MLTWY: Morgan H. West of Panda Head

Mornings Like These With You
January 13th, 2014
Wild Hand Workspace, Washington, DC
Morgan H. West / Panda Head

So if you live in DC, chances are you've somehow reaped the benefits of Morgan West's creative genius. Whether she's dreaming up a window display, hosting a killer workshop or running social media like a boss, the girl definitely leaves her mark. We decided to go inside the studio space she shares with DC photo babe, Tori Milko, called Wild Hand Workspace. I spent a morning in the beautiful space, got acquainted with Morgan, and learned more about what's in store for Panda Head.

MLT: Morgan! You’re the creative force behind Panda Head. Want to tell us what that’s all about? What do you do?  

MW: At this point, I’ve only recently started referring to Panda Head as a lifestyle platform because it has turned into that. The primary place I put my energy is Panda Head blog and I post there daily. I basically just try to make it a site that serves as inspiration for a creative and attainable lifestyle. It’s very lifestyle focused… it hits arts, style, home, kitchen, a lot of well-rounded lifestyle aspects. I try to do it in a very accessible way. One thing we learned from Topaz + Arrow is people are very excited to see How To’s and I’ve been doing the “how ” for so long. I took for granted that it could be an educational opportunity so I’m trying to tackle that this year. Panda Head newsletter is the monthly companion to Panda Head blog and that’s really exciting because it’s kind of a smaller edition to Panda Head Mag. I have contributors… I actually curate more than I contribute myself. I typically ask people who I admire to contribute. We come up with a theme and they can basically do whatever they want… it’s a monthly email that goes out and it has a website of its own. I’m really excited about that this 
year, as well.  

MLT: How did Panda Head come to be?

MW: So, I started Panda Head in 2006 and, very hilariously, it was a street style blog. I had never taken a photo in basically my entire life and I saw a gap in DC style blogs and DC street style blogs. I was in search of a new project and prior to that I had been doing a lot of sewing and repurposed vintage. I had been selling to a few boutiques and I just saw it as a another opportunity as a creative outlet. It took off very quickly, way quicker than I expected, and two weeks later it was in the Washington Post. I love that about DC… we have this amazing supportive community. I’m very grateful. So I continued that and realized A) I’m no photographer and B) I suddenly felt locked into a format I hadn’t made myself but instead sort of developed on it’s own. I started doing more interviews and then branched out from street style after realizing I didn’t want to do it anymore. I took the momentum from Panda Head to Panda Head Magazine. At first, it was myself and my partner Erik Loften, who is a genius, and we put out the first two issues together. It was another avenue for my friends who wanted to pursue creative projects to do something engaging… people who hadn’t started anything seriously but knew they wanted to explore some creative options. The mag team later grew to include Nilay Lawson and Kate Greene. It’s been great! Panda Head Mag is still alive and well and we have content we are looking forward to getting out soon. From there, the blog is my main focus. Over the years it has transitioned from street style to street style plus extra stuff, then became a repository of all of my freelance, art directing, and styling projects. It functioned as a breathing resume and without meaning to, I had continued to build readership when I wasn’t putting anything out of substance. I’m excited to restrategize and turn the blog into a destination. 

MLT: I know you’re a huge force in the DC creative community. Do you keep busy with other projects as well? What brands or small businesses do you work with?

MW: Oh, yeah. I think collaboration is huge. It’s satisfying in ways that signing off on a project by yourself isn’t. Collaborations have been at the forefront of all I do. It’s been a big force in Panda Head. It’s exciting to work with creative DC people. Right now, my main collaborative project is Gordy’s Pickle Jar. I come up with content for their blog, which is mostly recipes and different ways to use pickles. It’s great because food photography and food styling is something I had on my list to do more often so I was lucky to fall in with these ladies. They’re amazing! They’re doing amazing things in DC. I’m so honored to be a part of their team. Also, I’ve worked on various projects with BrightestYoungThings. They play a big role in the DC arts community. Violet Boutique is a friend who turned into a client who turned into a friend (haha) and she is so sweet. It’s always such fun projects to work on… young, trendy, fun… they keep me young! It’s funny, I have my hand in so many different types of projects that at the end of the day, what I do comes down to Visual Consulting, Visual Brand Consulting and Content Creation. As of late, those have been my main jobs. I’ve had many other brands I’ve worked with the last year. Last year, Virginia Arrisueño and I started Topaz + Arrow. She is someone I have been collaborating with since 2007 and I interviewed her for Panda Head blog way back in the day. I styled a few of her lookbooks for her. We had always been friends and last year, we became partners. She has this beautiful workspace she had always wanted to do workshops in and we wanted to make these workshops accessible to people. Topaz + Arrow combined our love for all things handmade and general day-to-day DIY. We are both women who are very hands on. If we don’t have something, we make it. We have been very pleasantly surprised with the reception we’ve had. We started in May of 2013 and many of the classes have sold out. We are excited for 2014! All of our classes are planned and laid out and we are really looking forward to this year.   

