Minkie. Meenkie. Mankie.
Although his last name is often mangled, there is no doubt it repeatedly comes up in conversation. Bradley Meinke is an adjunct professor in the fashion department and has been a valuable resource to its students. You can find him in the sewing labs cutting swatches or fitting mannequins with Monica McMurry, dean of the school of fashion and design, in the Costume Gallery. Working behind the scenes, his service to the school has helped many designers-to-be gain the technical skills they need.
Growing up in Princeton, Mo., Meinke was the baby of the family, 10 and 12 years younger than his two sisters. He grew up in a creative environment where his father loved to sing, and music was always in the home. His mom sewed and quilted and really nurtured her son’s craftiness. Meinke began sewing at the young age of five and became actively involved in his local 4-H organization.
“[I was] really fortunate in that my mom allowed me to sew. I was always making costumes for the cats and my puppets,” Meinke said.
Around the time he learned to sew, Meinke became entranced with the glamour of the Miss America pageants: a passion he’s held ever since. Despite his love for fashion, designing was not his first career choice. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, the fourth grade Meinke would say vampire or rock star. While he may not have become a sparkly, fanged singer, his career in the fashion world has been successful.
He believed strongly in self-teaching and taught himself how to sew, drape and tailor while he was in high school, making formalwear for several of his friends. Meinke attended Columbia College for fashion design during the 1980s, but with his ambition and belief in his technical skills, he left before finishing his degree to work as an assistant designer in New York at Michael Schoeller, a luxury designer known for upscale women’s leather. His position allowed him to gain insight into the luxury market and fashion show production. When the luxury market started to decline in the early ’90s, Meinke left to open several of his own businesses. He worked in bridal for a few years and then began creating eveningwear for the Miss Missouri and Miss America pageants.
Meinke is no stranger to campus. While attending Columbia College, he made many friends from Stephens and went so far as to consider himself an honorary Susie. In the 1980s, he recalls competing in a design competition sponsored by the Fashion Group of St. Louis and faculty members, including current dean Monica McMurry and associate professor Kirsteen Buchanan, both of whom represented the era with “big hair, big shoulder pads and the whole nine yards,” he says.
As an adjunct, Meinke is supplemental to the fashion department, using his field experience to aide students. He has worked on campus in several capacities as a lab assistant and as an instructor of fashion show production, and he’s been involved with the Costume Museum and Research Library for over 15 years as a result of his passion for the history of women’s costume. Meinke has also worked as a guest curator on the last seven exhibits for the library, located in Lela Raney Wood Hall.
In addition to working at Stephens, Meinke is back at Columbia College where he is set to graduate in May 2014 with a degree in history. Upon commencement, Meinke says he is open to all opportunities and believes all Stephens’ fashion graduates should be too:
“They’re given a really strong, technical, hands-on background. … The college teaches a realistic approach and a realistic amount of what is out [in the industry],” he says. “Recently, I talked to a student who, in her job, was left with an assistant store manager who didn’t know how to do retail math, and she did. I do think that they’re prepared.”
Meinke added, though, that while the college does its best to provide students with everything they need, much of the world (and especially the fashion industry) works on an input-equals-output formula.
“Nothing gets handed to you in the fashion industry. There’s always someone either above you who is jealous of your talent or vice versa. You’ve got to put in the hours.” As he recently turned fifty, he says that’s become his biggest mantra: “You get back what you give.”
Meinke’s modesty regarding his contributions to the college truly makes him stand out. His dedication and candid, realistic approach to the fashion department and fashion industry resonates with students, making him a valued and recognized member of the community.
Story by freshman Allison Langley