I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Regina Ellis, founder and CEO at The Children’s Cancer Association. True to form, she enthusiastically agreed to be our next Admired Interviewee and I was just as thrilled as she seemed to be. We met at their new headquarters. I was immediately taken by how inspiring and joyful it is there, what an amazing place to work. The environment truly reflects the spirit of contributors, volunteers, artists and families that are all a part of the CCA. (Photo credit: Joni Kabana)Regina is someone I admire for her sense of style (among many other things!). She blends vintage & heirloom items effortlessly with new wardrobe staples. She is a self proclaimed “dresser” who is not afraid to sport statement pieces. Dressed in her graphic tee, super cool blazer with a discreet corset-like reveal up the back, metallic kitten heels, black denim and an easy breezy scarf, she says “I got my rock and roll outfit on today!” It was sure to be a fun interview….
You’ve had the opportunity to travel. How does that influence your sense of style and attention to quality?
I’ve always admired Europeans for their rich, traditional, boldness. They throw on a gorgeous, loud purple scarf and a red wool suit, with fantastic shoes and you see the passion in everything they choose! They tailor their clothes in a way that brings life to who they are. I believe Americans are much more comfortable with what’s “acceptable”….But those pairings of boldness, when I get it right, I love. Go bold, don’t be afraid to mix textures and bright colors! You see Europeans do that beautifully.
I can see that idea of boldness has translated into creating this space! Textures, vivid colors, organic materials like wood, leather, metal, and water… When we’re in touch with these elements, whether through our wardrobe, decorating a space or even making a meal, we are inspired and energized by their beauty.
I agree. I’m someone who cares greatly about aesthetic. Even as a college student I would spend money to buy flowers for my apartment, where at the time, all I had was an old futon on the floor. But I might have found a beautiful velvet pillowcase to incorporate beauty. That’s important. Even if I’m camping I like to have fresh wild flowers and an old linen from home. I love the experience of how things feel in your environment. I think about that when I’m shopping and choosing things to bring into a space or to wear in front of the world. Here at Children’s Cancer Association, our mission of delivering joy was influenced by this location. We sit on the river, with opened ceilings, and natural lighting. The garage doors, exposed beams and raw elements of the structure have been preserved. Those kinds of things were important… And I think I’m probably the only business exec that allowed a graffiti artist to come in and tag a wall, but it’s glorious! Everyday when I walk by the bold color, you see the passion that’s expressed and I’m inspired.
Earlier when you mentioned, “When you get it right.” How do you know when you get it right? Is it about the way you look or the way you feel when you get an outfit dialed in?
Everyday is a new opportunity to meet the world, and meet new people and feel inspired. I think about that when I get up. ‘What am I doing today? How will that influence what I’m going to wear?’ Some days what I throw together and the way that I feel putting the articles on… well, I walk out the door and I can just feel it. Other days I’ll go, “Ehh kinda…” I’ve kinda got it right. “Love the shoes, buuut”…
So you aren’t afraid of making a mistake?
No. What we wear is a reflection of who we are and and how we’re received, and I care greatly about those things. Impressions allow opportunities and I want people to experience me on a lot of different levels – like what I feel passionate about, who I am, what I do for the world. That can be expressed through style; style is part of the whole package.
I think of it as a tool and expression, like a firm handshake or a great smile – knowing how to present yourself, like you said, opens doors.
I think it’s critical. In my role, I lead new business development. I work with individuals, national music champions, and artists, and even in those industries I’m very thoughtful. If I’m going into a music related venue or meeting, there wouldn’t be any choice other than jeans. When I’m going into more corporate engagements like the hospitals or addressing people in the insurance or banking industries, I’m more thoughtful of conservative dress and choose slacks or suiting. But in a way that’s adapted to my personal style. I may wear a black dress, but put on a jean jacket to make it my own.
I talk with clients about how to make a boring suit memorable. I show them how to give it their personality because if they feel like someone else, their message is blurry. How do you make yourself memorable?
When I was identifying the persona that I wanted to become, and creating my style in my 20s and early 30s, I went to the sources that I admired. Even if I wouldn’t necessarily see myself in some of the things I loved, I began to find myself. In trying things on and being bold and courageous, you’ll find some things work and some things don’t, but if you don’t take risks, you get stuck. Sometimes we have to reinvent ourselves along the way. Maybe we take a new position at work, or we begin to see ourselves in the world differently; Being able to match what you put on, with what you feel inside is so powerful.
Do you have anything in your closet left over from your 20’s?
I have my old cheerleading outfit but that was my teens! I have a couple things from my Grandma. One piece is this amazing hand-beaded pant suit she got in Vegas. It weighs about ten pounds. I wore it to a Mad Men party and everyone went crazy for it. Every time I see it in my closet I think of sitting in my Grandma’s closet and loving her and being in her reflection, and when I wear it, is has so many meanings. I also have some keepsakes from my Mom, a few sweaters and scarves. They’re a bit more 80’s looking.
How often do you purge your wardrobe?
For the most part, I’m really good at getting rid of s**t. I’ll take things to my nieces, or Women’s shelters, or share them with High School kids, and Dress For Success. Passing things on opens up space for me to find something at my favorite vintage store or second hand boutique passed on to me from someone else. That cycle has been creatively inspiring to me.
Speaking of Portland specifically, it seems people aren’t dressing up very often and those that do, are feeling looked at for it. Do you feel self conscious when you’re wearing something bold or do you embrace it?
I’m from a big Italian family. The folks that know and love me, know that my brand is around integrity, wildly passionate and weird. So if I’m getting looks, bring it! I surround myself with people that are fantastic and creative and unique and I can’t please everybody, but if I’m pleasing me, I’m thrilled. I often run into people that I know at the grocery store or on the plane, so I polish it up for even casual circumstances.
I was recently talking to an amazing woman in her 70s who still puts a lot of effort into expressing herself through her clothes. For her, it’s a mode of self expression and she has felt sadness around not feeling like she fits in.
What I love about Portland is that we have this fusion of differences. I think if you feel comfortable with you, whatever you pull over your head or wrap around your arms or throw on your feet will be great – it’s in our stride. The way that we hold ourselves, the smiles that we share with folks, and our enthusiasm invites other people to admire and enjoy what we put out. That type of confidence has allowed me to be bold, and I feel very comfortable in being unique. It’s important to be you.
I think the art of self expression in your style takes practice and I think it takes courage. Finding what feels good on your body and what reflects who you are requires help sometimes. It could be through magazines, Pinterest, through your friends or walking around your favorite boutiques. The more that we find comfort in expressing our style, that is when we become our brand. When we propel our own individuality it’s really beautiful.
A few months ago, we talked about Portland’s Boutiques. Have you found any that speak to your brand?
I love to go to Betsy and Iya, I’m crazy about their Bridges Collection. I like Mercantile for their tees and Vince pieces. I also like Una, Parallel, Frances May, Garnish. I also shop at Nike and J.Crew. I love fantastic belts and right by Betsy and Iya there’s this amazing place that takes vintage belts and embellishes them! I have about 4 belts from there. I like to fuse the main stream with high end and second hand. My two favorite shoe stores when I can splurge are Halo and Zeldas. I’m very thoughtful about making investments. Marrying trends with investments. I like wearing what everyone else isn’t. If it’s weird, I’ll probably like it and find a way to wear it.