It was of the moment and the person they wanted to be. And it just made so much sense because, you know, when you look at a brand, you’re always trying to fit like one person into a muse role, when it can be more than that.
Are you originally from South Carolina?
No, I was originally born in Rochester, New York. And I was raised in Wisconsin, in the Southeastern Milwaukee area. I lived there until I was 18, and then I hit the road, ran away from home. I lived in Illinois for a while. I lived in Florida for a while. I had my son. I was a single mom. So, I ended up moving back home because that was where family was. I have been in South Carolina now for 11 years this year.
What gave you the confidence to get up and go when you were 18?
The truth is, I think a part of me knew that there was a lot of me that would die if I didn’t, you know? That I would lose a lot of myself if I didn’t get out that door. So, I think I barreled through the fear only because I knew I had to.
I cry a lot. FYI, I’m very emotional. Especially when I talk to other women. It’s very emotional. And I think it’s healing and empowering at the same time for us to be able to share and cry together. But I think that has been my progression. I could see myself closing up and making myself smaller and trying to contain myself. And that has always been so challenging for me because I could feel myself withering. Yeah, like a little flower.
Did you feel that with each move you would have that feeling sort of creep up on you, becoming the impetus to move on to the next place?
No, the years in between there were mostly trauma-reactive spaces. They were from a lot of drama, a bad boyfriend, a lot of abuse and a lot of not-fun situations. I still am in the space of learning how to speak about emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is harder to pinpoint but is still insidious and something that you need to get away from. That is a challenging life.
Well, you’re not wrong. I’ve had a lot of a lot of roller coasters in my life. Would I have changed any aspect of it? Not even a little bit. I’ve had a lot of trauma and just all kinds of hardship in my life. But, you know, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am. And I wouldn’t know the people that I know right now in my life… if I had changed one iota of that.
How did you manage to keep your creative pursuits strong within you?
I didn’t. My creative journey didn’t start until my son was just about to graduate. Basically, I worked, I had a job, and I put my focus in him. I had to. I had to make a salary. When he started to get older, I kind of accidentally fell into this. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a fashion designer, I sort of fell into it.
At the time, I was working at a battery manufacturer. Yes, I worked in battery manufacturing. I was in. I was there for a very long time. I progressed from an hourly receptionist up to full-time salaried operations and purchasing director while I was there.
And so, the business that I worked for was in the same industrial park as Kohl’s corporate headquarters. One day, they were having a job fair, and they had an opening for an assistant designer. I know I’m creative, and I know I have some artistic talent, so I started taking art classes at the local community college to see if I could even draw. From there I went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco’s online program, worked my full-time job, which at the time was about 40 to 60 hours a week, and I went to school and spent time with my family. And then as I started progressing in the program, I started to realize this is really what I want. I started to build the idea of who my customer was, I knew I was going to do my own thing, and so I just started to create my world.
Your world also has a dedication to sustainability. Why was that important for you?
I’m more of a regenerative kind of person, where whatever you take out, you put back, and you don’t abuse and you don’t overuse. That’s why I do slow fashion. And I looked at a lot of the different ideologies that were out there. And this one just made the most sense.
I also create my collections so that everything is mix-and-matchable – dress-up for grownups. I want the clothes to be playful, and I want women to feel good when they look in the mirror. What I put out there, I want these women to feel good when they put these clothes on and have fun.
You have had such an interesting life and have been so brave throughout. This is not the end of your story.
I never thought I was brave. I actually thought I was crazy and delusional. I have not owned my own bravery until recently.