For years, we've admired Moorea Seal's inspired eye and wellness-oriented approach to creative living. We've journaled our way through her 52 Lists Project and meandered endlessly through her initial Seattle storefront, stocked with lovely gifts and handmade objects. So when she recently opened up a brand new shop, which is twice as big as the first and totally stunning, we asked her to give us a tour and tell us more about how it came to be. She offered honest insights in spades, on everything from building a diverse community to charting a surprising career path and more – plus, the full scoop on how she got started and where she and her company are headed.
This has been an eventful last month for you. Your boutique moved, and your latest book, Make Yourself at Home, was just released. Is this how you envisioned your career developing?
Quite honestly, I have never had a set plan for my career…my “career path” has been kind of wild and unpredictable.
Let me get vulnerable and real honest: I’ve been in survival mode for most of my life, from childhood trauma to sloughing my way through high school and college as best as I could while battling Depression, Anxiety and C-PTSD. And a huge part of my personal pursuit within my career has been learning to live and work in a way that is not surviving, but instead, focusing, learning my capacity, and thriving.
I wouldn’t say I am someone who from an early age knew exactly what she wanted to do, career-wise. But I have had specific things that I have always been passionate about. And in pursuing many self-made jobs in the last eight years, I have sought to integrate my passions into my work, one way or another. That way, whatever I do feels honestly fulfilling and worth the incredible hard work and sacrifice that it takes to build a business and juggle multiple types of creative jobs.
Can you tell us a little more about your early and current passions and how they've played into your career trajectory?
Growing up, I wanted to own an orphanage to save every neglected kid in the world – lofty goals that I’m still hungry to fulfill. As a teen, I wanted to be a museum curator, a painter, a fashion designer, a hair stylist and a musician. In college, I studied Illustration as a means of learning how to turn storytelling into visual art (as I was also a musician and a painter at the time and loved the story behind any form or art). And today, my career (or, rather, careers) includes being the CEO of a fashion and lifestyle brand with a storefront and an online retail site with its own in house jewelry line and desktop products. And, I am an author of books that encourage the pursuit of personal wellness through list making and home decorating.
Through some hard work and a team effort from an amazing community of people on our staff, I’ve gotten the chance to integrate some of my passions into my work. We donate 7% of all proceeds in my store to non-profits we believe in. We get to support over 150 handmade and U.S.-made designers. I get to write books that help people care for and love themselves more. (I call it secret therapy.) I get to see the art inside of the world of design and fashion. And I get to tell stories through writing and speaking engagements.
The careers themselves are far different than I could have ever imagined even 10 years ago, because of how social media has played such huge role in building my brand. But the passion within my heart is the same. And I hope that in the future, I can do more within the realm of advocacy work for mental health, women in business, and children and teens in the foster care system. Those are some of the things that tug at my heart and mind constantly and that I know I have more to give to.
There are always more ways to work hard, love hard, and give, just as there are always more ways to care for oneself, love oneself, and rest so that you have the capacity to keep pursuing what you love. It’s all a balance. And I expect that, just as my “career” has been totally not at all what I would have ever expected even five years ago, it will probably continue to be just as eclectic and unpredictable as I myself am.
Will you give us some more background on how your store, your books, and essentially your lifestyle brand began?
I graduated college with a degree in Illustration in 2009, right at the height of the effects of the recession. Seattle was a bleak landscape when it came to job hunting, especially with an art degree. So, I scraped things together to pay my bills each month and to find a way to create art of some kind at the same time.
By 2010, I was a live-in nanny while also nannying 40 hours a week for another family, which provided my main income. I had started a blog to give myself a space that I could hold myself accountable to, to produce art and write. Once realizing the lack of good design options in the world of blogs in 2009 and 2010, I taught myself some coding via Youtube and started offering blog design, illustration, and graphic design on a freelance basis. I was a musician at the time as well and started doing design work for friends who made music. Basically, I was making, making, making and trying to find anyway to financially stay afloat as a recent college grad. As you can guess, I didn’t have much space for a social life during this season.
In 2010, I also started using Pinterest when it was in Beta. I thought it would be a great way to create inspiration boards for my blog design clients. Once I started using it, I realized it was like creating an online museum of everything I wanted and dreamed of but couldn’t afford, from “Beautiful Eyebrows” to “Shoes” to “Cabins” – you name it, I had a board for it. It was the one space where I wasn’t hustling out of a need to survive or prove myself to myself. It was just pure fun and self-exploration of what I loved.
