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Reinvention by Design

Joanne Mullin Artisan Apparel  

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Article by Lisa Moyer

Originally published in Leawood Lifestyle

Transplanting from San Francisco to Kansas City last year was just another season of reinvention for designer Joanne Mullin. It’s what she does best. Her former career in marketing and public relations taught her how to re-brand, discover new strengths and reveal newfound identity.

“My passion for reinvention is behind everything I do,” Mullin says. “It's about rescuing hidden gems and giving them new life.”

For Mullin, reinventions have taken many forms: interior design transformations, painting projects and murals, painted leather boots and handbags, repurposed denim jackets and scarves. But what excites her most today is her line of handmade one-of-a-kind fashion kimonos that often incorporate pieces of vintage Japanese kimonos. Gleaned from garments found at estate sales and other sources, she renders remnants into boutique-quality wearable art.

KC is welcoming her visions with upcoming trunk shows at outlets such as Teal Lotus, set for this October’s Third Fridays in downtown Overland Park. To date, Mullin has created and sold hundreds of unique pieces, doing all her own sewing. Her loose-fitting kimonos fit a wide range of sizes—a selling point for local boutiques.  

“I love the flattering, flowing silhouettes and gorgeous combinations in my kimono line,” Mullin says, “And oh the stories these vintage fabrics could tell.”

Mullin describes her clientele as “a woman of substance who’s self-aware, but perhaps in a season of reinvention. Regardless of age, size, income, or walk in life, she is bold, fun-loving, and has something to say.”

As a self-employed designer, Mullin works from her Westwood Park home she is renovating with husband, Bill, a music composer. They have two grown sons.

“Bill and I are both incurable, driven creative spirits,” Mullin says. “I love the lifestyle we’re able to have here. We can live in the city, have access to everything we enjoy such as jazz clubs, the symphony, and art galleries, yet we still have a quiet retreat in our backyard. That wasn’t possible in California. The quality of life here is the best we’ve ever had.”

Skeptical at first, Mullin soon realized KC was the real deal.

“I’ve been impressed, and frankly, surprised at the open generosity of people. I’m blown away by how easily I’ve connected with qualified, talented people, especially at Fashion Group International. KC supports one another with an infrastructure offering the freedom to thrive. I feel so appreciated and valued here.”

As a child, Mullin showed early signs of creativity and later studied interior design and communications. In 2009, she was finally able to explore fashion design. 

“My first denim jacket was a Carole King Tapestry album-themed jacket that I made to wear to her ‘Troubadour’ concert with James Taylor in San Jose. That led to making many vintage rock-and-roll themed pieces, including custom jackets and scarves for men.”

As a visual person, Mullin says her design inspirations come from seeing art in context, including KC’s vast iconic architecture.

“This city is a celebration of beauty and art,” Mullin says. “Its fountains, stately homes, giant trees, and parks create a lush urban environment that’s uplifting and inspiring. I’m in love with the way the light changes and the clouds move in this city. The West Bottoms and River Market’s warehouse and industrial architecture is just stunning when the light hits those aged finishes late in the day. It’s a beautiful feast for the eyes.”

Someday, Mullin would love to add her own storefront to the skyline: “It would be so much fun to design the space and feature my fashions and interior design business,” she says. “It’s a big dream, but it just might be possible here in Kansas City.”

Email Joanne Mullin

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