Most Influential

Most Influential, Fashion: Dan McLean

Fashion designer

By Rachel Gallaher January 30, 2024

Dan McLean

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Fashion designer Dan McLean is a true Seattle fangirl. Born and raised in Tacoma, McLean spent the past 10 years in the Emerald City honing her sartorial skills and launching a namesake brand. A fresh voice in Seattle’s fashion landscape, McLean introduced the world to her “bootleg” collections —tops, pants, skirts, jackets, handbags and more, reworked with designer logos, custom embellishments, and one-of-a-kind details — and hosted out-of-the-box fashion shows that reinvigorated Seattle’s flagging fashion scene.

In the four short years since the designer debuted her first collection, she’s set up a studio and workshop in SoDo, held three self-produced runway shows, and dressed soccer legend Megan Rapinoe. For McLean, the successes are a love letter to her home.

“I have such a connection to this city,” McLean says. “There’s so much happening and so many people doing cool things. I feel like once people get famous here, they move away to New York or LA, and they say, ‘Oh, there’s not enough here.’ I disagree. I don’t need to take my shows to New York. I want Seattle to be a stop during Fashion Week.”

McLean has been thrifting since her teenage years, altering her secondhand finds to create the clothing she desired. “I made myself skinny jeans before they were really available,” she says. When shopping for back-to-school clothes, her mom would say, “Do you want $100 for the mall or $100 for the thrift store?” McLean would choose the latter 100% of the time.

McLean moved to Seattle in 2013 intending to study environmental engineering, but after her sister bought her a sewing machine — and she spent hours altering and reimagining thrifted clothes — she pivoted to studying fashion/apparel design at Seattle Central College. The two-year program was intense, with 16-hour days, six days a week. “I had no time to get a job, so I sold the clothes I was thrifting,” she says. “I started by making small adjustments like moving a pocket around or something fun like that.”

McLean graduated in 2019, thinking she would work for a large corporation or brand for a year to get industry experience, then move on and launch her own label. “That was always my goal,” she says, “to do my own thing.” In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, McLean doubled down on her designs.

She created the “Cozy” collection: pieces conducive to a fashionable stay-at-home lifestyle: patchwork pants and hoodies, fleece maxi shirts, sweatpants, and biker shorts. “I sent packages to all of my friends, and they did home photo shoots,” McLean says of the launch. “That set the tone for after Covid and I’ve just been grinding and hustling ever since. Working for myself is hard but really rewarding.”

Since releasing the Cozy collection, McLean has designed five additional collections, including “7:20:FASHION IS MY RELIGION,” “2:14:ENJOY THE SHOW,” and “PUNKS in DENIM.” Each is full of unique pieces: Dresses with large hoops in their hems; pants scattered with circular cutouts of crinkly, sheer, silver fabric; and leather harnesses embellished with religious regalia are a few examples.

McLean hosted her first runway show on July 20, 2022 (her birthday). Held at a wedding venue in Pioneer Square, it sold out within a few days. Subsequent shows sold out even faster and had up to 800 attendees. Her next show, which will happen on Valentine’s Day, will involve upcycled and reworked wedding gowns, all dyed black. “The idea behind it is that it’s not a wedding, it’s a funeral,” she says. “A funeral of your past self so that you can go on to marry who you want to be.”

Upcycling is the bedrock of McLean’s work. She takes scissors to thrifted designer pieces without hesitation, snipping out logos and identifying patterns to integrate them into her work. While it’s not novel — Harlem fashion designer Dapper Dan had a similar approach in the 1980s — cutting up high-ticket items feels bold and refreshing in a culture that seems to worship luxury brands and fast fashion. There’s also something a little brash about all those logos, like a big middle finger flying in the face of the emerging “quiet luxury” trend, McLean says. They exist to catch the eye of passersby and announce, “I will not blend in with the crowd.”

“I love the idea of deconstructing something and turning it into something else,” McLean says. “When it comes to sustainability, you can’t shove it in people’s faces; it has to be a natural progression. For me, working sustainably, reusing fabric, buying secondhand — it’s just the right thing to do.”

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