Franklin woman reinvents self at 50
Published 2:13 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013
FRANKLIN—It is often easier said than done when telling yourself that you will get back to your career after you raise your family.
But Gwendolyn Wilson, 51, did just that. When Wilson graduated from Virginia Tech in 1984, she was in New York City living the dream as a fashion designer for three years. But there was also something missing, and that was a family.
“I did not want to raise my family in New York,” Wilson said. “It was a little too fast for me. I am a country girl.”
She also decided that she did not want to go back and forth between home and New York while the children were growing up, so she ended up teaching fashion in the high schools, most recently at Southampton High School, where she worked for five years.
“I loved it, that was my everything,” Wilson said of teaching. “Seeing the children being creative was incredible. We had fashion shows and everything. We had a lot of fun.”
During her summers, she would work to stay in touch with people in the fashion industry. But the thought was that she would return to it full time, and after the academic year was over with, she did.
“Turning 50 was a major step in my life,” Wilson said. “The children were grown. It was time for me to return to my love of fashion, not just as a teacher but as a designer.”
Wilson has been hooked on the fashion industry since she was a young child. She started sewing at 5, and by second grade, she was sewing her own clothes.
“A lot of times, the grown people did not think I was making the clothes,” Wilson said. “It was just simple kit patterns, though. By high school, I was doing everything, making my own designs.”
Her line of clothes is called ETAMIB — Every Thing About Me Is Beautiful. The idea came about after making a realization about some of her students.
“Young girls often have self-esteem issues, and I wanted to help them with that,” Wilson said. “My line is not just for size two. I do full size garments too, and they are all beautiful.”
Wilson focuses on high-end eveningwear, couture gowns and wedding dresses. Her website is www.etamib.biz.
“That is just my specialty,” Wilson said. “Basically, I just like to see people all dressed up. I like the glamorous look, the Hollywood glam style.”
Several years back, her first line was shown at the Virginia Fashion Week, which led to other opportunities, such as the 7-7-7 VIP Series 50th anniversary Fashion Show for Lamborghini at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. This September, she will be showing her designs, yet to be revealed, at Couture Fashion Week in New York City.
“It is one of the largest international fashion shows in the world,” she said. “Saying I am excited is putting it mildly.”
She also has included her students in her work, some as models, and she has helped launch the careers of others.
“Some of them come with me to New York,” she said. “One has his own clothing line, and several are models.”
For people wanting to get into the industry, she does have some advice.
“If you want to get in the fashion industry, you have to love the clothes,” Wilson said. “You have to have a strong self-esteem, too, because people will not always like what you do, and that can hurt considering how much you put into these outfits.”
If you do love the industry, Wilson said you could get out what you put in. For instance, most of her dresses go for $1,500 and up, and she said she has plenty of clients, most of them in New York City, but some of them live in Richmond and Virginia Beach.
She does have a warning for people considering getting into modeling however.
“Always work with people you know, especially when starting out,” Wilson said. “There is a dark side to the industry.”
Wilson does not anticipate moving back to New York City.
“It is only an hour flight away,” Wilson said. “Things are more peaceful here. I can concentrate better in my home here, away from the hustle and bustle.”
She goes to New York two to three times a month, usually to shop for the materials she uses to make her dresses. By September, she thinks she will be going more often.
As far as being intimidated by the industry at her age, Wilson said you are as young as you feel.
“Age is only a number,” Wilson said. “I’m not scared to try new things — you never know what you can do until you try it.”
Through all of it, her family has been there for her, with her husband, Franklin Police Officer Patrick Wilson, being her biggest supporter. Her son, Lionel Dube, also helps her out as a photographer.
Wilson herself is a photographer. Some of the events she has covered as a photographer include the NBA draft, the NFL Hall-of-Fame game and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
“I started about 10 years ago, and I love it as much as I do fashion,” Wilson said. “I sometimes do the photos for my fashion-work, and I will do photo shoots for other designers as well.”
Her granddaughter, LaNiece Dube, 5, also helps out.
“She comes out with me at the end of the show,” Wilson said. “She usually steals the show. She is precious.”
While it took a year longer to get back in the industry than s had originally hoped for, she is glad she did it.
“I did not want to live my life with regrets,” Wilson said. “I did not want to be that lady in the rest home who said, ‘What if I had just done this?’”