Planting the seeds
Three years ago Florence took off and travelled the world by herself for 10 months. Her travels throughout Central and South America inspired a business highlighting nature textiles, the value of things hand made, produced by locals and the life stories by artisans. She specializes in quality clothing in a French-Italian style, made from linen. Her brand launched last winter.
“Why did you choose only linen to work with?”
"I was looking for a material that was local (European), had sustainable qualities like resistant, durable; where the process was mechanical, little to no pesticides used. She continues to dive into the deeper reasons she prefers to work with this crop around jobs, money and sustainability. "Linen only grows in particular kinds of land. The linen farmers have a certain know-how so jobs are kept longer. Remuneration is also higher because linen is more expensive than say, cotton.
Florence’s voice gained more energy as she spoke about the linen workers. "We forget (or don’t value as much) how we choose materials in clothing. Our grandparents knew that linen was precious, luxurious and rare because it's hard to make and care for.”
“My grandmother was an entrepreneur herself. She had a fabric business but it closed during the Biafra war." This is a Nigerian civil war between the Christians and Muslims in the 1960s-80s. "I wanted to find a name in Igbo to honor that part of my heritage. I don’t talk a lot about this in my brand. I navigate within two cultures that shaped me...my values.”
“This is something I really want to do even if it’s difficult. But sometimes I wonder if I should focus my knowledge of textiles into another path, other than creating a brand. I wanted to have a project to put all my interests together: visual storytelling, fabric, validation of know how.”
I asked her what a “another path” meant to her.
“Society gives us conflicting messages, especially if you are a woman. 'Everyone can be an entrepreneur and succeed if they put in the effort and try hard.' But in reality, life isn’t so easy. There are barriers, material or mental, that put us all on different levels. We think success is black and white. Then we get stuck because we listen to one or the other barrier. In reality there are actually various tones (of success).
I also noticed that there is a difference between equity vs equality. We all don’t have the same resources. And even given the same resources, we may not get the same results. Part of this is related to capitalism and it puts a lot of pressure on people instead of entities to develop a better structure (for society, for wealth building)."
”It’s not just about selling clothes.”
"I ask myself if I have the personality to be an entrepreneur. Having an idea or a project is not enough. You have to be more organized, have more confidence and take risks. I take a lot of time before making a decision.
The life of an entrepreneur is about managing projects, finding solutions for problems you encounter everyday. The way you react to these challenges, says a lot about who you are. I am solutions oriented but I need to be pushed. Sometimes I have doubts about myself and what's required to manage a project...but not about its' success."
I asked her if she's ever sought after a partner to take off some of the pressure.
"I never looked for a partner because in a way I felt that my project was too personal. I found the name of my brand with my father. Eriri is in Igbo, a language and heritage of Nigeria. It's difficult to find someone to anchor in the project knowing this.”
She said that she would need a person that has “les nerfs solides.” It’s a person that can withstand pressure and have a good sense of themselves...really grounded.
"I tried to do collaborations but discovered not everyone is open...into sharing...has a higher mindset. I'm ambitious, not competitive. People say ‘oh, you are an ethical fashion brand, so it means you are a good person.’ No! It's not true. People think that because you are a sustainable brand, everything is perfect. Behind the scenes, there is always a personality."
I'm ambitious but not competitive."
“Let's go back to the word ‘start’ again, what image pops into your mind?”
“A field of something from my region….sunflowers.” She mentions perhaps lavender or things related to that like olives in the countryside around Florence.
“Of these things, do you have a favorite”?
"Actually I was working on this topic for my next collection. I don’t have a favorite but when I think of this relating to my roots, I think of the colors like purple, green, blue of the mediterranean, terracotta (of the earth).
“What do sunflowers represent for you?”
“It’s the side that connects me to my land. My family has a farm with olives and wine...lemons. This is a part of my memories growing up. I've been raised, valuing the hard work of people.
I know it's hard to make linen for example. We don't talk about that a lot in the fashion industry. 90% of the fibers used in fashion are man made. It's not fashionable for a fashion brand to talk about how polyester is made."
It's not fashionable for a fashion brand to talk about how polyester is made.”
Fashion-appreciator Vs Fashionista
Florence never studied fashion but recently she took courses in textile technology to master the fabric of linen. The choice of the material is one of the pillars of her sustainable business. Linen was intriguing and made sense to look for suppliers local to Europe.
“I compare myself with other entrepreneurs. Now I know the reality and I see less glitter. People don’t tell the truth, they just show you what they want you to see. I say, Florence, “go and do your best!” I have to say this to myself because I don't have a partner to tell me this! Sometimes I connect with my colleagues in fashion. Some are in linen like me or other categories and it helps.
I like fashion but I've never been a fashionista. It’s my mom who taught me about frugality, repairing and sewing things. I never had the type of mother who wanted to go shopping with me… is fashionable.
“What about your dad or younger sisters? Were they an influence in that same way?”
"My parents are the essence of minimalism. They don’t care about having a lot of things. They highlight the value of work and of making things.
Before we started the interview Florence and I found how our backgrounds interweaved through accessory design, instagram quandaries and our love of travel. I wanted to interject so many times during our chat to say "me too!" She said not having the personality of "an entrepreneur" seemed to make (the launching of her brand) things go slow. Yes, its true. But if I allowed myself to just "be" and "sense" my way through this first part of the process, I wouldn't have made the mistakes I did.
At one point she said she wasn’t sure what she could share since she didn’t have any garments to show me for our interview. She mentioned that she could only talk about her values and reason for starting the company. Values, materials and “the start” is exactly what you need to begin with. She said she hasn’t stopped thinking about her linen clothing company since 2018 and works to gain an audience one step at a time. That is the sign that one is passionate about what they are doing.
Florence is on a good path - reflective and deliberate. Most bands lose track of why they started their brand. They are quick to design and produce to see their vision come to life and then deal with the hard work later. Once they realize the realities of being a startup they settle into the groove of working 10% designing and 90% marketing and handling challenging problems. Some ease up or stop their businesses or need to adjust, remembering the foundations of their brand’s story.
What sets Florence apart is her story. She says she didn’t think she could find a partner because her brand’s raison d’être stems from something quite personal. Sharing...being vulnerable is hard. But that is what is so attractive about brands with a loyal following like Eileen Fisher for example. The “why” of her brand and what's in her heart. I have no doubt that if she is open to it, her perfect business partner will emerge. The more you give, the more you're going to see I always say. Being vulnerable is not about divulging your innermost secrets online, but the willingness to “go wherever your heart says, at the time.”
She mentioned that “process vs product” is more important to her. Humans want to connect and support and feel the intentions of another. The brand is not a textile nor an esthetic. It's the "why" of a person. Half of sustainable designers are motivated because of their aesthetic and half for their contribution to sustainability. I remember I thought the same way, but over time I realized that a business is a business.
If people have a dollar to spend on either a linen t-shirt, organic cotton or silk one, which one will they spend their money on? We always think that sustainability is the magic key but people will always choose the product whose story is most memorable or personal - different from another. The story is not about sustainability. Sustainability is a value, a feature, a process. The story is always the person behind the brand and what they evoke. It’s about Florence’s role in the world, for example and how she sees the world and how she sees people’s role and value in the world. That is the magic that adds the color and texture to her story.
We will continue to follow her in Part 2 of this post to find out how her brand emerges, how to organizes life with the responsibilities of her current job, her steps in understanding her audience and more.
Note: Parts of this interview have been altered for length and clarity.
