Artsy, utilitarian, elegant or fun—while flipping through magazines each year, fashionistas will see again and again that scarves are the winter/fall accessories of choice. But did you know that one oft-featured designer comes from right here in Potomac?
In a farmhouse in the heart of Potomac, Michelle Baldwin in 2007 launched Nepali Scarves by TDM Designs, an accessories line featured everywhere from Bethesda boutiques to national magazines like Vogue, Marie Claire and O. But Baldwin’s line does more than warm the shoulders of Hollywood celebrities and Bethesda soccer moms; it also works to provide a stable, fair income for Nepali artisans while funding the education of their children.
“All of our employees are from the villages of western Nepal,” Baldwin said. “A lot of them either they’ve come to us or we found them doing manual labor in construction sites—they might be carrying their baby with them through out work.”
After visiting Nepal and being amazed by the quality of craftsmanship and the generosity and resiliency of the country’s people, Baldwin says she fell in love. Inspired by the quality of textiles, particularly a cashmere blanket, Michelle said she decided to start the businesses in 2007.
Baldwin never studied fashion, but has worked as a businesswoman most of her adult life, from building and selling small businesses to some consulting.
“My background was business, not fashion. But my passion was fashion, so it worked well to put the two together,” she said. “Everyday I get to work and know that I’m not just sewing beautiful scarves, but that I’m also helping an amazing group of people back in Nepal.”
According to Michelle, reaction has been phenomenal.
“We have tons of celebrities who wear our scarves,” she said. “Hallie Barry has worn three or four of our scarves, the Kardashians have worn our scarves, there’s just a number of people.”
Baldwin’s favorite design is her silk chiffon Masino Due scarf, which she says she’ll wear summer through fall.
Baldwin says she works to keep her contemporary line appropriate for customers 14 through 80 years old, with a showroom in New York where stylists shop for clients and numerous spotlight features on the shoulder’s of celebrities.
"In my business, it's all about putting outfits together with great accessories and scarves are an easy and fun way to dramatically change the look of an outfit and pull it together," said Roxanne Channell, a local stylist who works with Baldwin's scarves. "Michelle uses a lot of bamboo in the summer and cashmere in the winter which makes the scarves easy to work with year round."
Baldwin is now opening the line to sweaters, ponchos and jewelry as well.
"I've already ordered a few in custom colors," Channell said. "For a personal shopper, the breadth of her line and abilities is really fun to work with."
Designing is an organic process, Baldwin says, but she often finds that the colors and build of her scarves meet up with the cyclical nature of the fashion industry.
“I have found over the years that just like with baby names where all of a sudden everybody names their child the same 10 names—it’s the same sort of thing with fashion,” Baldwin said. “I didn’t know that tie-dye would be huge when we came out with tie-dye, and the same thing with bead work.”
Baldwin’s recent clients around DC/Baltimore include Bloomingdales at Tysons Corner, Forecast in Capitol Hill, The Store in Baltimore and Petra Winkler in Bethesda. Baldwin also hosts sample sales during the holidays, and dabbles in styling when customers come to her studio to pick through the racks.
“To see people buying them and trying them on and watching their faces, that to me is really so enjoyable,” Baldwin said. “I could sit here all day long and design and I could sell to stores, but I don’t necessarily always get to see the purchaser who tries it on and loves it.”