conley6.gif (2529 bytes)

 

Say Yes to a MinkMaids Dress
A Bay View native's journey from student to designer

By JOAN ELOVITZ KAZAN

February 2017

Amanda Ergen-Jennings designs gowns for brides who want a one-of-a-kind dress. 
Photo by MATT HAAS

Most people probably can’t remember the exact day they embarked on a specific career path. But Amanda Ergen-Jennings will never forget freshman orientation at UW-Madison.

Every year, hundreds of incoming freshmen sit in a massive room, waiting to be called for their intended fields of study. In 1999, Ergen-Jennings wasn’t sure what her major would be but entertained vague thoughts about business. When the Bay View native saw representatives from the textile and apparel design program standing alone, she felt compelled to join them. “I felt bad no one was going with them, so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go,’” she says.

And the choice quickly proved to be the right decision. “On the first day of classes, it hit me — ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?’ So I stuck with it,” Ergen-Jennings recalls. It helped that she was already highly skilled with a sewing machine. “My grandma taught me how to sew when I was really little,” she adds. “I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t making something with her.”

The UW-Madison textile and design program capped off with a senior-year stint at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, and Ergen-Jennings decided to stay in New York and work as a technical designer for a children’s clothing company. But life in the Big Apple wasn’t all fun and glamour. “Most of my friends had moved back to the Midwest. I was broke and alone,” she says. “It was really hard for me.”

She too returned to her hometown and started the local job search. A job as a buyer for The Bon-Ton Stores soon followed, giving Ergen-Jennings the opportunity to return to sewing as a hobby. “I had more free time, and I started sewing for fun,” she remembers. “I started making handbags and that grew into knit dresses.”

Handbags and knit dresses evolved into a line of contemporary and knit dresses under the label Mink, which eventually became MinkMaids. “Mink is one of the meanings of my first name,” Ergen-Jennings explains. When one of her best friends, Andrea, asked Ergen-Jennings to design a wedding dress, she happily accepted the challenge.  

“The dress spoke to Andrea’s personality, which is what I strive for in my custom designs,” adds Ergen-Jennings. “It still reads bridal, but not every one sees themselves in the white traditional gown.”

She recognized that she could carve out a niche in the bridal market. “My ideal bride wants to look like the most fabulous version of herself and who she is as an individual, not in a replication of something (she) saw in a bridal salon,” Ergen-Jennings explains.

The process of creating a custom dress begins with one or two email conversations to give Ergen-Jennings an idea of the bride’s vision. “My style is more strength and structure and architectural appeal than the traditional romantic look,” she says. “I don’t do lace and chiffon and romantic stuff.”

Budget is another topic that Ergen-Jennings likes to discuss in the initial emails. “Not everybody understands that having a custom-made dress isn’t less expensive than buying something off the rack,” she says. In fact, custom dresses can range from $700 to $4,000. “It’s a case-by-case basis, but on average, I fall in the $2,000 to $3,000 range for a custom dress,” she adds. “Knowing the budget upfront, I can recommend options to get to the bride’s price point.”

With a studio in Bay View, where she meets with clients and designs and sews each dress, Ergen-Jennings is five minutes from the house she shares with her husband, Steve, and their infant daughter, Betty. Milwaukee’s Zita Bridal Salon also carries MinkMaids dresses. A thriving custom-design studio and dresses in one of the city’s premier bridal salons are pretty big accomplishments for someone

who unintentionally picked her career at freshman orientation, and Ergen-Jennings is just getting started.  

Visit minkmaids.com to learn more or to contact the designer directly.


 


This story ran in the February 2017 issue of: