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Interview with Gather Seattle – Kim Chin & Aileen McGraw
Photo: Dragana Lassiter Photography (top left); Meghan Klein (top right, bottom left); Kim Chin (bottom right)
Jan
3

Gather Seattle is a community, a network, and a welcoming friend group with a mission to support one another in creative pursuits that enhance the vibrancy of the city and the greater PNW.

Through their monthly event programming, Gather Seattle invites people from the food, design, and creative communities to share their stories and speak on a variety of topics—from branding, to creative entrepreneurship, mindfulness, community-based business, plant-based cooking, and more. Their events provide opportunities for Seattleites to meet local designers, creative entrepreneurs, and influential tastemakers who are shaping the city. Gather Seattle takes pride in creating inviting and memorable experiences that inspire, connect, and empower the local community.

Founded in January 2017 by Chloe Csadenyi-Benson, Gather Seattle has hosted or co-hosted over 35 events and has built a network of almost 8,200 people. Gather Seattle has partnered with other organizations including Soho House Cities Without Houses, Design in Public, Seattle Design Center, and Gray Magazine, and has helped raise funds for numerous local non-profits including Community for Youth, Art Corps, Facing Homelessness, and, most recently, The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Today, Gather has a diverse group of over 90 community members, which includes creative directors, photographers, interior designers, architects, personal chefs, branding and digital media consultants, writers, graphic designers, food bloggers, entrepreneurs, artists, creative directors, and more.

To execute an idea with the help of others requires a tremendous amount of trust. Whether designing a home, a product, or an event, trust is an important component that allows everyone’s unique skills and talents to come together to create a cohesive product or vision. When we create platforms in our local communities where people can feel heard, valued, inspired, and empowered, incredible things happen, and that all starts with trust. I am humbled by the incredible generosity, talent, and compassion that exists within the Gather Community. Please enjoy learning more about Gather Seattle through the perspectives of two community members, Kim Chin and Aileen McGraw.

Kim Chin is a creative observer looking at macro trends influencing the way pattern is used to tell a powerful lifestyle story. One of these particular stories I’m interested in is how the design industry is evolving towards more inclusive and responsible systems. I graduated with a Textile Design degree from London, having internships within a magazine environment, independent print studio, and product based design studio. My first role introduced me to one of the first online retail concepts based in the hub of London. We created small run, niche collaboration projects, where I was exposed to many sides of fashion, marketing, and production, as well as incredible people in the business. 15 years on, this extended to more national and global companies based in Stockholm, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Seattle—all fortunate to fulfill my passion for travel and the arts, with this latest opportunity supporting changes that impact retail creative as it enters a heightened technological age. Maximizing truth and harmony in the textile design process, and how this function integrates with its many partners, has meant paying closer attention to shared language and finding commonalities to encourage a new way of working.

Aileen McGraw is a Chicago-born, Seattle-based strategic storyteller focused on empowering and growing communities. Today I focus on holistic business strategy and brand purpose for mixed reality and cloud technologies at Microsoft. By crafting and executing CEO communications, influencer partnerships, brand and content strategy, events and social media campaigns, I’ve delivered authentic, scalable impact to organizations and communities of all sizes. Before working in technology, I led social and comms for non-profits and grassroots organizations. Stories are my catnip—partially due to my degree in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, and mostly due to a lifelong journey of finding and shaping voices with friends and family in the Midwest.

 

Q: TRUST in design is…

KC: In essence, having confidence in creative [content] to interpret, or even shape culture in a truthful, engaging, and functional way—all within prioritized parameters of constraint. It’s an exchange of autonomy. As a leader, my role is to remove blocks, empower, and inspire my team to set the tone of our creative environment; my team’s role is to deliver compelling artwork that triggers a desired emotional response from their target audience. This includes inspiring each other so we can sustain productivity in a supportive place. There is nothing better than the collaboration between people bringing a range of experiences in a passionate and kind way—not always liked, but all voices heard and considered because history says that you can deliver. Design is not a precise science or exact formula, so the question becomes: how can design offer the most authentic solution to the intent?

AM: TRUST in design is locating the heart. Not just what you, your clients or your community love, but also the very physical and practical things that bring people to and keep people empowered in a space – be that a building, a website, or a friend’s arms.

Q: Where have you found TRUST through design?

KC: Through opportunity, effective communication, and ease of contributing to decision making, where every player understands why decisions are made with respect to their craft, even if it’s not something they had originally imagined. It is especially powerful if you have the capacity to acknowledge when your judgement was off and then be generous in sharing any lessons gained; it’s all part of the process, especially within the early stages of collaboration. I believe this makes you a more trusted partner and stronger designer.

AM: Working with amazing partners in virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)! I had the privilege of collaborating with Women in VR/AR co-founder Julie Young to celebrate and support 9 VR/AR projects built by 12 women, and every step of the way, Julie and these creators—developers, designers, theater PhDs, and more—shared their stories on their own terms. Our goal was to inspire creators of all genres to start thinking about and building augmented reality and virtual reality through real talk (Q&A and video!). This partnership—one part stories, one part technical resources—was designed around community feedback and Microsoft mentorship. Trust was and is paramount.

Q: Where do you see a need for TRUST in design?

KC: So many layers, where do I start? I believe designers need to trust themselves and instinct first. As a print designer, you are aware your design marries to another product which can put you in a compromising position. The most talented textile designers are able to acknowledge needs while flexing their prowess to offer up something better, otherwise you become an executor. Color and pattern can evoke an emotional connection of an object in the most immediate way, so it has an integral part to play as we shift to online platforms. It’s important to question if there is an established comfortable level of autonomy in the creative process so we can enhance this capability end to end, to be a true trusted partner. Taking some risk, while nurturing a space to fail forward, encourages new ideas that can evolve into a more persuasive story. This gives you the ability to hone that intuition that you rely on.

On a wider note, trust in design could be an asset in discussions around how fashion retail is impacted by technology; for example, dialogue around AI as a tool rather than the answer. I’m concerned about the concept of ‘now-data’ feeding creative, and curious to how that fits into the bigger picture of the design process. What’s a healthy balance of reactive vs. proactive design, and how does that affect a nuanced gift such as conceptualization? Design is a thought process. As we re-imagine the traditional measures of ‘success’ when applied to consumption, it’s important to respect creative competency and the intuitive human capability in order to convey your unique view and differentiate from the competition. Maybe there’s an app for that already I’m not aware of?

AM: Designing ‘with’ and ‘by’ instead of ‘for.’ Who makes, who reviews, who uses? Is the ‘end user’ leading the design process, or parts of it? Is the/your community a core feedback mechanism or benchmark? In my experience, trust also implies, “you can do this.” I want to grow trust with and in entrepreneurs and business owners of all socioeconomic statuses. My mind is on fire with the business case for bringing lower-income innovators into startup accelerators and this era of co-working many are entering. Long story short, I want to help redefine the popular imagination of ‘hustle’ (which, alongside busy, is often is used as currency for respect, but too often is a classist term because it demands the luxuries of time, money, and financial risk). Ugh, so much passion here. If you are working in this area, I would love to connect.

Q: What inspires you?

KC: Many inspirations! Humans, humanity. Courage, honesty and integrity of ideas. Language. Emotions. Individual expression. The curve. Discovery. Color. Exploration within this mysterious universe and our relation within it. Sensuality. Textures. Chemistry. Connectivity to a wider cause. Discussions around privilege. Fair outcomes. Validation. Wolves. Water. Gratitude. Self-awareness. Nostalgia. Education. Purpose. Collective change in how we can positively impact each other. Interpretation. Accuracy. Life. Love. Death. The unknown.

AM: My twin sister inspires me. Keara McGraw is a wildly talented Chicago-based tattoo artist. Every day she shows me that research and community are the cornerstones of good design and business. Research and community don’t seem inherently visual, but they are visible in design. Take Keara’s illustrations, for example. She never “just” draws; she has conversations, she hunts for frogs if that’s the assignment’s subject, and she honors and respects the journey and identity of every client. If you’re ever in Chicago and looking for a forever gift (a.k.a. a tattoo), hit Time Being Tattoo and @4thgradegoth up.

Side note: honesty drives trust. Half the reason Keara inspires me so much is because we are radically honest with one and other. We’re our biggest fans and most frequent critics, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Q: My favorite thing about my city is…

KC: Evolving in creative communities, and dialogues I have entered into both inside and out of the 9-5. Rain. I do love reading in front of the fire on a rainy day, or blasting music in my apartment with window views distorted by rain. This highlights how lucky we are to have accessibility to clean water and benefit from the greenery it feeds.

AM: Pacific Inn tater tots. Just kidding… my favorite thing about Seattle (moving here from Chicago) is its attention to learning in a way that doesn’t map a single solution to all problems. More and more, I see Seattle recognizing the opportunity and responsibility that ‘booms’ and ‘boons’ bring. So much work still to be done, and to start.

Q: If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

KC: Make Love Not War.

Q: What’s next (for you? For Design? For Seattle?)

AM: For me: business strategy! For design: break the rectangle! I think screens will soon (ish) be a thing of the past (very swayed by my experience in VR/AR). For Seattle: I love Gather Seattle’s recent question to the community: “While Seattle’s tech industry booms, how do we make space for the creative community to thrive?”

Learn more about Gather Seattle and follow Kim and Aileen’s work:
Website – www.gatherseattle.com
Facebook – @GatherSeattle
Instagram – @gatherseattle
Email – [email protected]

Kim Chin
Instagram – @golden_pineapple08
Email – [email protected]

Aileen McGraw
Website – aileenmcgraw.com
LinkedIn – Aileen McGraw
Twitter – @AileenMcGraw
Instagram – @aileenmcgraw
Email – [email protected]

PLUS, don’t miss A Day to Gather, Gather Seattle’s community-focused event, January 26, 2019.