Madison Maxey is a self-taught fashion designer and Parsons-dropout who, in 2013, was made the first-ever fashion designer to receive the Thiel Fellowship.
The Thiel Fellowship offers students under the age of 20 $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue other work for two years. This can involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement.
After spending a year in France at 16 and running a popular fashion blog that received invitations to Paris Haute Couture and Mercedez Benz Berlin fashion weeks, she returned to the states.
Her senior year of high school, Maddy won a CFDA/Teen Vogue Scholarship for college and interned in California and New York.
Maddy attended Parsons, the New School for Design for 4 months before taking a leave of absence to start her own clothing company. Madison Maxey Blazers led to a successful Kickstarter campaign, acknowledgement from industry leaders, and a love for entrepreneurship and tech.
She is now a Thiel Fellow for the class of 2013. Featured in New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Her Campus, and many other press outlets, Maddy has been named a “Female Founder to Watch” by Women 2.0.
Most things don’t come to you, you have to go get them. You’ll never end up making dinner if you just sit there and say “I don’t know what I want to make, so I’m not going to make anything”. I’m Maddy Maxey, and a Thiel Fellow for the class of 2013 working on projects in the fashion and technology space.
When I was younger, I was just a very, very busy kid. I always wanted to do things and make things. My parents let me sign up for classes whenever they would come around at my school, at this one point I signed up for sewing. It just happened that I happen to be not too terrible at sewing, to the point where I could enjoy it off the bat. And then my dad who was six six made a lot of his clothes in college, so he also knew how to sew. And whenever I would come across an obstacle he would help me, which was this great kind of bonding moment. So I was getting all of this positive feedback where it’s like ‘oh I’m kind of good at this, my dad will help me with it, this is fun, I’m getting better at it, I can make cool stuff and it just kind of cyclically turned into a passion that I wanted to keep indulging in.
Applying to Parsons was kind of a serendipitous event. It was the only school I applied to. I applied to it early action and got it. I was so excited to meet other people who had really indulged in what they wanted to do. Just realized that most people were in college. That college could hand them the information that they needed which, which is great, you know, it’s a packaged deal, you get everything you need in one place for, for a not so low fee. It is a good system. But I just didn’t want to spend all of my time and money there when I had spent so much of my adolescence gathering the little pieces that go into the package on my own.
I left school distinctly to start the blazer company. It was a really big learning experience. The blazer Company is really inspired by my high school experience in wearing uniform and like always trying to break the rules of the uniform. I really focused on making a woman’s blazer company that, that was interesting. That was interesting and colorful and beautiful that fit really well which is something I was passionate about. It was quite the feat to you know, to be this 18-year-old, I had like, 4 jobs at the time, I had like all these jobs and was running around and like trying to start this business, and just like trying to figure out life, and then like going through an existential crisis, you know it’s like the, the whole shebang all at once.
When I was deciding to leave school, it was a massive process. It was scary because it’s not a normal thing to do and it’s associated with a lot of negative stigma unless you are successful. I was by no means successful, so I was like the negative stigma version. But I think it was very helpful to look at it from an objective point of view and really see the value of leaving school and what I was missing out on. I weighed a lot of pros and cons, I had these very long lists about trying to make the decision.
When it came to leaving school, I was losing time, I would be older than everyone and I was gaining all of this experience. I remember distinctly riding my bike to work at the café in the rain and being exhausted and knowing that after I finished my 6 hour shift at the café I was going to have to pick up the kids that I was nannying and take care of them And give them their bath and be nice to them until 7 o’clock when I would then get off and I would go home and work on the business until I really had to sleep and then go to sleep and start the next day.
How can you put a value on those kinds of experiences that build you as a person?
My sister mentioned that there was this program for people my age who didn’t want to go to school and wanted to work on their projects. And I was like great, that’s me. And it was only a bit later that I realized It was mostly science and tech based which was not as much me, but, I figured I would learn, I would get into it, because why not? I already had this great, warm feeling towards technology as something I could do. My dad was an electrical engineer and it was very common to be sitting in the living room while he was sitting away sawtering something, you know. My headphones would break and he’s be like ‘Aw, no big deal, we can fix that’. My dad always had an ‘I can fix it’ mentality, even if he didn’t know what he was doing. He would always just figure it out and make it work. I guess I kind of took that along as well when it came to the fellowship. To be like “I can figure this out, I want to figure it out and I can make it work”.
Basically what we’re looking at building through crated is an innovation slab for all things in the wearable space, but we really hope to grow this into, you know, the ultimate space to have crazy ideas for all things wearable and make them into prototypes that go into the market.
When it came to starting a company, at at a younger age on my own. I think it’s interesting that people say it takes confidence because, I didn’t, I didn’t think that’s what it took. I wouldn’t describe myself as somebody who was very confident. It was a willingness to work hard and grow.
If you have any inkling towards what you would like to do then just sign up for a class about it. Go to a meet up about it. Things along those lines. And if you go out there, and you keep your eyes open, you’re probably going to meet someone who’s interested in your field. The only things that are worth it are challenging on some level. By fighting through you’ll come out as a better person. And maybe being that person will prepare you for the job you’ve always wanted or the relationship you’ve always wanted. Having good friends at all times is also really helpful. Because when you’re having a life crisis and you don’t know what’s happening, it’s not helpful to have friends that only care about celebrities and hair and nails. You need friends that will help you problem solve.
Cinematography: Miriam Agwai, Danielle Calodney
Edited by: Miriam Agwai
Interviewed by Laura Lehmann