Does Dreaming of Clouds Mean Your Creative Business Will be Successful And Three Other Unique Tips From a Fashion Writer
In 2016, my French visa just got approved. I was launching a design and shopping business highlighting sustainable fashion in Paris and Moya Stone was going to interview me for her blog. It was a warm Bay Area day and we were shaded under the awning at a suburbia Whole Foods. I usually remember what people wear when we first meet, even 5 years back but Moya’s smile was the thing that stands out now. Ruby lipstick, wide, welcoming, punctuating a ginger bob. When she’s not writing articles about Lady Gaga’s Schiaparelli Inauguration ensemble for example, she might be covering an event for Glamour magazine, all things vintage or chewing over something she recently sewed.
It’s winter now and years have passed. Today our roles are reversed and I ask questions around the word “start” for the blog series. I’m excited to hear what Moya, the great fashion observer, sees.
“If you were to think of start as a color, what do you see?”
“...it leads me to think about the sky-the openness of the sky.” She explains that she likes the visual aspect of it and develops its context. “I'm not fond of just one big open blue sky. I like weather. I like clouds, overcast and rain. I prefer that over a sunny blue sky. The clouds give me something else to look at, against the blue.” Moya is somewhere else when she describes their texture, color. She describes the white light that outlines the clouds against the bright blue sky. It reminds her of the luminous part of a candle flame illuminating the back of each cloud.
“I love puffy clouds. Sometimes their formations and fullness remind me of cotton and textiles. Moya has studied textiles in depth. “You know it's still grown in the South, south-east of the United States.” She is right. India and China grow most of the cotton in the world and the US (Texas especially) is third. 27 tons produced a year equating to 27 t-shirts a person. I was surprised at that statistics.
The Big Ball
“You mean the a-line pleated skirts?”
“Yes, I have a ball gown made from an 1831 pattern. You have to wear a crinoline under it and that’s very...bold.”
“When was the last time you wore it?”
“I hadn’t worn it for years. I used to go to Victorian dances and after, it just hung in my closet. But...last year I took an online fashion history class. We studied the mid 1800s and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show it off a little bit! I certainly would not have worn it to class or brought it to change into - there’s too much of it! Instead, I just put it on and showed it in front of my laptop!”
“We are living in this virtual world and I find people are more interested in trying things they wouldn’t have before, being more experimental. Do you find that too?”
“Yes, they have the time and attention to thinking differently. People are bored. Now, they have more time and realize how structured their lives were - the drive home, work-home. Taking them out of that structure can open up other ways of living and thinking.
Moya also said that the word “start” feels like the start of a new day. “In order to not lose my mind, during this pandemic, I consciously set up a regular routine. It really feels like a -start. I get up, eat breakfast, read, take a walk and during the week is work time. That’s when I write, submit to agents and weekends are for house projects.
“What’s on your desk right now to read?”
She says she’s reading the current issue of Harper's Bazaar and a book called "Minor Feelings" by Cathy Park Hong. Hong is a Korean poet that blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. “It's about how experiences, especially in high school, affected her. I have an interest in Korean history and Korean arts in particular.” I like to get a better understanding of the culture.
“What was intriguing about Korean arts?”
“In 2018, I heard about a textiles tour of South Korea and couldn’t resist the opportunity. I was captivated by their arts and their history. It was a small tour of about 10 people by the Korean American artist, Youngmin Lee and opened up a whole new interest for me.
I was struck between the new and old. Seoul is very modern and the youth are motivated by western culture. Do you know there is a french cafe on almost every corner?! They love french coffee, baguettes, croissants and are learning how to craft them, themselves. On the other side, Seoul is quite traditional. The Masters are consciously trying to teach other generations and other cultures to keep their arts alive. The stark contrast between the people and architecture was also fascinating - there are big modern New York style buildings next to the traditional asian architecture.
Moya and I continue our discussion on her next blog, sewing projects and her journalism career. Over the course of our chat I was amused by how we fell into “sustainability” by just diving into the word “start”. Here is our path: start - blue - clouds - puffiness - cotton - art - sustainability. How can Moya’s path inform us about starting projects or an easier way to initiate something this year?
Shaking things up.
We’ve talked about being stuck before during this series. What does Moya do to inspire her writing? Travel! Ok, we know we cannot all do that during the day of Covid BUT...when our brains associate one with another stimulus, it can result in the same reaction...right?!
If we can’t travel how do you shake things up?
She used bojagi art to stimulate memories from travel. Patchwork takes time but we can think of another art form or skill we discovered from travelling. Have you heard of habit stacking? We can work on it for 20 minutes a day and attach it to other 20 min activities like doing laundry, shopping things for dinner, etc taking advantage of this productivity hack. What a great way to get out of stuck to “start?”
Does Dreaming of Clouds mean your business will be successful?
Remember when Moya described what she loved about the sky and cloud formations? She seemed to be off in dreamland! So, of course I had to ask our online dream interpreter, “Aunty Flo” what she thought about clouds and dreams.
She says, a cloud symbolizes a range of interpretations - according to its texture and color. White clouds signify happiness, joy, equilibrium, setting clear goals and career contentment in your life. It's a sign of your self-conscience and can also signify something being attained in your waking life. White fluffy clouds represent a spirit of happiness that is an expression of joy.
I keep a dream journal so I need to go back and interpret my recent dreams. I will say though dreaming while you are asleep and awake have very similar interpretations. What do you remember about your last day-dream? Can your latest night -dream tell you more about your own transition into a new business idea or an easier ‘start’ for example?
Is an "Open Sky" like “the Blank Canvas Syndrome?”
I happen to love an open sky but that sense of big openness can feel uncomfortable at certain times. It can feel like the infamous “blank canvas syndrome.” This is a paralysis you face as a creative when you’re starting a new project. If you’ve ever found yourself staring hopelessly at a blank computer screen at a loss for where to begin then you know how debilitating blank canvas syndrome can be. But...can moya’s fluffy clouds be a cure?
Moya fills her sky with things she can look at, like fluffy clouds. Did you notice she didn’t say cirrus or stratus clouds...but buoyant puffy ones like cumulus. This makes me think, why Do We Love Fluffy, Puffy Things So Much anyway? We go goo-goo over fluffy kitten videos and love touching soft textures like cashmere, flannel, sheepskin on jackets or for me, organic cotton tees.
Fluffy things capture our attention, bring a smile to our faces and we will more than likely feel compelled to rush up and touch it. This is because it stimulates an area in our mid-brains known as the mesocorticolimbic system. This is the part of the brain that is associated with the processes of motivation and reward. Not only puffy things like clouds and cotton but soft things like babies’ cheeks and puppies have these traits. When we look at a sweet bouncing baby, our brains recognise the features that make us relate to our own young (as outlined by the baby schema).
This causes a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine (one that’s involved when we fall in love) and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. They flood our brains with feel-good chemicals. If you’re having a bad day, just do an internet search for a baby llama or simply go out and buy a cotton plant and you’ll feel better and be off creating your best work in no time!
[Although problem solving is necessary, it’s just not sufficient. If you’re just in a problem-solving mindset, your imagination is going to be shrunk. The interpretive possibilities of action will be smaller. You have to have a mindset that says yes to the possibility that something new and interesting and creative can emerge.]
Certainly, routine has its benefits—it keeps us on task, eliminates distractions, and gives rhythm to a hectic life. But take time to drop your routine and embrace the unfamiliar by trying new things; the mistakes along the way may just lead to your best work yet.
Now I'm curious what effect this had on the article Moya wrote after her class that day?!
Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, "non-linear" manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion.- Wikipedia
If I ask, ‘what do you think of, when I say the word, “Paris”'? You might say, love...art...fashion maybe? Since it’s February, let’s take the word ‘love’, for example. It’s an emotion, so how do you describe it? Perhaps in a linear way, you’d say, “it’s an emotion that causes you to hug someone”; or “an intense attraction or profound likeability.” Now in a divergent way, how would you describe it? Give it a go...
...or you would wait for our next artist to do it?
When I saw Estera Tajber, last summer, at her most recent performance, “Travel With Estera,” in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre south of Paris, she was inundated with fans with yellow tickets ready to travel with her - virtually, cerebrally on a voyage of the senses. Through performance art, prose and poetry she took us on a journey to explore emotions in all its crevices.
Where would our conversation go during our examination of the word “start”?
She sits with me at a circular table in the middle of her art studio. Single sheets of pastel colored paper hang out; two or three colored pens doing their own thing. Yellow tickets stacked on her desk, insignia from her last performance. It’s midday and the light is fresh, perfect to frame her sculptures suspended and oil paintings on walls. We are balancing the taste of bitterness and acidity in the coffee she’s made for me. I slowly change our discussion from our New Year intentions and people we have in common to my curiosities about the word "start."
“What does that word mean for you?” Estera uses up the silence. I could see the thoughts processing - translating a sort of divergent language.
“I visualize it. I see a runner in a position like this.” She positions her body like she's beginning a track race. “.....and tschhhhhhk!” She shoots out of imaginary blocks with the sound of the wind forced through her teeth. This is the first of many times during our chat she gets up to contort her body or position her hands in shapes to describe what she means. We converse in French but that’s not our native language. When I asked her to explain that sound she says, “un commencement... dans un moment très static.”
Even in French it’s a unique way to describe the sound...and of course, ultimately the word. I asked her if there were other words to describe it. She hesitated and then gave me a very defiant, “no”. "For me, it’s just that.”
I wished I could have scribbled something to take up the sound between pauses; just the phone continuing to record us. The studio echoey. I almost felt defeated in my search to understand this word better. I know this is an exploration, a process so I move on and asked her if she runs. She is wearing black textured yoga pants, Nikes and a blush oversize thermal long sleeve.
“I know it’s obvious - I see you are wearing running shoes.”
“No...no...these are old slippers!” They don’t work well so…
“I haven’t ran in a month but I usually do the canal. I love it. I need it.” Her studio is near the Canal de l'Ourcq. It’s non-touristy where the seine bends in and out from the center of Paris towards the east, revealing La Villette, a huge center for the arts.
“When I said ‘start’, I run, but I don’t do that…” She re-enters a deep runner's lunge and explains that she associates that position with ‘start’ because of television images that stayed in her head. “It doesn’t have anything to do with running actually - it’s a static position...like a sculpture that’s in movement - “immobile et mobile.” She slides into a motion again and freezes into a performance piece.
I have a hard time constructing what I mean sometimes because I live things through emotions. I don’t know how to... I appreciate art because it makes me live something. This statue allows me to live these emotions.”
I asked her how she came to appreciate art. “To express (things). I have something to say…I don’t know how else to say things.”
“How would you describe this statue to someone who is blind...In your way of expressing it?”
“Wow, they would have to touch it!” She tells me that one reason it speaks to her is because it’s a sort of fantasy. You could present them with something else fantastical to relate it to. It could be a piece of music. Perhaps it's a sequence of touch that would give them that same sensibility, allowing them dream the same emotion. “It's the emotion in the art. That’s the best way to describe it.”
I asked Estera how she would describe the color, then the sound of the statue. “White...marble….neutral...the color takes away the information; it becomes impersonal.” There is a translators challenge with words like “information” in French. It doesn’t mean, like in English, knowledge about a given topic, a letter or a document. Here it could mean details, noise, chaos, texture.
The sound? “It’s like water that...flows. Her arm floats forward like she’s paving the air. “You don’t need to understand it - just sense it. Plunge into it...it’s infinite.
With no sound, I feel protected in some way. It removes the sexual connotations - there is something more. There is an allurement in the wind…” She impersonates the wind. “I would add that the sound of the wind is….soothing...spacieux.
"...Actually it makes you dream. I asked myself a lot of questions about what makes me dream. It inspires me. It makes me travel. C’est ça le voyage.”
She says that that’s her reason for starting her most recent project, “Travel with Estera.”
I mentioned that this was the first time in a long while since I listened to and engaged in a critique of words, of emotions like a piece of art. “You know, finally I released the emotions that were unsettling. I thought to myself, 'why don't you work with it?' I have a laboratory of emotions you know? I track the emotions.”
She shows me an extremely neat horizontal grid on a large paper. It looks like a sort of seismograph with lines highs and lows and xes and annotations. “Day by day, I survey my emotions. I started when I was 'steady'. I started to understand that it was me who developed these emotions so I had to ask myself about them. I never did that before. It wasn’t that I would do it to ‘get better.’ I said to myself ‘this is a laboratoire of my life.’ I have to work on this - it's not by association I have them."
She said that the simply tracks the emotions, not what causes them, like an observational analysis. "I surveyed myself and tracked them for eight months to see what was going on. Sometimes we forget and wonder why we have certain emotions.” Over our conversation she expressed an internal need to stabilize the ‘tracking’ - like she is using her body like an experiment.
The Course - one of many interpretations
I left her place feeling like I had a dose of...something wonderful, warm and smiley. Like a went on a journey describing our original word. We took a course from ‘start’ to ‘running’ to ‘statue’ to ‘water’. As usual, the most surprising things that we associate with the word ‘start,’ come towards the end of the interviews.
Perhaps by deduction we can say that ‘start’ for Estera is an emotion best expressed like water: “You don’t need to understand it. Just sense it...plunge into it...it’s infinite.” Below I give you my impressions but I'm curious how you would interpret Estera’s “course?”
The original word 'start' is an anchor for what comes afterwards of course. In some interviews I notice we dive deeper, quicker than others, but slowly you can start to see a sort of a catalyst or spark that makes us to curious, wanting more. In this case it was the word "statue", leading us further into her world. The result feels like a natural guidance down the widing road to a clear interpreation of the artist's definition of the word start. Here, water (or you could say flow) was the identifier or key element we should take notice of. Please know that I am no psychologist, but this process of examining a single word, be it as a game, interview technique, way of deduction, seems to create a structure to an easier "start". It illuminates how an artist or designer really “sees” something...sees the start….sees emotion...sees….life.
At one moment during the interview I asked her if that sound of water, she referred to, was like a waterfall. She said that there is a shock as soon as the water hits something, "but actually the statue doesn’t represent that: it’s simply a flow. There is something behind it to be curious about."
We spoke a bit about flow, as well, in the Clare Thackway interview about her start and painting. I wonder what would happen if the next time we had a project or blank canvas to fill, would Estera’s emotional metaphors allow for an easier...flow?
"You don’t need to understand it. Just sense it...plunge into it...it’s infinite.”
What if I didn’t worry about the limitations of what I am doing or want to do? She said that “x” could be infinite right? (X being a o or whatever you "set X to equal). I could reaffirm to myself that my ideas, my resources are limitless. Maybe feel safer....more secure to launch into that adventure? What if I didn't worry about the mistakes or the right form and "just plunge in."
In writing they call that “pantsing” if you can believe it. It’s when you write something without abandon...fly from the seat of your pants knowing there are no limits to your ideas, your work. You could start with that frame of mind and move into “flow”, not trying to “understand” why or where you go or are at.
