Friday, June 10, 2011
Probably a large topic for a Summer Friday
But a topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately. And that is DO. What I do. What we all do. But maybe perhaps also kinda what I've done. I speak of course about my work.
The window that my website, and especially, for the past five years, my blog, provides into my process, which has transformed over the years, has generated lots of emails, phone calls, handwritten notes of asking how. How do I do it? Sometimes its very specific, like how did I get into fabric design, etc. - a topic that (maybe its just me but) I feel has been covered well over the past few years in the creative blog realm-, how did you get a book published, how do you care for all those kids and run a business, etc. But often just a very general how, which I sort of sometimes don't know how to answer except to say that I am still figuring it out. I will admit that the approaches can be a little overwhelming sometimes given my schedule with work, and of course my family, but I always, always want to help, and to answer questions, and to offer insight. I am sure that there have been some emails that have slipped through the cracks. And I'm sorry for that. I do have a FAQ, and I do offer interviews, where lots of this stuff gets answered. So it is helpful to have some of these answers on autopilot at times.
I guess what I'm rambling on and on about here, is that I am not sure if what I can offer is even what you would call an answer as much as it is a response. A very personal one. One that may or may not work for whoever is asking. But I also think that anyone who reads me here knows that these questions slowly get answered, in a trickle of sorts. Few people have the time for that in order to simply to get a pressing question answered, yet, I think there is an assumption that there is some specific template of life. Or a secret that no one has revealed or a school where you learn this very set of trades. Or that success somehow will occur if you just know that one thing that no one seems to tell you.
This isn't even going where I thought this would be going.
Its challenging for me to write about what I do, because it is indeed always evolving. Constantly. Being in business one way or another is something that I have done now for 20 years. It very simply started by me earning extra money in college by using one of my best friend's parents' basement to make dresses that I sold to a local retailer. They sold well. We had a kid. I was also waiting tables 20 hours a week and earning a fine arts degree. After earning that degree no one beat my door down to offer me a job so I opened a shop to flesh out the clothing line with the help of my mom. That was wonderful but also incredibly challenging. Its hard. Its physical. I do not envy retailers at all. After 3 years I closed shop and went to wholesale with the clothing line but after kid 3 it was too much, despite the fact that it was taking off and I couldn't keep up alone. Then I turned to partnering with manufacturers. And over the past 10 years, I have had almost every experience you can imagine good or bad in that arena too. But the most important thing I've learned is to read and even write my own contracts and that everyone in any partnership has to get something out of it and its that overlap of your happiness and theirs that makes the situation work. If you aren't both happy at the same time, there is no point in continuing. Period. Forget your pride and what might feel like a failure. A success is knowing when something isn't working because that means you are paying attention.
I feel so content about where years of struggles and successes has arrived to. And of course there have been struggles, there always are, for everyone, even the most successful person you can imagine. I think that the perception is when you see only the good, that good is all there is. That's because there is simply nothing to show for failures.
Being in business, albeit a mostly comforting and handcrafted one, essentially begs for maximum possible gain for minimal input. On every level. I can get caught in the trap like anyone, to only think in these terms. How much will this grow my business? is this worth my time? will it work? is it relevant? how far reaching is this? etc. Optimize, optimize, optimize. But I think I have arrived at a place. And this is really (if you're still with me) what I'd like to say. These questions do matter. I've only been able to do what I do for a living because I have asked all these questions along the way with every single endeavor. But the place where I am now (and things like this video have helped me get to it) is that its OKAY if something might take more time than its worth in dollars. And that every now and then I NEED that. We all do. Why earn a living but lose yourself in the process?
I am fondly remembering the very slow work that brought me to love making and ultimately to the faster paced, and mass produced items that I now have a hand in creating. I don't resent mass production. It enables me to share my work with each of you if we look at it honestly. But I'm not happy with only that. I don't care about things that I don't care about. Its not important to me to be a label on a product that I would never dream of bringing in to my home. It was important to me for a time because I, like many, are tricked into believing that bigger must certainly be better. Better because certainly then you have more choices about how you want to live. What I'm learning is that bigger, just for the sake of it, means you have far fewer choices about how you want to live because you become ultimately burdened by surrounding yourself with things that you might not care too much about. So if you are going to go big, you better love it. All of it. I think that if you love what you are doing, really truly care about it, and are able to share that love in a meaningful way, then it will really just end up working. Call me Pollyanna.
I was listening to a great story this morning on NPR about a local woman who built a cake pop business due to not being able to get enough photography and design work in the present economy. My take away from her story was that she decided that WHAT she was doing for a living was less important than HOW she was living. That is huge to me. Being a photographer was not giving her the life that she wanted. Yet that doesn't mean that she had to stop being one, but decided not to get hung up on making a living from it. This kind of choice to me is empowering and not debilitating. You can read/listen to her story here. Another favorite sound bite from it is that she can't help but smile when she talks about the cake pops.
I want a cake pop.
Anyway. Sorry. Posts like this are few and far between as I do busy myself with the tangibles, so I find it hard to just sit and compose my brain space sometimes. The simplest things will spark these kinds of thoughts. For me lately its been lots of little things. Watching Juliana carve out her ideas about how she wants to live and work, that video from Greece, the fact that I wanted to take a day off and sew muslin bags hand stamped with my needleworks logo to package my upcoming Aida cloth cuts, despite the fact that business-wise this is not an optimal use of my time. But it is special to me, so I don't care (see some of those muslin envelopes stacked in the photo above). The repetition reminded me of those days in my shop where I made up to 20 dresses a day sometimes. Phew. Actually this post is about how I am glad I don't make 20 dresses a day anymore.
But maybe making 5 or so would be nice. In fact, I do have a new venture called "visiting artists", a concept that I have been stewing on for months, that I will be sharing soon. I think more than anything it will celebrate the slow making that I find myself missing some days.
More soon. I have much to DO.
have a great weekend, and as always thanks for sharing the journey.
and keeping asking me questions, just forgive my often slow responses.