Meet Gumbo Taylor: Rock Geek, Fashionista and Entrepreneur

Meet Gumbo Taylor: Rock Geek, Fashionista and Entrepreneur

She’s fond of bad jokes, doesn’t mind getting dirty on a daily basis and goes by the name Gumbo.

Yes, Montgomery “Gumbo” Taylor ’14 is one of a kind, especially when you consider she’s among the few geologists to attempt to break into the world of fashion.

Two years ago Taylor started the accessory line GARB (Geologic Attention to Rock Beauty) Designs, creating dazzling clutches, neckties, drawstring bags and more that all feature patterns of minerals. Taylor’s inspiration for such a line began at the College, where she obsessed over assorted rock samples during geology lab, staring at the mesmerizing mineral arrays for hours on end through a compound microscope.

She was teased a bit for this obsession, but it’s paid dividends: GARB Designs purses, bags and ties have been featured on many local blogs as well as skirt! Magazine, Lowcountry Parent Magazine, and Charleston Style and Design. To purchase, you can shop GARBDesigns on Etsy or on the company’s website.

Though these accessories are gorgeous in appearance alone, their beauty takes on extra meaning when one can interpret the pattern, understanding how a rock’s visual appearance gives clues about its geologic history and how it has changed over the centuries.

“Every rock has a story- of pressure, heat, and time. I wanted to come up with a way to illustrate this story to folks who know nothing, or everything, about geology,” says Taylor, who lives in Charleston and also works full time as a geologist, logging many miles each week driving to field sites around South Carolina.

Taylor credits the Honors College and College geology professors John Chadwick, Leslie Sautter, Robert Nusbaum and more for helping her prepare for her careers in geology and geology-related fashion. The College Today caught up with Taylor to ask her more about her experiences with GARB Designs.

Q: How did you get the idea to create these textiles and accessories using rock samples? Was there an aha moment?

The summer after my senior year at the College, I was working part time retail on King Street and searching for a geology position. GARB happened partially out of boredom – I wanted to get creative… making accessories that couldn’t be found anywhere else, while utilizing my geology skills. I can remember telling my manager about this dream of making things out of geologic images, and her looking at me like I was nuts. Initially I created a few patterns using old research images, had some fabric made, and let it sit for a few months while I ogled it. My first clutch bag was truly my ‘aha’ moment because it showed me that something artistic could happen in an unexpected way from my research.

A drawstring bag by GARB Designs.

Q: Do you have a favorite geologic pattern or rock? What attracts you to rock samples?

I’m pretty partial to all your typical mafic rocks – basically, your Bobby basalts and George gabbros (bad geology joke.) But truly, some of the ‘ugliest’ rocks by many folks’ standards create some of the most remarkable patterns. I’m obsessed with volcanos, too, so it makes sense that many of my prints are of volcanic origin. I love rock samples because they are innately one of the most natural things out there. But rocks have been done and redone (bad fashion joke this time.) It’s fun to explore them in a bit of a different way, from a fashion and scientific perspective.

Q: What has been a highlight of GARB Designs?

The biggest highlight to date was the first time I had someone I didn’t know come up to me and know that my bag was GARB. It seems so small, but whenever I think about the past few years, that always stands out. I think it’s mostly because I never could have expected the company to grow that much in recognition. I started the company because I loved the concept – realizing that this is a brand established out of love rather than pure business benefit has been a huge personal breakthrough, too. Designing pieces for myself and others because we love them, not because the whole population loves them, is super freeing creatively. I’m insanely lucky because I also work full time in another position I really love.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your job as a geologist and what that entails?

I work as a geologist for an environmental company based locally. Generally, I aid in the in-field monitoring, remediation, and oversight of contamination sites affecting soil and groundwater around the Southeast. I also do in-house mapping and reporting for these sites as well. Basically, I work outside a lot, get really muddy and smelly, and absolutely love every second of it. This past week I almost stepped on a snake while sampling in a field, then came home and sewed a handbag. It’s literally the best of both worlds, all centering around geology.

Q: Is it difficult to replicate or transfer rock patterns to fabric?

Not typically – Mother Nature has to be an artist herself. The symmetry in microscopy is incredible, which definitely makes translating them easier!


Q: Can you summarize your product line?

GARB has a Luxe Collection that includes ties, bow ties, handbags, and custom high-end specialty pieces. We also have a new Field Collection that offers field masks (to cover your neck and mouth in cold or dusty conditions) and drawstring bags. Our motto is “From Hike to High Class” because neither lifestyle has to be mutually exclusive – why not have a little bit of both? I hope with GARB I can do some educating about geology, as well as make some people happy by making functional pieces that are beautiful.

Q: Gumbo is an interesting nickname. What’s the story and is that your preferred name?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how it came to be. My Dad dubbed me Gumbo pretty much at birth, and it stuck. Everyone in my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, pretty much calls me Gumbo so I forget how bizarre it sounds! I love being called that because it makes me feel automatically comfortable. However, a more recent nickname I’ve acquired is Monty from my geology friends and coworkers.

Q: Can you tell us how the College factored into the birth of GARB Designs?

Without College of Charleston, GARB never would have happened. I never took any upper level studio art classes until I got to college, and because I needed some elective credits, I was able to take some. This gave me a ton more exposure in learning how to design products. My amazing geology professors not only fueled my desire for research and learning, but they showed me maintaining a creative passion is also incredibly energizing as a scientist.