One day in 2012, when a sponsor for my blog asked me my stats on my social media channels, I checked out Pinterest, saw that it said 250,000 followers, and I thought, okay, that’s a glitch. So, I emailed Pinterest and they said, nope, it’s real. By the end of 2012, I had major retailers wanting to work with me as an “online curator” or “influencer,” and it blew my mind because I had been hustling so hard just to survive since college, trying every job I could think of and making more up as I went, and somehow, Pinterest became the space where I was suddenly getting validation for what I loved in massive ways.
I now have a million followers on Pinterest. My childhood dream of being a museum curator for a moment was realized in the strangest way through becoming somewhat notable on Pinterest.
By late 2012, I had done content creation and collaborations with Madewell, Nordstrom, P&G, L’Oreal, Gap, and tons of other major brands. But I started to feel like my voice didn’t matter when I worked for these companies. I didn’t want to be known as “Moorea who has a big Pinterest following.” I just wanted to create and be known for being truthfully me.
So, I decided to create my own online retail site focused on handmade goods and that gave back to non-profits I deeply cared about. I was lucky to band together with my cousin Reed and one of my friends Jenette to bring the retail site to life, and now they are the CFO and COO of our company. We chose to keep the name of the company as Moorea Seal because by 2013, I had almost a million followers on Pinterest who knew my name, my jewelry line was already under my name, and my blog was under my name. So, for brand recognition, we thought, we will just stick with my name. So here I am, with a retail site and a new storefront with my name on it! As a very private person, it’s definitely weird sometimes, but I’ve grown to be more comfortable with it.
How did things go when you first launched the company, and how did those early days lead you to where you are now?
Within six months of our online site taking off, we were growing fast and needed to move into a large office. So, we figured, hey, all of these beautiful pieces of jewelry and goods are tucked away into boxes for online shipments. Let’s kill two birds with one stone, find a space that can work as a small storefront and showroom and then use the rest of the space for our online operations. So, we opened a storefront in Seattle in 2014.
Just a few months later, my publishing house, Sasquatch Books, approached me (literally...they showed up at my store while I was working as the sales associate and owner, six days a week) about a project I had done on my blog called The 52 Lists Project, and they asked if I wanted to turn it into a book! Obviously, my answer was YES! And here I am, three years in with three books under my belt (and plans for another!). The 52 Lists Project is now in over 500 stores worldwide and translated into eight different languages. 52 Lists for Happiness has been just as successful, which is mind-blowing for me. And my new book, Make Yourself at Home, which is focused on how to discover and celebrate the person that you are at your core within your home styling, just came out a month ago, and it’s doing so well, too! Woohoo!
I feel very lucky for the opportunity to work as hard as I do in the community around me. And at the core, what matters most to me is wellness and truth and love. I’m a hippy-dippy artist who happens to have the chance to hustle hard in business.
The transition to your new space feels like a big step. How does this location feel different from your previous one?
When we started our first storefront, it was a bit of an experiment to see if we could make a retail space work in a time where everyone was saying retail was dead. And selfishly, we just wanted to see all of our beautiful products that we were selling online and kept away in boxes, opened-up and on display!
Through the years at our first storefront in Belltown, we focused on developing a warm and inviting space where we could gather people together not only as customers or fans, but as a community. It has always been important for us to create a space that offers unique design perspectives but that is also welcoming and inclusive.
As time went on in our first little storefront and as we grew as a company, we brought in more and more designers and products at such a rapid pace that we just outgrew the space! By 2015, we took over the entire space next to our storefront for our offices and online operations. And then by the end of 2016, we knew we were outgrowing it all again and would need to set our sights on something bigger.
In our new storefront downtown, we wanted a space that felt one of a kind in the Seattle retail landscape, and really, the retail landscape across the U.S! Something fun, something inviting, something new. And we worked hard to find a space that could function in a lot of different ways, from serving as a storefront and offices to providing an event space for workshops, parties, and even shows. (We even have a band playing at our space in a secret show next year…but I can’t say more, because it’s a secret!)
