A crowd gathered in the ballroom of the Provo library. The audience was anxious to see what the show would offer. People didn’t know what to expect.
Provo Fashion Week was a new experience for most, and Provo isn’t exactly a hot spot for the fashion industry. But by the time the last look of the last show came down the runway, the audience was obviously impressed and welcomed the model with applause and cheering.
That last look was designed by Bree Wilkins, a business management major at BYU. Wilkins co-produced the show and showed a collection of her own, which included 13 looks. She is the woman behind the custom design company “Bree Lena.” Wilkins is passionate about fashion and design. She chased her dreams with tenacity to get to this point in her career.
A homecoming epiphany
Wilkins was asked 16 when she was asked to her first high school dance; a homecoming date requires a homecoming dress. As Wilkins set out on her quest for the perfect dress, her prospects looked bleak. None of the dresses appealed to her.
“I just don’t really like the big, poofy dresses and the bright colors. I didn’t want to look like a cupcake,” Wilkins said.
Rather than settling for a mediocre option, Wilkins decided to take matters into her own hands.
Wilkins’ mother, Gwen Woolstenhulme, knew how to sew, but until that point her experience was limited to making quilts and Halloween costumes. Wilkins proposed the idea of making her own dress to her mother. Rather than use a pattern, Wilkins wanted to conceptualize the entire design herself. It was the first big risk she took in fashion.
“Most people at 16 would take the safe route because of the peer pressure that’s involved,” said Wilkins’ dad, Roger Woolstenhulme. “But she went in her own creation. When she was at the dance, all of her friends loved her dress and wanted to know where she got it. And from there, her confidence just took off.”
Confidently pursuing her career
Wilkins still carries this confidence. Her online business, Bree Lena, sells exclusively custom garments made by Wilkins.
“(Customers) come to my website, and I get their measurements and customize exactly what they want,” Wilkins said. “And then I send it to my client.”
The business is international, and Wilkins has worked with clients in places like Australia, Greece and London.
Wilkins does her own marketing for her business. She uses her fashion blog to attract new followers and customers. Pinterest disseminates images of her designs to a wide audience. She also does most of the work putting together the custom pieces.
“I do all of the designing and handwork, and then my mom finishes everything for me with the linings and the hems,” she said.
Provo Fashion Week was Wilkins’ most recent project. It was a phenomenal success. More than 1,100 guests attended, including Provo’s mayor, John R. Curtis. Provo Fashion Week is a biannual event, and Wilkins has already begun planning for the spring show.
Her eye for detail sets her looks apart from those of the other designers at Provo Fashion Week. Her pieces had finished edges, linings and were made from high-end fabric.
“They could literally be taken from the runway and put in a store and be sold right then,” Wilkins said. “I like to design glam sophisticated things.”
The pieces from her Provo Fashion Week presentation will soon be available on her website for custom order.
The Wilkins family is supportive of one another following their dreams.
“I’ve wanted my children to have the opportunity to develop their talents,” said Roger Woolstenhulme. “I wanted them to each be able to find a passion, and then I would help them figure out to develop and market that passion.”
While Wilkins was still in elementary school, she found that she had outgrown her favorite dress. In a panic, she went to her mom for help. Together Wilkins and her mother went to the fabric store. Together they came up with an idea to turn the dress into a top and skirt. Experiences like these primed Wilkins for the career decisions she made later in life.
“I learned to use my creativity from her,” said Wilkins in reference to her mother. “The idea that I can make something from nothing came from her for sure.”
Wilkins’ mother believes her role was to give her daughter the confidence to follow her dreams.
“I think that she thought, ‘If my mom can do this, then I can do this, and we can always figure it out and make it work,” Gwen Woolstenhulme said.
The Woolstenhulmes have a sign in their home that says, “Don’t let the fear of failing prevent you from playing the game.”
Wilkins’ dad says she has patterned her life after that saying.
“She’s not afraid to take risks and be smart about her risks but be willing to step out and be willing to be rejected,” Roger Woolstenhulme said.
An education to fuel her dreams
Wilkins began her education at BYU. She completed all her generals and liberal arts classes and then started looking for a design school that would be the right fit for her. After several trips to New York with her mom, Wilkins settled on the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. It would only take her a year to complete her associate degree in fashion design there, in contrast to the four years it would take her to finish her degree at Parsons.
Wilkins’ high school boyfriend and now husband, Taylor Wilkins, was planning to serve a mission, and she wanted to be back in Provo when he returned. Coincidentally, Taylor Wilkins received his call to serve in New York City. Bree Wilkins said she saw Taylor Wilkins only once from a distance during his mission, although he didn’t see her. Despite being separated, they both fell in love with the city during the time they spent there.
After earning her associate degree, Bree Wilkins transferred back to BYU and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and management this December.
An expansive future
Bree Wilkins and her husband have lived in New York for the past few summers, and they will be moving there permanently this summer.
“It worked out really nicely that we both had careers that we were passionate about that would take us to the same city,” Taylor Wilkins said.
Taylor Wilkins will be working in banking at Credit Suisse. Bree Wilkins will maintain her online presence and is currently networking to find a good job as an assistant designer.
“Hopefully it will be with someone like Ralph Lauren or J. Crew,” she said. “I’d like to work for a bigger corporation so I can also have networking opportunities.”
After a few years in the city, the two plan to leave so Taylor Wilkins can attend graduate school. That is when Bree Wilkins plans to expand her business.
“I don’t know yet if I want to continue to do the high-end client custom or if I’ll want to mass produce things and try to get them into high-end retailers,” Bree Wilkins said. “I’m not sure yet which path I’m going to take. I’m hoping that working in the industry will help me decide.”
Regardless of the direction Bree Wilkins decides to take her business, she will stand out in the fashion industry.
“She offers the world modesty and elegance,” said Roger Woolstenhulme. “And most of the time you have to sacrifice one or the other. She feels that fashion is art that you can wear. She feels that people are confident when they are confident in their clothing. And then they can take that confidence and accomplish things in other aspects their lives. It’s a fresh point of view, and the market needs it.”