We recently sat down with Kim Schwaiger, co-founder and creative director for Northern Swag, to pick her brain on life in Northern Michigan. We met Kim outside at the Filling Station, which was our first mistake, as she has no geographic knowledge of Northern Michigan outside of a ten-mile radius of Glen Arbor Township. She was 3 hours late. She arrived on a beautiful and warm summer day wearing a fleece coat and 3 cameras around her neck, sweating profusely from what amounted to a 40-mile bike ride across Traverse City, 39 of which occurred in the black hole that exists in Kim’s mind east of Division Street.
Kim, we have to ask, what’s up with the fleece coat? It’s got to be 80 degrees out?
I love fleece, it’s my favorite material so I try to wear it as much as possible. That’s why outdoor activities during the fall and winter, like hiking and XC skiing are my favorite, as I can wear it without sweating buckets. Mind if I have a sip of your water? I’m pretty dehydrated.
Yeah, go ahead. And the 3 cameras?
Well, I don’t want to miss a shot when I’m out. See this one? It’s waterproof up to 20 feet so I can dive in the water if necessary. Pretty sweet, huh? Hmmm, hope my fleece doesn’t weigh me down if I have to chase a duck.
That is sweet. You’re from the Glen Lake area, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to live there?
So the story goes that my great grandfather won a deed to 200’ on the north shore of Big Glen Lake in a poker match. My family vacationed here for generations prior to making the move permanent. I remember coming up North as a young child, saving my allowances to buy feather headdresses and polished rocks at the Totem Shop in Glen Arbor. All my cousins and siblings and I first learned to swim in Big Glen Lake. My grandfather would convince us to take the plunge with a $5 bribe if we could swim the length of a canoe. That could buy a lot of polished rocks back in the day. When I was six my family moved here permanently. We first lived in Glen Arbor and then later in the bustling metropolis of Burdickville, on the other side of Glen Lake (population: humans 12, deer 2,024).
(At this point, we notice that there are quite a few birds circling overhead and one has even landed on Kim’s shoulder. She seems unphased). What are some other unique things about your life in Northern Michigan?
My high school graduating class was 37 kids. I was prom queen, which was pretty cool (A quick records check shows that there were 36 males in Kim’s class). Also, my parents’ house in the back woods of Burdickville loses power for a week at a time at least a couple of times a year, which is fun. And I hear people pay to have an experience off the grid?
Kim, we have to admit that we love your look, you have a very unique style. What would you say some of your influences are?
Hmm. I love the style of grandmas, cowgirls…French women. But I definitely think of myself as a flower child. My daughter, Cora, had a hippy-themed birthday party and we didn’t even need to buy any clothes to get dressed up for it. In fact, we clothed all the guests out of my closet too.
(It’s worth mentioning that at this point Kim has no less than 10 birds perched on her). So Kim, ummm…what’s up with all the birds?
Oh, I just love them. I bathe in suet every day to attract them. I also consider myself the Northern Swag resident bird nerd. I’ve had Avian flu like 20 times. Haven’t you ever noticed all the bird photos I post?
We have, we totally love them. Well thanks for your time today, Kim. In closing, could you give us 3 words you would use to describe Northern Michigan?
Blue. Quiet. Simple.
In the real world, Kim is a CPA in Traverse City and a wonderful mother to her daughter, Cora, who contributes here as the resident ice cream expert. Her dream job is to be a National Geographic photographer, we can only assume her focus would be on birds. If you see Kim wandering around the East Side please point her back to Division Street.