It's been a year since Kelsey Campion left her career as a commercial photographer to fully devote her time and abundant energy to Fringe + Co., a clothing and apparel company that she owns and operates out of her Mid-City apartment.
The Minnesota native lived all over the world before relocating to New Orleans right before Mardi Gras in 2016. That the timing of her move coincided with the city’s biggest holiday was serendipitous. Campion, who previously had pursued a doctorate in forensic psychology, had been soul-searching — and honing her sewing skills — after leaving her academic program in order to pursue something more creatively fulfilling.
It's about to get warm outside.
“I had no clue what I was going to do,” she says. “I had followed a straight and narrow path before I uprooted everything.”
While living in Milan, the style capital of the world, Campion, a lifelong fashion enthusiast, was inspired by the head wraps (held in place by hidden wiring) worn by fashion-forward Italian women.
“I’d always struggled with keeping accessories on my head, so I took that inspiration and made it my own,” she says.
When she arrived in New Orleans, a place where sporting a costume or festive accessory on a regular day isn’t uncommon, Campion purchased some fabric and started making her own headpieces, while holding down a job as a commercial photographer.
“I wore [a head wrap I had made] into a store in New Orleans, [and] the owner asked where I got it,” she says.
Demand snowballed from there, and in the following months, her apparel selection grew to include distinctive jumpsuits, high-waisted pants and other sparkly items, all handcrafted by Campion. Her “side hustle” became a full-time job.
“About a year and a half in, I couldn't devote 100 percent to either one of those things,” she says, and decided to leave commercial photography to pursue fashion full time.
Her signature T-shirts (“party tees”), which retail for $98, are fashioned out of vintage and retro finds that she discovers while scouring thrift stores and spending late nights on eBay. Campion repurposes the shirts and embellishes them with colorful sleeves, most often featuring sequins and feathers. She also is working on a line of crop tops.
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Like many tech-savvy entrepreneurs, Campion attracts much of her clientele through Instagram (@fringe.and.company). She also recently addressed a crowd at a panel during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, discussing the metrics (however unconventional) of success.
“Mostly, it's been fans and friends who've spread the word,” she says.
Customers can place orders online, but many of her creations are one-of-a-kind and best seen and purchased in person at various pop-ups and events around the city. Her clothing and apparel are all made locally, and she’d like to keep it that way, but she has been expanding her market beyond New Orleans and just hired some extra help to assist with sewing projects, managing the website and online orders.
“Client communication and how I source things is very important to me,” she says. “I want to add things that bring joy to people’s lives.” It’s vital that Fringe + Co. continues to build the celebratory community that embraced her as a newcomer and encouraged her to be bold, she says.
Campion plans to host a “sequined pub crawl” in late May or early June to raise funds to help fellow small business entrepreneurs with start-up costs. She wants her own creations to reflect a fearless mentality, and to inspire members of the community to “be part of things, to be brave and bold and excited and happy,” she says.