Perhaps emotions could also be a “trigger” to actually starting something wonderful. She described it as “static- like a stopped movie you see and your senses are wandering to the next sequence linking you to dream or your own projection.”
We could name that emotion and start from there. What emotion would you give to "start". Reenact, ingest, meditate on that emotion. Use it as a creative trigger for a project or simply a trigger to actually start the project.
The tracking of emotions was also quite intriguing. I suspect you could “track” feelings by journaling but the true gem here was how experimental and impersonal she made the objective of the tracker. She eliminated all the seemingly unnecessary “information” and tracked emotions on a graph. She treated emotions as things, un-associating them with herself. Could we do this with our own challenges in creating magic on "the blank page?" She actively tried to stabilize them daily and then moved on with life.
She wasn’t specific on how she measured each emotion but I suspect if you wanted to try this experiment, you could invent a way to quantify it.
What would happen if you regulated emotions like something impersonal, like a game of connect 4? Put more into one slot, reducing the amount of chips you put into another slot. Equalizing them on an amplificateur? You regulate how much love you want to put in when you see there is not enough in one area. Treating them impersonally like dots you have to line up?
This is why art exists right? To help you think differently about yourself and the world around you?
And now that you’ve had a minute to digest the interview with Estera, let me know if you have any more thoughts on how you’d describe the emotion of “love.”
Note: Four days after the interview, I found out the real name of the statue: Bernini's Rape of Proserpine. I really wasn't sure how to react, how I walked through a variety of emotions. Then I remembered, we were only described the "fragment of an embrace," which can be interpreted differently than the entirety of the piece. Maybe time to go and track my emotions.
This is a 'game' or experiment where the researcher presents a series of words to individual respondents. For each word, participants are instructed to respond with the first word (i.e., associate) that comes to mind. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud believed that such responses provided clues to people's personalities (free association). Cognitive psychologists, however, use this procedure to investigate how semantic information is stored in memory.
As you can see, I started with the word 'start', as I usually do and simply asked the community to write the first thing that came to mind, based on the response of the previous person. I checked the post several times during the day and yes, I also participated to keep the flow going. Eighteen minutes went by and no one responded. I thought the group hated the idea! Then...a deluge of responses! We went from 'start' to 'stop' to 'hammer-time' to 'run' and then after about 15 creatives taking turns, we were at 'teacup' and 'snoop'...'pee'!
But I argue that there should be another way to conduct and of course interpret this test. Why not base the test on physical properties? or anything else that comes to mind? Let's unfold the results as a creative process ...and in the most literal sense?! Perhaps it will overtly inform us about other parts of ourselves - our habits and in turn solutions to our everyday problems with 'start'.
Turn it Around
In exploring the concept, what else makes you feel like the energy of this famous song? Name it. What else brings you joy like that? Do it! Maybe it will help you (cough..I mean me) focus my decision making. Maybe the dance will act as a trigger. Like running, dance helps to clear your head, allow a point of concentration. Let's try simply playing 10 seconds as a work alarm/break alarm to focus our attention. Perhaps we will avoid waffling back and forth about starting a project, an idea, a task.
Does dancing stress you out? Turn it around and break it down. (That was not supposed to rhyme but it sounded pretty good for a move.) If you feel anxiety around it, it could be fear, worry, judgement and definitively vulnerability knocking at your door. Soooo....one way to get through it is to break it down into micro steps. If it's judgement, for example, while showing your work, maybe a micro-step is simply opening up the website you want to post to. Leave the rest for another day. Maybe the next day you prepare one photo to post. Maybe the following day you research simply one hashtag to associate it with. The next day, do one part of your profile. You get the idea - finally post it. It won't be that overwhelming the next time. Eventually it will be hours, not days that separate each micro task right? That's what I mean by micro-steps - you take on a challenge bit by bit for the start of your 'start.' Eventually you will get there!
What if we flipped or substituted the word 'start' with a word or phrase to make you laugh or smile like 'run' or 'Hammer Time? I could see it now. "Are you guys ready to get started on your 6 month goals?" (cue music) Let's "Hammer Time"! This energetic word encourages more positive feelings around the word "start" acts as a prompt to thrust us into a project, counter negative portrayals and perceptions of 'stop', its most common associated coupling.
What word prompt would you use? Communication agencies use focus groups to find the right "winning word" to provoke certain actions. I might begin replacing 'start' with something like Pika Pikachu. Don't worry if you don't know this fictional creature, its ok. It's....it's just me. But any one of these words (from the word association game) could be used instead of 'start'.
"Knight": Imagine yourself as one.
"Teacup": Have a cup of one.
"Guarded": Use the Flip it method to find another more suitable word to associate with 'start.'
"Rock on": Enough said!
Word usage with other posts in the series
Were there any similarities in word usage with the other artists I interviewed? Not one so far. As you can see from Divinia Fleury, ceramist or from painter Clare Thackway, for example, there is no overlap. They say that words evoke emotions, memories, and thoughts we often tend to ignore. Which words in the game led to memories or feelings for you?
What an interesting way to unravel the subconscious right? What did you get from this game, besides for the fact that it was fun and a bit of a silly way to past an afternoon during confinement?
What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of the word 'start'? What can you deduct from it about creating a better start (or restart) for your project this year?
“Wait, what?” What is surveying and how does a person who experiments with clay get intrigued around the building site quantifying things?
“At a construction build, I would go in and quantify and define what you need for the build...how much that would cost. It took me out of my comfortable zone, you know? I love a challenge. It was a peek behind the scenes of something different in the world. It took me on a journey of economics and things I’ve never touched on because I did my degree in the arts.
As I look back on my time with her, I begin to see why she took the course. She seems to be following in the footsteps of an artist she admires, Alberto Giacometti. He was a Swiss sculptor and painter, but also a draftsman and printmaker who made detailed technical plans for buildings and infrastructure.
Divina admits that one of her latest pieces didn’t turn out the way she hoped. She wanted to get reinspired by Giacometti’s style.
“I really like his exaggerated, elongated style but obviously you have to have balance with that. The piece I showed initially - a japanese style handle, a gazelle form… I liked it, but I wanted to push it further, more exaggerated, more slender, more long, more elegant. My brand is very feminine. What I really want to portray is a kind of embodiment of myself. I want it to be very very feminine. And that piece, before, felt more masculine so I wanted to change it, twink it…
I imagine Divinia explaining the form she wants, with her slender fingers like a composter in an orchestra. Although we’re on a phone today, we’ve had video call chats.
I generally begin all the interviews in the series, the same way but today I went off script a bit.
“When you think of the beginning of the year...when does the beginning actually start for you?”
She asked me if I knew Iyanla Vanzant, an American spiritual teacher. “I’ve been following her and occasionally I’ll tune in. She was giving her opinion about the whole presidential thing and mentioned that a new year actually is about letting go to the past. She said that actually the new year doesn’t start on the 1st of January but the 21st of December. So I didn't take on the traditions of what I’d normally do for New Year's, for example. For me, the 21st was the beginning, with the intention of letting everything go. Now I have a very personal connection to that date...a personal moment. Now I'm starting fresh. It was a very on purpose approach to the start of a New Year.
“Everyone’s start is so different...Divina, what does the word ‘start’ mean to you? It’s such a simple word right- maybe five letters. What comes to mind first?”
A word popped in my mind...“spark…” It feels like this glint of something new, like an engine starting, a spark…
A spark of newness…but a push... at the same time.”
“What images pop up?”
“Ummm...start...start... I think for me it would be, “new beginnings.” She’s thinking it through, almost like thumbing through her encyclopedia of memories.
