An Interview with Michele Cosentino

1. How old are your kids and how long have you lived in Westport?

I have 2 kids. Uzi is a 14 yr-old young man entering Staples High School in Westport and Wallis is a 10 yr-old girl at The Southport School. We moved to Westport in 2012 from the city.

2. How did you end up where you are now in terms of your job?

Before I had children, I was a graphic designer for 15 years in the beauty and fashion industry. When I became pregnant with my son, I thought, how can I tell this child to "be anything he wants to be" when I am not what I want to be? I began going to school at night and 3.5 years later I received a degree in Fashion Design from Parsons. At 38 yr. old, I was a mother of one and an intern at Proenza Schouler. I briefly created my own maternity collection while pregnant with my daughter and was pulled back into graphic design with a VP position from an old boss. By this time, I had moved to CT and commuted to NYC for two more years until I was laid off. When I returned home, my daughter was outgrowing naps and my son was failing out of first grade. Both children and myself were diagnosed with dyslexia. We changed schools, renovated a farmhouse, and I began playing tennis to let off a little steam- it was the first time I had not worked since I was 13 years old.

Learning to play tennis as an adult had a steep and humiliating learning curve but I loved meeting people and being a part of a team for the first time in my life. I have always collected vintage sewing patterns so I started updating tennis dresses patterns from the 70’s and 80’s and wearing them on court. I was entertaining myself. I designed my USTA team's logo and began printing fabrics with a logo print- making dresses and it was all in good fun.

Then covid happened and life was really reduced to the house and our family. 99% of it was amazing but I missed my team and creative projects. I was homeschooling my daughter and we were doing a lot of crafts. Making things with my hands became this amazing cure for the covid blues. Eventually, I made my way back to making more and more tennis dresses. The Birchwood Country Club ladies asked me to make a uniform for our tennis team. The Birchy was created- a 70's inspired white tennis dress with navy trim, patched pocket, and tie at the waist.

I knew I wanted to create something more than one dress, I wanted to create a story. I had a very specific vision in mind- it was a revision of my childhood. Not my reality but something I wished was true. In the meantime, I was teaching my children how to start a business. We used Legalzoom to set up the LLC and for the TM. I taught them how to source fabric, trim and manufacturers. We designed a logo, color palette and moodboards. I taught them Adobe Illustrator. We did a photoshoot on a friend's tennis court and learned Squarespace to build a website. We organized a business plan, we presented it and asked my husband to be an investor. We learned Excel and Powerpoint- something I purposely avoided my entire life. Our website launched this winter and we are manufacturing a small batch of vintage inspired tennis dresses. We are learning about Marketing and Sales and speaking to as many tennis players we can at Pop-up Events. I have tried to keep my expectations low, go slowly, and stay true to our values of following our joy and curiosity. Fingers crossed for Top Banana's future.

3. Best memory from the pandemic?

My best memory of the pandemic was TIME. We had very little inspiration, limited resources and no distractions but we had a lot of time. Time to think, time to create, time to make mistakes and time to try again. My brain felt like it did when I was a child- or at least before the internet.

4. Favorite book?

I like to read. My last non-fiction book was What Happened to You? by Bruce Perry. I love learning about brain development and behavior. I also love magical realism and my last fiction books were The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and The Making of Duchess Goldblatt by Shane Bolks- both followed women going through a difficult time in their lives. Both created alternative realities to solve their issues. So so good.

5. Favorite App?

Audible to "read" while sewing and driving. My kids like Monument Valley- it is the only game on my phone.

6. Favorite food/drink?

I love Lady M's mille crepe cake and a really good cappuccino. Whole milk and fully caffeinated.

7. Most inspirational person I know?

Probably my husband. He just knows who he is. I have had to do a lot of searching to find out who I am. He just calmly knows. I admire self-awareness.

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