Being a lifestyle brand, we wanted a new space that could give us room to experiment, grow, adapt and just engage with our community, locals and traveling shoppers alike, in a unique and refreshing way. And this new storefront does exactly that. We are in love!
How has your focus (in aesthetic, business or otherwise) changed along with your location? What remains the same?
Our overall brand aesthetic has progressed over the years, as I think is wise for any developing brand. But our goals for the company have remained the same. We’re still dreaming about opening more stores along the West Coast in the coming years, and for us, this new space is our launching pad that guides us in how our next stores should develop, look, and grow. I’m personally dreaming about Oakland in the Bay Area and somewhere in LA.
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We still support non-profits with every purchase online and in store, and we still seek to serve the same customers, offering a unique product assortment at a wide array of price points. But as with any growing company, we hope to gain new customers, fans and friends as we embark on this new adventure at our new location downtown. It’s very exciting!
Tell us more about those aesthetic progressions you briefly mentioned. How would you describe the new aesthetic of Moorea Seal?
Our old storefront had more of a traditional PNW rustic feel, mixed with some light and airy minimalist bohemian California vibes. (I grew up there, and it’s hard to shake it out of my system.) The goal with our new storefront was to clear out the rustic vibe that you can easily find anywhere around Seattle, keep elements of the natural inspiration, and focus on developing a look that in uniquely ours.
We worked with our friend Brooke from Flint who helped up really hone in on a look for our storefront that you can’t find anywhere else: a fresh, light, airy, playful yet sophisticated vibe where our products can shine. Tyler, her husband, and the whole team at Flint also gave our branding a full makeover with a new logo, a new word mark, fonts, colors and more. (Fingers crossed we can apply all of the amazing branding updates to a new website design in 2018. One update at a time!)
We like to call the vibe of our new storefront “Industrial Feminine” because of the 100-year-old history of the space and the modern bright touches we have added to make it new. The interior design reflects the women we seek to represent in our storefront. One is modern, progressive, minimal and elevated in style, while another values touches of quirk, charm, and cheekiness, represented through pops of our signature pink and perfectly placed color blocks throughout the space.
There’s also a touch of a natural and eclectic influence, seen in the beautiful plant life scattered around the store. (We partnered with Swanson’s Nursery here in Seattle to feature some of their bold and beautiful greenery.) A theme of arches echo throughout the space, seen in the arched doorways of our mega-beautiful dressing rooms, where our friend Teresa Grasseschi painted minimalist, art deco/mid-century fusion-inspired art work on the walls. We found our giant arched mirrors and furniture, fixtures and lighting through TheMine.com.
When it comes to our product aesthetic, we have a beautiful range of options. Like in our storefront styling, our products range from clean, minimal and modern to textural, folksy, and cheeky. We have so many brands that I am personally in love with and they’re so good that it’s hard to describe in words. That’s probably a sign of great design, right?
What are a few of your favorite lines and items?
UZI is our tried and true clothing brand that our customers and staff have always loved. Their easy-breezy sizing and soft, loose shapes make them a great option for any body type, and the clean, minimalist design feel so timeless and chic.
Rock Salt Vintage is my newest favorite jewelry designer that we just brought into the store. I love how each piece is easy to wear while also remaining modern and elevated in design. If you are someone who wears a pretty muted palette, I think RSV pieces looks great with just about any outfit for a touch of progressive sophistication.
One of our best-selling jewelry designers and a forever-favorite of mine is Maslo. Their Chock A Block necklace comes in quite an array of styles, colors and shapes and is something I reach for in my closet constantly.
This card by Red Cap Cards is my favorite to give to women I adore – especially ladies who hustle hard in their dreams.
I love anything that celebrates womanhood, as I know fans of The Fold do too. So, here are a few things that express the power and beauty of a woman: Body Cup, Soul Sister’s Card, Rani Ban Clothing, Self-Care Bath Kits, Mrs + Mrs Wedding Card, Female Symbol Necklace, In the Company of Women Book, Oh Me Jewelry celebrating feminism.
You work with and employ lots of women in our local community. Why is this important to you? Do you also focus on featuring female-founded or female-owned lines in your retail spaces, both physical and online?
Well, why wouldn’t I seek to empower and support women in my business? It is a must, just as it’s essential to support women in my personal life. And equally, I think it’s essential to support my friends and all people in the LGBTQ community, my friends who are non-binary and who do not identify as any one gender, and all minority groups who have been disadvantaged and mistreated by American society at large. I can’t do it all perfectly, but I can make a serious effort.