“I’ve always looked at life as an adventure. At that point when you're starting a new adventure, you don’t really know where it's gonna go...where its gonna lead to. For me…start....is like a call to action. It’s like you're gonna go and get on with something. You don’t know where it’s gonna go.”
"Nice. When was the last time you stepped out of your house and you didn’t know where you were gonna to go...like physically?”
“Like literally, with no plan? No, I haven’t done that for a very long time, Tyese! Let me think…..oh, I don't think I ever do that! The thing is, is that, I always have something in mind. I am a planner like that - that’s my go-to-thing. But I will tell you what I do, do. If I'm going to a park, then once I get there, I then let my feet take me...like a mini-adventure. The reason I plan where I go is because I'm bad with directions. It scares me not knowing where I go because I get lost very easily. But if I'm in a space and it stays light...in an area I kind of know, I will allow myself. I won't be as controlling.”
“What does getting lost mean to you?”
She repeats that she has a very bad sense of direction and that but she loves to explore things with fresh eyes and comes across old ruins, maybe a castle in a nearby park. She loves hiking. I try to remember when I went hiking last.
I backtracked a bit. “You mentioned ‘spark.’ What popped up for you?”
“Start is associated with spark…excitement. It’s more of a feeling, an excitement, a newness.”
“Got it. What was the last thing you were excited about, like the very last thing?"
“This pottery I did - this cup actually." She adds in a tiny, “oh-I-love-it” and a girlish clap. “I love the way it came out. You know that other piece I mentioned, I was not happy about it-meh. But this piece definitely embodies what I was going for - where art means function. It's where I want to take my art next, progress it to the point of 'art in your hand', in a functional way. I still want it to be accessible, not like a million pounds and where you can use it everyday. I don't want it to be this precious thing you put up on a shelf.”
“What were the other last things you were excited about?”
“Ahhhh...ummmm…” Divinia is, as her name describes, graceful in mannerisms and wears swooping bangs up and to the left like an elegant wave.
She responds with a gittiness. “To be honest it was thinking about getting a pizza. It's the most amazing thing in the world - Da Moreno Pizza. It’s spicy...with ohh….basil and cheese, prosciutto ham...seasoning.
And I have to make a disclaimer,” she does a dramatic pause. “I'm a vegan for health reasons. I have food intolerances but I do allow myself...'treats' I call them! Hmmm and...sourdough bread...heavenly!”
I review my notes trying not get hungry. Along with the words: spark, glint and adventures, 'empowerment' and 'making choices' arose during our discussion. She explains that empowerment means to be authentic. It’s a strength...within yourself. If you're strong, you are being who you really are and you're making choices and decisions that best assist you in life.
“I see: making choices. What kind of choices?”
“The kind of choices that propel you forward in your own growth.”
I take a risk of sounding like Oprah and run with it. “Divina, what kind of choices propel you in your own growth?”
She mentions choices around productivity and listening to her body. “Before, I worked in the corporate world. My timeline, work, schedule, all that, I knew how my day would run. When I pivoted and decided to work from home, I had to find a way to be more productive in a way that suited me.” Now she belongs to various virtual co-working groups to help keep her on track - one of them is just for creatives.
“There are times when you can be lazy and love the relaxed life but your body helps you realize when you have to push yourself to the next step. I get fed up with myself and I ask what's next, Divinia!? Your body gives you little indicators to tell you what you need to achieve, get you going to the next level. I trust my inner voice and say i can do more - it propels me forward.”
I trust my inner voice and say i can do more - it propels me forward.”
When I decorated the last of these vases, I really embodied it. I was a bit hesitant because I really wanted to get it exactly where the other ones were…” She thinks through her creative process. “I was inspired by the Hawaiian artist, Toshiko Takaezu. She was so...so free the way she glazed her pieces. They didn't have to follow suit. I adopted that and just went for it. I didn't check how it was done before. I just asked myself, ‘how do I feel’? I call it Heart Song because it’s literally from the heart. It was one of the first times I allowed myself to delve into that artistic side of things. I would call myself a creative but not an artist. I think that's a whole new realm. This is me allowing myself to take up space as an artist and not apologize for that.
I would call myself a creative but not an artist. I think that's a whole new realm. This is me allowing myself to take up space as an artist and not apologize for that.
I was intrigued at some of the insights uncovered during our interview.
The word ‘start’ for her, meant adventure. Like all creatives, we start on this adventure of a new project, but get scared along the way and pull back. Slowly we re-enter those moments of freedom, authenticity, realization of self and our best work shines through. I wonder how we can have more of those encounters (or reminders) of zen Divina spoke of when she started brush painting.
Is it that the structure we’ve given ourselves is too strict? You know, the ridgid plan of attack. The “I have to do this, in this way.” "I have to follow this schedule during my day." And we don’t allow ourselves just to be? Or even in the case of the lockdown. When we’re scared or uncertain of what will become of a project, we shrink up and restrict ourselves too much?
Why don’t we allow ourselves to get lost, to feel the wonderment as well as the anxiety that comes with it?
Maybe we all should go ‘off plan’, just a bit, even if you’re a vegan (wink). Maybe listen to our bodies more to tell us what's too strict of a rule. Maybe listen when we need to step it up? Maybe listen to Helen Keller for example, when she says, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Maybe take more random, ‘I don't know where I'm going walks’, even for an hour. Maybe find an inspiration to reconnect with and try to adopt one of their principals you’d forgotten about? Maybe listen to Terry Pratchett for example: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
What ideas do you have to create more of those moments….for a better start...for a better adventure?
What is your off-plan?
Lately it’s been raining off and on in Paris and sometimes snowing. Today it’s overcast but I notice bits of white light find their way onto my path as I make my way to the 7th arrondissement. I pass Rue de Bac, the Eric Bompard cashmere store and a cafe/restaurant that hasn’t been open since last October called Les Antiquaires. Their deep brown and cream early 1900s decor reflects the name but somehow feels older, dustier than even the vintage bike parked out in front. I cross the street and step into the Le Pave D’Orsay gallery. The echoing of my boots on slats makes it feel vacant but the color palette in the paintings brings a warmth, an intimacy. Clare Thackey is waiting for me, snuggled to one side having coffee in a mustard cup. She harmonizes with the color palette of her latest paintings in a heather grey v neck, wearing a short strawberry bob with bangs, calm with eucalyptus green eyes.
"What do you mean by 'exhausting' Clare?"
“Hummm...like you’ve worked really hard…or maybe like your pushing something up a hill…”
It's like...not flowing. So I guess that idea of start...it’s the beginning of something. You’re about to push something up a hill. It’s not like you’re in the middle of flow. You’ve got all these things ahead of you. Which can be exciting. It can be new and…refreshing.”
“When you push something up a hill, what do you imagine that to be?”
“Ahhhh, you mean like a physical object? I think it’s more like a heavy body, an unfit....a heavy load that you need to build.” She’s imagining this heaviness as she stares up and to the right.
“I think also ‘start’ for me also means about a building of a fitness, you know?" She looks me in the eye. “As you go on with the project, you build that fitness and you end up in that flow state or whatever that is. I think a start isn’t that flow state. I think the start is setting the parameters, pushing that thing forward.
I guess I’m kinda thinking of it in terms of running. When you start running, your body aches. You feel all the muscles in your body. You might feel your bones, feel the clicks and what’s not working, then suddenly you warm up and you get in this flow state.”
