By Anna Tingley
A cramped garage in Richmond, California is where you’ll likely find 20 year old Madeline Bernard, hunched over her industrial sewing machine as she completes orders for her fast-growing clothing company OVERSCHOOLED.
The Bay Area native, who now boasts close to 6,000 followers on her brand’s Instagram, is just at the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey, one that started with her selling reworked vintage pieces on Depop last May, to the creation of her site in September, with goals of one day opening up her own storefront.
The brand’s name itself is an ode to her academic frustration. After graduating high school in 2015, she began classes at a local community college while working part-time at Nordstrom, a monotonous schedule that restricted her creative outlets more than ever. This resistance to conformity is what ultimately gave way to the creation of her own company. “It was really fun and a great experience [working at Nordstrom] but when I was in like my fifth month there I just told myself I would never work for anyone ever again,” Bernard says. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.”
Still a one-man team — working only alongside her two embroidery machines, four sewing machines, and surger — Bernard is working harder than ever as she churns out pieces for a growing list of customers. The designer’s long hours and never-ending order requests don’t get the best of her, however. “Everything about starting OVERSCHOOLED has been rewarding,” she says. “Being able to create things I truly love and seeing other people wear them all around the world is the greatest feeling.”
The young entrepreneur talked to me about the overwhelming task of starting a business, the importance of body-inclusivity in her clothing, and what the future has in store for OVERSCHOOLED.
Have You Always Been Interested In Fashion? What Were Your Interests Growing Up And When You Were In School?
Middle school was probably the time my interest in fashion really began. I was a huge thrifter and almost everything I wore was from a thrift store, or my grandparents closet. I felt great and loved wearing vintage clothes, no one ever really had the same clothing as mine and I was always making really crazy outfits. It was a really fun way to express how I was feeling.
When I was growing up I was really active, I played a lot of sports, did a lot of theater, and art. I have two older brothers so I kind of got put into whatever they were doing and followed in their footsteps. But as I got older my main interests were mostly volleyball and photography. I played volleyball for almost eight years so that consumed most of my life. And photography was a really big hobby of mine that I still really love.
Did You Have Any Idea What You Wanted To Do When You Got Older. Did You Have Any Idea You Would Be Doing What You Are Now?
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do exactly until about a year ago, or even a couple months ago when OVERSCHOOLED really started to take off. And hell no! If you would of told me a year or two ago that this is what I’d be doing at the age of 20 I would have not believed you.
What Were Your First Steps In Creating Your Business?
I actually started just wanting to sell vintage and reworked second hand items. I downloaded Depop a little over a year ago and started listing and selling right away. I remember my first sale was this really cool leather tasseled jacket I had thrifted a while ago and from there I was just addicted to selling and revamping old things. I went through my grandma's closet when she was moving out and reworked and sold almost all the stuff I got.
Eventually I started to grow out of reselling vintage and really wanted to start making my own pieces. So I started off with designing jewelry. My first ever designs were my Cherry On Top pieces. Those sold really well and got me really noticed on Depop. Eventually I sold other designs that I would hand-make and then a couple months in I invested in my first embroidery machine and taught myself how to use it, and from then on I was just experimenting and messing around with designs I made and loved.
I wanted to learn how to do everything behind making clothes. After my first embroidery machine I taught myself how to screen print, design and make clothing patterns from scratch and how to sew!
Tell Us About Your Business. Where Do You Make Everything? How Do You Make It? How Many Things You Do Make Each Week? How Many Avg. Customers Per Week?
Everything is handmade or reworked by me in my garage in the Bay Area. I’ve set up a little studio for me in there and I spend almost every minute of the day in there working. I love it though!!!
I source my fabric usually in Los Angeles, or if I’m not able to travel there I have a few places in SF I’ll buy from. And from there I will think of designs, and attempt to sketch some but I’m actually terrible at drawing. All my designs usually just go straight from my head to the sewing machines. There’s a lot of trial and error involved when I first design something but it’s just my process.
I make all my clothing patterns myself and I cut out each piece by hand and sew it together. It can be a slower process but I really love being able to turn nothing into something and then seeing someone wear it. It makes me so happy.