The fashion industry is most heavily targeted towards women. So naturally, mostly women will want to apply to work at my company. And hell yes, I want to support and empower and respect and appreciate any woman who works within my company. I’m so grateful we attract a pretty amazing demographic of women who apply to work with us – women who have strong beliefs and ethics about what they care about, invest in, and fight for, and women who work hard and seek to be compassionate to themselves and others.
But even beyond that, what matters to me as an individual is to look at what I see as dysfunctional in the world, or our country, our city, or specific communities and think, what can I do as a person to invest in and support others? How can I create a positive where I see a negative, even in a tiny way?
Within my company, that means being non-discriminatory to anyone who wants to be a part of our community, and not just because the law says so, but because I want to live by my own ethical standards and the standards we set as a business. If you have the skills needed for the job you apply for in my company and an authentic desire to contribute to the community we have built together as a crew of passionate people, then hell yes, whoever you are, no matter what gender or identity, you are welcome here.
I think you can guess from all of this that of course, I seek to represent a lot of women designers within our diverse array of products in our store. And just as I care about women’s empowerment within and outside of my company, I care about the empowerment of handmade artists in general, and many more individuals and groups of people who deserve support and empowerment.
What, to you, defines success?
You know, success is so relative. So, my own definition of success changes often, depending on where I am at, professionally and personally.
Right now, success to me means believing that I have stability in who I am and my needs, as my career and life around me are ever changing and growing. Success at this moment in time, to me, is a mindset.
My therapist asked me a question the other day that deeply resonated with me: “Do you feel like you have proven yourself?” How often, especially in a society driven and dictated by social media and over-connectivity and digital communication, do we knowingly or unknowingly contemplate proving ourselves to someone else? How often is our concept of success defined by how others define us or how we guess at how others perceive us? Yuck. When I heard that question I immediately realized, oh, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone! I only need to prove things to myself.
So, when I look at my company, I see many opportunities for successes or failures, big and small, from sales goals to the morale of my staff to whether the space is clean or not, and on and on and on. Success can be applied to any number of things. But being that business is such a whirlwind of an experience, I think less about overarching success and more about whether I’ve sought to rise to my capacity in a particular situation, and whether we as a community are functioning in a healthy way together towards a communal goal. That answer can vary day to day for any community, company, or relationship.
So, in the end, I guess I think less about success and more about effort. Am I proud of my efforts and our efforts together? Yes. If I believe in myself and believe in my team, I think that is success.
Do you have a long-term vision for your brand? Are you open to sharing a bit of it with us today?
I mentioned this before, but our expectation is to open more stores in the future! A few dream locations are Oakland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Austin, and New York. We view our current store as a template for something that we are passionate about and hope to somewhat replicate in other cities we adore.
You can guess that I will be writing many more books for years to come. It is so fulfilling for me on a deep level to get to write in a way that contributes to other people’s personal mental wellness. Knowing I can make something that people then take and make their own, and creating a space where they get to explore, love, and empower themselves with their own insight and wisdom, is beyond fulfilling for me. I may be working on a new 52 Lists journal soon…
I hope to grow our jewelry line and desktop products in the new year. And a dream would be to get to grow a product design team within our company to create a bigger impact with the products we design ourselves.
I used to say that I want to be the Oprah/Ellen/Mary-Kate and Ashley of the lifestyle/fashion brand world. But now I realize, I definitely don’t want the fame. I am way too introverted and far prefer privacy to notoriety as an individual. But I do want to build and grow a brand together with my staff that makes a social impact the same way that Oprah empowers and strengthens people, the way Ellen brings joy and hope and laughter to people, and the way Mary-Kate and Ashley have cultivated a clear vision of their aesthetic and have authentically diversified their products.
It’s not about me, even though my name is on the brand. It’s about what matters to us as a company and a community, diving deep into exploring the ways we can continue to grow and thrive, ever learning and adapting and celebrating all the little achievements along the way together. So, my hope is that I can be a fair and solid leader within my company, so that we can grow and explore new avenues over a long period. I want this company to be around for years and years, and I’m excited to see what new opportunities we create together far into the future.