“I guess I was thinking about that metaphor of ‘pushing a rock up a hill’. But then I think the reason why that's hard is because it's your own physical body, your own physical fitness. It's building that conditioning for yourself to then make that load easier. So whatever that is, the effort is your own limitations and your own body.”
"Clare, you mentioned that as you build fitness, it feels clunky. It sounds like, then, you’re saying that after a while you get the wheels turning, you finally hit a state of flow. What does ‘flow’ mean to you?”
“Hummmmm...flow….I’m thinking flow in terms of a psychological idea. It’s that state where you’re in extreme focus, but it's not effort-full. But it sort of feels as though you’re not looking at the clock. Eight hours could pass and you're in this sort of state of focus - you're not lost in it. It's almost like meditation. You’re completely lost in the process.
So it's like, you’ve gotten to this peak of this hill of this effort….and then you’re rolling down. Your gaining momentum...you're gaining speed. It's almost like you're riding a bike, riding down a hill...things feel like they're flowing.
Which isn't about-I don’t think that’s related to ‘start’. You get all these things together and then you know, you push and push and push and then you’re goooooing you know?”
I'm enjoying the enactment of her pushing something - maybe a cart with her daughter inside. “Why do you think you said that? Is that coming from a logical point of view?”
“No no...it’s coming from an experiential point of view. I don’t know about you, but like when I start creative processes, I ask myself what are the parameters?
“At what point do you do this?”
“At the start. That’s how, I then, approach a painting project. I go ok, 'what rules am I setting for myself?' Then if I come up with another idea as a tangent, sometimes I’ll implement it. It might not end up what you intended at the start. It's still a journey, things change as you go.” I say I'm gonna work with these people; limit to this to 5 elements; or this is the timeframe, the scale, the tools I'm gonna use. That’s the initial effort stage. And then on, it's a matter of executing. You might have influences, different voices, different things coming into it but those parameters are already set. So the flow state is when you’ve got all those things sorted out and then you’re off and running.
Thoughts After Our Chat
Clare talks about setting parameters and building a fitness for a good start. In some ways she reflects what TV writer Sam Callahan said about flow in artist 4 with their hill-peak-rolling analogies. You climb it like a roller coaster does a hill or in Clara’s case, pushing that 'rock up a hill'. The difference is if you interpretation of 'start' to be more of anticipation or labor.
Let's take it further. Is it the anticipation a rollercoaster might give; the challenge of pushing the rock; an invigorating finish; or structure you set with parameters that feels most appealing about a start? Which one is easier to reach for you?
I’d love to have the benefits of euphoria, or however you personally describe flow, before a hard climb. In fact, what would happen if we were to reverse it? What if we could say that in order to ‘start’, one would need to flow...first. That in order to get up that hill (representing start), we need to initiate flow.
For Clare, flow was all about meditation, a state of extreme focus, being loss in the process. What if one was to do things that felt like meditation, where one could get into that state. Different people have various meditative processes - some do yoga, others do breath meditation. During our chat, Clare mentioned she liked to run. Would that be one thing to help you get you to a point of flow?
My favorite author, at the moment, is Haruki Murakami. He’s written over 21 books and in 2015 was added to Time Magazine’s list of most influential figures. He runs 10K and participates in triathlons at 72 years old. Is that how he gets into a state of flow...how he “climbs”….to ‘start’? My beginning always involves playing! Corralling my ideas into a mood board with images, fabric swatches, poems, etc works to create silhouettes or color combinations I would have never thought of before. I also love dedicating 20 or 30 hours during a season to just drap various fabrics and shapes on the mannequin and take photos to get into that point of focus.
What do you think? What is your definition of flow? Of ‘start’? What’s symbolic as the climb for you and what would make it easier?
Check out Clare's pieces on her website. My favorite piece is called Longing Forward, 2020, oil on canvas, 65cm x 54cm. What are yours?
What was going on in 1946? Charles de Gaulle resigns as president of France and the first United Nations meeting was held. The British Housing Act also passed providing subsidies for over 800,000 local authority houses and a similar wave for housing construction swept the US and Canada that year as a part of the war effort.
How society translates words can make one quite curious. So it seems worth it to take a deep dive into this word, especially since it’s the beginning of a new year.
I spoke with Sam Callahan, New York Comedy TV writer, this time about the word “start”.
Have a look at our conversation that leads us through an artistic path of processes, images of triangles and ongoing talk of roller coasters. See if you can spot how we could, perhaps, get through the challenge of the “start”.
Sam has hair like my aunt - a fluff of unruly blond waves. In our writing co-working group she usually gathers it up in a single puff on top. Before our 45 min-write to 15 min-break routine goes underway, all 14 of us take turns explaining what we plan to work on for that session. Usually it's a revision of a play here, edit a novel there but Sam says she’s rescripting a comedy piece for a TV pilot. During what should have been 45 min of work, Sam and I bombarded the chat box with "oh-my-gods" and "I can't believe you are from the Bay Area toos" and the curious, "how did you become a TV writer?"
We've stayed in touch since last year and today I call her on Zoom to talk about Tarot cards and online dictionaries before diving into the interview. How did we get from there to nerding out on infinity notebooks and multi-planners?
I finally flip to a new page in my book to take some notes for our interview.
“Sam, when you see the word, start, what does it look like?”
"Hummm... " She blows out smoke while she takes a cigarette break on the porch.
“...crossing edges...” One of her cats floats across her screen.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Its a term my life coach uses. It’s like when you come up to an edge, you’re at a precipice or something. In a big way, I’m about to email my boss asking him if I can be on set….ok? It’s a new thing...a scary thing...I’m putting myself out there, out of the gate. So once I send the email, I then, ‘cross the edge.’
“...it’s like a triangle...” She must she my brows knitted and explains more.
The imagery in my head is a triangle. So whatever the action is, that’s the triangle...and the edge crossing it, that’s the scary bit. You approach the edge, then it’s all downhill.
“So if it’s a triangle, which edge are you crossing?”
“The top. The peak….you’re like falling over the peak. Her voice heightens, “Like in a roller coaster. You go up and up and up and up….then you go….wooooooooooooo...scholk!”
I’m trying not to laugh but I love that she is reliving the feeling of falling from that peak. Her sound effects are complete with the roller coaster braking sound, “scholk”, at the end to let out passengers.
“Do you like roller coasters Sam?”
"In actuality, I do actually really like roller coasters...I really like roller coasters."
“What was your first-est ... best-est roller coaster ride....like the thing?” I'm looking at my notes, did I really say...first-est and best-est? Oh god.
“My first one was Medusa, the highest, at Six Flags New Jersey but the best one was the Batman and the Superman. The Superman one you get strapped in standing up and they turn you over on your belly...there's nothing underneath you...it's like you're flying” (before you start the ride). I’m thinking Sam likes to scare herself...or fly, or both.
“The best experience one though, was when I was at a cheer competition and California Adventure opened the park after hours for all the cheerleaders so there was a lot of...peer pressure." She pauses. She said there was one ride that starts on the ground, count-down and goes from 0-60 mph in like a millisecond. I don't remember the name but it was "the" ride. It shot you into nowhere..." She laughs and adds, "...but left your stomach behind."
“The entire time I was in line, I was like “no no nope, I’m not gonna do this, absolutely not. What am I doing. Why am I in line?"
“Wait...but why?” I was curious why she was still in line. Sam comes back into the house and scoops up her black cat.
“Because it’s terrifying...terrifying. I get so scared. But I like it. And then I get on it and have so much fun. And I get in line again and I think, ‘nope, nope, nope.’ And go through the same thing again.”