MLT: What is your average day like? Is it always different or does it usually start the same way? Any rituals you try to retain on the day to day?

MW: Yeah, my day to day is very different. There will be weeks where it is business as usual and I’m functioning on one sort of weekly schedule and then have events all weekend. A whirlwind followed by a few days of rest. When you’re self-employed, you’re always working 24/7 and I’m very lucky that what I do is dynamic and changes everyday. Mornings are particularly special because my husband primarily works from home so we are lucky to wake up at the same time and have coffee and walk the dogs together. 

MLT: What’s your favorite time of day? No pressure, you can be honest! Many people aren’t morning people like me… When do you feel most productive?

MW: I would say morning and evening equally. Mornings are great when you get up, get started, and get motivated and most mornings feel very slow in terms of getting into work. My husband and I always make coffee together and the day often feels like it starts very gently. There are a lot of times that regardless of when I get up or have my coffee, I feel like I’m running to get the day going. The show must get started! So on the other end of that, evenings are a really nice time to wind down and relax. We’ll drink a glass of wine, slow down, sometimes watch some TV. It’s when I can reply to emails and get things done. A lot of times my days are spent running to meetings and from this to that. Evenings are for photoshop. Haha!

MLT: I know you’re a wife and many of your closest friends are people you work with. I can imagine your family and friends influence a lot of what you do. Outside of them, who is your inspiration? 

MW: They say you’re a byproduct of the 5 people you spend most of your time with. I’m very lucky to be surrounded with very driven and remarkably intelligent people and everyday they make me aspire to be better and do more. You know, outside of my circle, it’s hard because sometimes I do feel like maybe I’m not paying enough attention to whats going on outside of me. I definitely admire people who can build their own brand from the ground up. I have a lot of respect for people who are always doing and work constantly. I look at someone like Miranda July and she just does such varied things. She is someone who just executes idea after idea. One day its a film and another day, it’s something like “We Think Alone.” That was a personal project she had among friends where they’d send out themed emails to one another once a week. I admire anyone who has built something that is theirs. That can be in any arena… lifestyle, computer programming, creators, builders, anything. 

MLT: Do you have any goals you’re working toward in 2014? Anything you are hoping to achieve with your businesses this year? 

MW: I mean, definitely. There is always opportunity to be do more. You know, there have been months where I thought doing more was probably breaking me because I was so busy. When I think about it, I’m really just constantly trying to work smarter, more efficiently, and get things done. It’s always on my mind. Im also really excited to grow Panda Head Blog purposefully. That’s my main goal. Last year, it was a lot of styling and art direction. The year before that, I mainly did decor installation… so again, I love that my work kind of evolves while remaining true to everything I do at Panda Head. This is the year where I continue to do all of those things but also focus on making Panda Head Blog more substantial.

MLT: Any advice for people looking to start a business of their own?

MW: Just expect to be working way more than you want to work but don’t work unless it’s 150%. Trust me, the rewards will be huge. I would say if it is what you’re passionate about, go for it and don’t stop going for it. The urge will be strong to just lay back and take a nap but don’t stop. Just make sure there is a work/life balance. You have to have a balance.

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Keep up with Morgan and her DIY life on her blog, Panda Head Blog. Attend a workshop hosted by Topaz + Arrow. Get involved and make stuff happen in 2014!

All photos by Emma McAlary Photography.