There was little doubt what Julie Paul would be when she grew up.
And it wasn’t an artist.
The daughter of Chinese university professors — her mother and father taught civil engineering at Huaqiao University in Fujian, China — Paul was taught from a young age to pursue a more practical profession.
“Engineers make good money,” Paul said. “Artists could be pretty poor.”
So, Paul said, when it came time to choose her career, “I listened.”
She studied electrical engineering and, like her parents, took a job at Huaqiao, where she worked in a lab studying earthquake activity.
Ten years later, she said, “I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to create.”
At age 28, Paul’s practicality finally faltered; she followed her heart.
Paul went to the top design school in Beijing. She learned about fashion design. She learned pattern making and sewing. And she found work at a fashion company that owned an electrical parts business.
“I just loved how they made the clothes. But the company, at the time, was just making men’s suits. I thought, ‘Ooh, they should make suits for women!’ My dream was to design garments for women.”
That dream never came true in China. But, since Paul followed her sister to the United States in 1997, she’s been taking tiny steps toward that goal.
“When I came over here, I still kept thinking about it. ‘Maybe I can find a company to design for or be a pattern maker?’ But in Milwaukee that’s hard to find.”
So, three years after starting her new life, Paul opened Julie’s Sewing & Design, an out-of-the-way shop on the lower level of Mayfair Mall, near the administrative and security offices.
“My dream was to design garments, but I thought alterations would be more steady,” Paul said.
And while she has become the go-to tailor for Mayfair mainstays like Banana Republic, J. Crew and Athletica, her work isn’t all hems and inseams.
“Sometimes, I still take a job designing dresses and making custom clothes for people.”
She also makes pillows, curtains and other household décor. And she recently finished a one-of-a-kind project, converting a lace wedding gown into a Christmas tree skirt.
It’s enough of a creative outlet, Paul said, especially since running her own shop means she can spend more time with her 12-year-old son.
But, even if her dreams are a semi-distant second for now, Paul said she’ll never give them up.
Not that she’s not ready to reach for reality show gold — and her own clothing line — by auditioning for Project Runway.
“I don’t think my ego is big enough,” Paul laughed. “Right now, I think I will probably stick with alterations. It’s something more people need, and it pays the bills. But it’s a nice dream.”
JUST THE FACTS
BUSINESS: Julie’s Sewing & Design, Mayfair Mall, 2500 N. Mayfair Road, Suite G120
OWNER: Julie Paul
TYPE OF BUSINESS: sewing and alterations
PEARLS OF WISDOM: “I love to create things since I was a little girl. I loved to draw and sew growing up. So, even though I ended up starting in electrical engineering, I never stopped loving to create.”