I look up, reflecting on my upcoming creative projects. I wonder if I could use a sort of adrenaline shot like that to help myself up that ridge of the “start.” I suspect I could take on challenges that actually create that rush...I guess...for the possibility of achieving a goal...
She continues in a stop start motion, almost like the ride she’s describing. “If I can-I always try to get into the front row-cause there’s something amazing-cause it’s that crossing edge feeling-except thrilling-feeling." Now slower she inclines back on her couch, “Sooo you’ve got the fear...and then you are coming up to the edge...
Ee-rr-ee--rr--ee--rr”...like literally (climbing) up to the literal edge (like the coaster on the hill)-and then as you start to tip over, cause the rest of the car’s going in-there’s a second...you hang there before it falls. Her voice trails off. There's only the sound of me scribbling in my notebook left.
I look back up and she jets, “...And you don’t usually feel it as much when you’re in the back. When you’re in the front, you’re dangling over and you can see the slope...of the tracks going down....and you’re like...oh my god...ohmygodohmygod-ahhhhhhhhhhhh…. She plays back the sound of the drop.
"...And that feeling - that’s my favorite part ever.”
I wonder if I could use a sort of adrenaline rush like that to help myself up that ridge of the “start.”
In the beginning of our call, Sam related the word “start” to "an edge”. When we got to the image of "a triangle" she made it seem like the work came in climbing to the top of that triangle ...that process of getting so close to that edge. Then we just simply "drop over and the rest is easy". I am constantly amazed how these examinations always start with the same question, then take us in different directions.
Now I'm curious. I make a big asterisk and note to brainstorm challenges or ways to get that roller coaster adeline rush that could perhaps get me up to that ‘edge’. Why not take it as a literal prescription for achieving goals?
Maybe watch these roller coaster videos for an adrenaline rush every morning...or do a version of the ice bucket challenge! I'm sure Richard Branson or Elon musk must do something like a plane dive as their "climb" to the edge.
But I must say, it's my goal for you, the reader, to make your own conclusions during this series, to see about how this simple examination could inspire you and your creative business.
Here were other interesting things I got out of my conversation with Sam about my own process of goal setting.
Start means getting to the edge: the tippi-est tip of that triangle example she used. Then the rest is easy. They say, the more you stick your feet in, the more that cold water becomes temperate, the more tempered becomes warm. The first time I read the beginnings of my memoir out loud in front of others, for example, I felt there was like an iron printing press in my chest working overtime. I was panicked! I'm hoping it will get easier. Someone advised me once to set a rule of 5. Repeat the smallest, most minute part of a task from your project five times - to not worry about the result of actual project. I set a small challenge of reading aloud five paragraphs, five different times in my writing group. I’m on the second time. I even panicked more than the first! I’m waiting for the third time next week. I can’t wait until it gets easier. I close my eyes and….start just by finding the part I want to read on my document. Then repeat.
Maybe I'll try getting to the edge with Facebook too. Posting on social media isn’t easy right? It’s like putting yourself out there. Maybe I can take the most minute part of that task and do it 5 times like with my reading. Maybe that means I take (or edit) one image each day for 5 days and save it in a folder for future business banners. That's it. Maybe I revise one part of my profile everyday for 5 days. I am just sticking my feet in, feeling the temperature, climbing to the edge. One day when I feel up to posting just one image, It’ll be ready. Then I'll repeat it for five days. If five is too much, I'll try 3!
The more small challenges I do, the more I know I will meet my 2021 goals. Write now I’m doing a "wake up everyday at 5am, 6 days a week" challenge. Sigh….2 days done, 4 to go. I also created a crazy 21 day blog challenge! I’ve never written so many posts in a week before!
What small challenges or measured changes in your everyday routine is on your list to achieve this year?
*start (v.): https://www.etymonline.com/word/start
By the way, you know Google of course has everything, even a video of the Incredicoaster from California Adventurer Theme Park Sam talks about. I found a point of view shot from the front row!
Click here to see. Talk about an adrenaline rush for the morning! Nineteen sec in, at the depart, I’m excited. At minute 1:50 I’m yelling in my apartment at 8am, reliving the ‘ohmygodohmygod-ahhhhhhhhhhhh’ moment from Sam’s story. What a way to go from zero.... to ‘start'?
You can connect with Sam and hear more stories on twitter, on her Patreon page or on a TV set in New York.
Everyone has their own interpretation of the word “start” and I can’t wait to see how designers and artists, from San Francisco to Paris, examine it.
To recap, my first interview was with Paula Pfotenhauer, designer and patternmaker out of Oakland, CA. Her examination of the word came out artist-fully abstract, yet it surprisingly helped me make concrete changes to my daily routine and have an understanding of “the how” of getting my writing done. Who knew that interpretation would have had those kinds of results? What's around the next corner?
Today I have the opportunity to have a dialogue with online retailer turned digital marketer, Miracle Wanzo of Vallejo, CA. I wanted to interview her because when we met back in 2002, she was juggling family, retailing and also in the midst of making lingerie for her site Hip Undies. She gave such valuable insight about her process then, I was curious about how she might be able to help us “see”.
As I reflect on my interviews so far, I notice one person manipulates scraps of fabric into a product, the other uses bits of code to development a product. One uses charted analysis to attract customers; the other, drapes jacquard jersey. Each has their own way of converting a customer.
With over 25 years of experience, Miracle shares openly. After her lingerie e-store was firmly established, Miracle started producing her own pieces for the store. Dealing with sizing issues and fabric frustrations, she decided to solely focus on how to best market the store and convert shoppers.
“Miracle, you’ve dabbled in apparel manufacturing, been featured on podcasts about creating fashion brands, presented as a panelist talking about smart traffic and spotlighted on the blog, My Wife Quit Her Job, explaining how people can run profitable facebook ads to sell physical products online. What should we say your title is?”
“Yeah, that’s true. I do a lot of things.” I hear the clicking of the keys on her keyword. It’s 11pm in California. “I’m actually a product developer.”
Interesting choice of two words forming her specialty. I met Miracle after I returned to the Bay Area, in 2003, from teaching in France. I didn’t have a clear direction of what I wanted to do. I only knew I wanted to create products and develop them in a way they would make me money. I admitted that to a friend and she suggested I speak to her.
“What does the word 'start' mean to you as a product developer?”
Miracle gives me three words,“to-take-action." Starting (an apparel line) now is different than when we took that ‘how to make a handbag’ class (after you returned from France). It used to mean making patterns and going to market*. The focus was all about finding sewing contractors and connecting with factories. The barriers to entry were a lot lower. Now, suppliers are easier to find.” I know she could go on forever. She used to write for Fashion Business Incubator.
“Yep, (starting) is different these days with the onset of digital patternmaking and even more so with cut and sew sublimation. You’ll be 80% ready (to produce your own collection) with just a couple of modifications of your patterns.”
I enjoy talking 'shop' with Miracle. What she means is that after you figure out your design and the print you might want to create, garment panels are cut and printed before they are sewn together. "There were a lot of other steps to this process in the past. You’d have to find a wide format printer and a rolling heat press among other things, even before elements of the garment were put together. Now you just have to choose the right company and you will be production ready in no time. The minimums are lower and (that makes everyone happy).”
Miracle was getting down to the nitty gritty of fashion. I almost forget to stay on topic. I come back around to one of the three words she used above to describe 'start.'
“Tell me more about that word “action.”
“ummmm…” She has a soft voice, her umms and ohhhh are sing-songy and she fits a lot into a sentence so I have to listen carefully.
“Sorry...what was that...executive?”
“...taking stuff from your head to reality."