The number of customers and the amount of orders I get vary week to week, but I’m always busy here at OVERSCHOOLED and I am thankful for everyone out there supporting me!
Starting A Business From Nothing Is Obviously Such An Overwhelming Task. Were There Any Times You Felt Like Giving Up Or Felt That You Were Carrying Something Too Big? What Motivated You To Keep On Pushing Through?
Yes, I still have days like that. It’s hard starting a business from nothing especially on your own. But I’ve made it so far and I refuse to give up. OVERSCHOOLED is my life now and I plan to keep it that way for as long as possible.
How Has Customer Growth Been? When Did You See The Most Growth?
I always had a decent amount of customers on my Depop because there was a community of people on there, but my website took A LOT more time to grow and get attention. It wasn’t until this past summer that OVERSCHOOLED started to grow a lot. I had reached out and sent a few pieces to some people on social media that I had followed for some time and a few posted some photos wearing a couple pieces, which got me a little recognition! And now I notice that my Instagram and customers just grow a little bit every single day, which is really cool and exciting to watch.
What’s Your Mission With OVERSCHOOLED, Besides Simply Providing People With Dope Clothing? What Do You Think OVERSCHOOLED Is Providing That’s Missing From The Fashion Industry?
I want to be able to make clothes for anyone and everyone. I want people to be able to wear my stuff and feel confident and comfy. My clothes are meant to fit your body, not the other way around. I always tell everyone and leave a note on each piece online that I can customize to any measurement and size!
I think OVERSCHOOLED is providing a way for everyone to wear the same piece and have it fit your body just the way you like. I don’t want just one size to be able to wear my items, I want ALL sizes to be able to wear it.
Tell Us About The Clothes. Where Do Get Your Inspiration For The Pieces You Make? How Would You Categorize Your Clothes?
I get inspiration everywhere, and from everyone. It will just come at random times and I always try to write it down so I don’t forget. My mind races from one thing to the next everyday so I have little folders in my phone and in my notebook full of ideas and things that inspire me or that I want to create. I’d categorize my clothes as everyday pieces that can be worn endless ways. But I think I am still trying to figure out the perfect way to categorize it all, because I love making a little bit of everything.
Do You See Your Clothing Changing In Any Big Ways In The Future? Anything You Hope To Be Able To Produce Once You Have More Resources?
Yes and no. My clothing style and designs will evolve with me as a I grow and get older.
I’d really like to start getting into to making heavy coats, pants or jeans! I can never find a pair of bottoms that fit perfectly on me and that don’t have stretch so I’d really love to be able to make some unique ones.
What Do Clothes/Fashion Mean To You, In Terms Of Expressing Oneself?
I dress how I feel. Sometimes I will wake up and just have to wear sweatpants and a hoodie all day, and sometimes I want to go the full mile and really work on my outfit and do my makeup. Now that I actually design and make most of my clothes, it really shows who I am and has helped me with my confidence.
What Are Your Future Goals For OVERSCHOOLED?
I’d like to have an office or warehouse within the next year. And eventually hire a few employees that are like family to me. I want to make sure I’m still providing quality clothing at an affordable price range. However I would really like to make a few capsule pieces that are a little higher priced in the future. But mostly I want to make sure OVERSCHOOLED keeps growing and I keep learning every single day.
In five years, I’d still like to be hand making all my pieces myself or at least be 100% involved in the process and make sure everything is made locally. I always want to stay involved with everything.
What Advice Do You Have For Young, Women Entrepreneurs Who May Have An Idea But Are Too Scared To Act On It?
You have to just do it. The fear will never go away until you try and once you do you will realize it’s never as bad as you make it seem. I’m still scared to this day about certain things, but I will never let that stop me from doing what I love. I know this is said a lot but really ANYTHING is possible when you just put your mind to it and work hard. Trust yourself, and surround yourself with people you know will support you no matter what.
Anna Tingley is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tough to Tame, and an advocate for all things feminist, politics, or ramen-related. Her writing can be found at Teen Vogue, Billboard Magazine, Her Agenda, The Daily Bruin, and The Richmond Pulse. But for all the dirt, check her out on Instagram @annatationz and Twitter @annatingley.