Haley Van Heel experienced exotic corners of the world before settling in Big Sky
Haley Van Heel seems to be in constant motion between playing for the Hillbilly Huckers in community softball, coaching Big Sky girls in summer volleyball, and working fulltime as Design and Photography Manager at the Yellowstone Club. A Montana native, she has become a familiar face in town after her three-year tenure at the club.
In her apartment, she has sketchbooks full of clothing designs – evidence of years of artistic contemplation. Her path to Big Sky is laden with fortuitous meetings and travel to exotic lands.
She started out in fashion design at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. She spent a year in L.A. learning, “the best of foundational studies” before traveling back to Montana – this time to the University of Montana to study costume design.
“After that, I took some time off because I was like, ‘I don’t know what the Hell I want to do,’” she said and laughed.
She went to Bonney Lake, Wash. and worked for a luxury high rise developer in downtown Tacoma, functioning as a liaison between the real estate agents and the buyers. Her company hired a firm to help with the marketing materials – and she had the epiphany – graphic design was how she wanted to make her living.
A job interview with Summit Resource International, which she thought was a longshot, led to some exciting times in her life. The company designs all the apparel for Caterpillar and she was just seeking something temporary while she finished her degree since she had one semester remaining.
“It ended-up being a two-hour interview. They were like, ‘We’ve been looking for someone like you,’” she said. So, they created a position for her – International Visual Merchandising Designer.
The first thing they had her do was design 36 pieces of clothing for the Spring 2014 Tesla lifestyle apparel brand.
“They chose 30 of 36, so if you walk into a Tesla now, you can see some of the apparel I designed,” she said.
Soon, she traveled to India and visited three different cities with the merchandising director, creating detailed reports of the market and retail displays and also creating order from chaos as she taught store employees how to display items for sale.
From there, her boss sent her to Dubai, United Arab Emirates on her own.
Along the way, she met a guy in the hotel who asked for her name and told her he would get her upgraded to business-class for her flight home. Sure enough, when she arrived at the airport she discovered she was flying business class.
A slew of adventures greeted her on the way – blowing-out the electricity in the entire top floor of the hotel from plugging-in her straightening iron, seeing her first policemen wielding machine guns at the airport in India, going to breakfast and having three people serving her like she was royalty.
She was able to experience adventure and the thrill of choosing her own path when she wasn’t working.
“I love traveling alone,” she said.