“If you are starting with a product, or at least have a general idea of it, then you take the idea (from your head) to a supplier - try sourcing it directly from them. If it's aesthetically close to yours, you can ask quick questions about it's production time, pricing, etc. Then you use those details to complete or make the final touches to your own design.”
I see what Miracle is talking about. She suggests that you could stumble into a profitable design without the problems of well...designing. Take the pricing of the fabric and production costs they have already packaged for someone else and back into the margins or a starting point to negotiate landing cost with another factory, for example. This is very interesting and reminds me I'm talking to a product developer. It’s interesting how our path of analyzing the word start turned into ‘action’, then ‘executive’, and into creating profitable designs.
Miracle fills me in on some recent work with designers she’s been doing through her agency called Discover Marketing.
“It’s hard to market for them when they are caught up in their brand vision.”
“Most designers concentrate on their fashion brand - it's personal - it’s about their voice - their concept. That’s fine but they forget that brands are driven by the market. We need to talk about methodology, I don't care what the product is.” I write in my notes, “brand vision vs fashion brand."
“Miracle, if you could market brands or create products for designers, which one would you do?”
“Oh that’s a good question. If the brand needs a lot of help with marketing, yes, I might. If I don’t need to fiddle with (the product) a lot...if it's a fun project...cool product...no drama...no egos….their good at their craft….” She trails off into her ideal client and I hear more keystrokes, like that was her finishing thought.
I can’t wait to dive in deeper with her and continue our chat. This is part one of my conversation. She’ll talk more about Instashop Vs Amazon Vs Your own e-Shop in our second interview later in the series.
*Going to Market: seasonal industry trade shows and meetings bringing retailers customers and designers, buyers.
Before we start the 21 day blog series examining this word called "start" and how it may apply to our design and creative businesses, I wanted to share an experience I had with a mentee recently.
We started our conversation with "what's my first step in creating my collection." We wrapped ourselves in product questions like where she should look for fabric, how the margins should be factored in to the final price, what questions she should ask the first time meeting a new pattern maker and more. Something had been tugging at me during our chat and finally towards the end of our session, I asked her if she was interested in being the head of her own company.
I think I may have stunned her a bit. Silence I waited, curious about the answer. She stammered a bit and let out, "well, i guess..."
I probably should have given her my little workbook to work out answers of key questions, before we started our session but often we start...not knowing where to start.
Below I offer you eight key questions to consider before you start diving into the "how" and "what" of your idea. And of course if you'd like some further explanation about each of them, do me a favor and click here to request the small workbook I put together to help you through the thinking behind these questions. I also offer alternatives avenues to head toward, based on your answers. It takes the form of sort of a roadmap of reflection. I often hear consultants tell designers one or two of these at various seminars but I put together a full list based on my own experience. They are pretty important and top among the list of "most know things to reflect on" before you start any creative business, especially a design business.
Questions to ask yourself, as an independent designer, before you start:
Paula Pfotenhauer is owner of Jeja Design Studios in Oakland, California. She's spend a large part of her 30 years of design and patternmaking experience overseas in quality control and sourcing and comes from a line of artists. Paula is the perfect person to begin our How to See series.
It's 10:23pm and the phone's on its fifth ring, I think I might need to call back.
What will Paula say when I ask her to do a deep dive on the simple word, "start"? She knows how creative and...unusual I can be so maybe she won't look at me sideways and just plunge in with me.
"Hi! It's been a while Paula!" We do the hows the family and covid and business and lockdown and go down the path of french nostalgia and design and writing and I tell her I need her designer brain. Paula knows the industry in and out - working in Asia, understanding how factories work, patternmaking for designers helping them create their collection, producing her own line, painting, drawing and making pieces from recycled materials, always practicing zero waste.
When I explain the concept of the 21 day blog series on "how to see" the word "start", paper shifts into the phone. I imagine she's looking up somewhere to a corner of her studio, in reflection. Maybe she's sitting on the stool in her studio, right in the middle of two sewing workstations and a huge 5ft cutting table. She's one of my mentors, I've been there more times I can count.
What does the word “start” mean to you?
“...it’s that type of effect that gets you to make a decision. If it feels like a pulling...(like you are being drawn to start), you are lucky. If it's a pushing effect, it's drive. She explains, you are driven to be successful, (maybe) to prove someone wrong. You are successful but not joyfully.”
"Hummm, it's like you just have to do it. (Doing ‘it’) takes focus, it’s pure action...without thinking of anything else. It’s a thoughtless thing.”
I begin thinking of thoughtless things - yoga, meditation, making something. I wonder if she meant that one must be so focused you don't think of anything else. She continued, “you have to suspend everything else. There is a shift that occurs when you step into it.”
"What else does it mean to you?" I pressed on.
“Giving up a freedom…” Is that why some people don’t 'start' - because it’s like they are giving up a freedom? I wondered to myself.
“A battle with authority”, she jets out, startling me. Thank goodness she can’t see my mouth gaped open, astonished at such an unusual response. "What do you mean?"
Dad said, “we rebel against our own inward (or internal) authority...that the only real authority is the one that resides within us. Everything else is a choice.”
Can you tell me what else the word authority means to you?
Obey...oppression...indentured...slave...obligation...something “over me”...authority...Dad taught me to question authority.
"Questioning authority?" I asked.
She sighed a reflective tone, "like, who is your authority?” “Who do you listen to?”
I was so curious this came up, I responded in turn with the question, “umm, how do you find out who that is...or what that is?”
“Well...how do you?” I’m done...now it’s your turn (to answer), she handed over.
Giving it a good “humph” with a lot of air, my eyes roll up the ceiling, then over to my ficus looking for the answer, a little frustrated now that I'm in the cat birds seat. Pensively, “I think... authority is someone you admire. Someone who can tell you what to do and who you don’t get mad at. It’s who you give power over you... in certain ways.”
I reflected more, “I admire certain jazz composers in their complex layering of sounds. Let’s see...I like authors like (Haruki) Murakami. I guess that’s why I aim to get up at 5am- because he said so! I mean it’s not like he called me up and told me if I want to get this book finished, to do it. But I saw a clip with him explaining his own process of writing: awake at 4am, write for 5-6 hours listening to jazz, run a 10k, eat, read, repeat. Something about him explaining his routine resonated with me but I gotta tell you it wasn’t the 4am bit nor the 10k! It’s not like other artists haven’t given “how to be a productive artist” advice like that. Youtube shows tons of people ready to tell you how to write better or be more productive, but you have to “see” the vision they are offering. I “see” Murakami’s. He shows me a way I can create in the quiet of the night at 5am.
I see how he plays within and around the boundaries of rules and freedom, in how he communicates. His writing takes place in very real settings, in present time, with very real problems characters experience. Then he weaves in mystical ways of sharing advice or philosophy, not shoving down the reader’s throat. I see his vision for the reader, his creativity displayed. He’s accessible, trustworthy. So yes, I guess I gave him authority over me.
After I hung up, I thought more about what Paula mentioned about freedom and authority. I never thought that if I had rules, I could have freedom...and if I had rules, I could “create.” I always wanted the time, space and money to express as I wished. While I was in design school, I couldn’t wait to graduate and “start!” Now, I fully appreciate those moments - creating in a protected, secure environment without time deadlines nor monetary goals.
As I look back, I see why some designers design a collection but choose to “never start” manufacturing. Perhaps for some, it’s good enough just to create and don’t have other expectations from the career of fashion. Maybe they take a job doing something else after. They want to simply, realize themselves, see their work manifest from a vision to reality and that is enough.