Thursday, February 9, 2012

40:365 Project Bags and Intentions

Today I changed it up a bit and sewed some simple project bags for our Stitches West booth. I used fabric from the shop. I am hoping to post a tutorial to the shop's website in the near future. It could make a great first sewing project. Who doesn't need a little storage bag? Especially if you're a knitter! I even have a thought to make a project bag kit: pattern, fabric though this might take a bit more concentration than I currently have. We'll see. If anything, it could become reality as a shop project instead of a Stitches West project. In the meantime, it is my intention to sew 40 of these for Stitches West.

Speaking of intentions, I'd like to address the content of my blog which may have come as quite a shock to some of you. This year, 2012, I am using my blog to write about my experience as a small business, crafting, retail shop owner which includes running a small manufacturing unit in Oakland, California. My intention of writing this blog is to educate people as to some of the hurdles - and joys - of doing my job. My intention is to also have a body of work upon which I will look back and analyze.

Business is a live and real way to map and mirror sociologically and culturally where we are as a society. I've always had a strong draw towards business. As a child, every Minnesotan winter, as we spent the majority of it indoors, I would create a different shop in my basement. Growing up in suburbia, I rallied for locally owned business as I watched the creation and financial support of big box stores. I was (and still am) aghast with the mortgage crisis and the way our government handled the banks. Could this have been prevented or alleviated by more people living within their means? Would it have helped if people consumed less? Or detached their self worth from the amount in terms of items that they can purchase? Or found more value in process, so desired members of the community to engage in small business and manufacturing. Who really knows, though I would like to think a shift in the above ideals could and would provide more happiness for people.

Last year, as the Occupy Movement gained momentum, I became very interested. If anything, the Occupy Movement fanned a smoldering flame within me and my relationship to people, to business, and to the act of creating with textiles; sewing, knitting, spinning, weaving, and dyeing. I was and am surrounded by people who want a change. I feel very strongly that this change will occur only when people begin to shop locally and to invest further into their community. I feel especially strong about the act of making your own clothing or other objects used on a daily basis, hats, bags, etc. I know that in the end, not everyone can do these things, but at the very least, I would like people to understand the process so that they have a closeness with the people abroad who are making such objects. And to understand the amount of labor that goes into making something as seemingly simple as a hat or a bag. I think that when people get a sense of the process, that perhaps they might consume less, or be more questioning as to how such items can be offered at such a low price by corporations, and might find more value in purchasing products, such as the ones we sell, which typically have some portion of it, if not all of it, handmade and which include a higher price point due to this fact. My hope would be that people would assign more value to the materials, the process, and the object. Better yet, if the person was able to create a hat or bag, that they would have gained a skill, would feel accomplished, happy, and confident.

It is the above statement which has been a driving force behind me creating a retail shop. That and wanting to support vendors and farmers who are making very special products. It's almost like a meet and greet. Hi very awesome customer, please meet this person who is not here exactly, but their product is, and it reflects who they are in many ways, and I would like to see them continue to create this product, and to support the fact that it is a US made product, would you like to add to the process by making something awesome out of it?

Ok, so not everything in the store can be categorized under US made - and that doesn't make it bad (Habu, Fibre Co) - I hope you get my point.

So as I am watching the Occupy Movement unfold, and as many of you might remember, in Oakland it was a hot, steamy event to say the least, I began to put words to my thoughts and my ideas. And one of these thoughts was to complete the exercise of writing daily on my blog about my life as a business owner. There's also the fact that last year, Year 1 of owning my retail storefront, was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than living and researching in India, which was extremely challenging. I channeled so much stress that in some ways I am not surprised what so ever that I am experiencing allergies. I had so many doubts and so many questions regarding whether or not this thing that I've invested my entire family in will work.

Brace yourself for a slew of rhetorical questions.

List of mind meddling questions: Will this work? Does it matter that it works? It matters that you fulfilled your dream by opening the shop and dye studio. Will I run into debt and jeopordize my family's credit score? What if we have to move and landlords look at our credit score and my weird wishy washy self employment payment history and won't rent to us? If I closed the dye studio, would that make my life easier? If I took out the fabric would that make my life easier? This employee needs this or that.  Oh a 2 star Yelp review! Awesome! How many days have we been working? We need to take days off. Well, we also wanted a large space to house many people for events and classes, so we're in a rough neighborhood, which means we need 2 staff people at all times, how with our budget can we accomplish this? What if everyone thinks we are snotty because of the higher price point, which would completely defeat the purpose of what we're after? Did we buy the right colors? On and on it goes. I wish I could say I was alone in this - though when meeting other business owners they are swimming through the same worries and concerns.

Something that keeps me engaged is the puzzle of running a business presents -  so many combinations and possibilities - add timing - and luck - and you might just have a successful business. Though even with the most proper planning, each business could fail for a myriad of reasons. (There is always the argument of what constitutes failure or success. Let's save that for another time, shall we?).  I wish there was a right combination. A single goal I could work towards ensuring our success as a financially stable business with happy employees and happy customers. 

Using my blog to write about my business is very tricky. I've had many moments of hesitation. I am sure I will have many more. I am intimately linked to my business. I am physically present at least 5 days of the week. There's been the question of writing under a pseudonym to protect my business. We've discussed content that is ok to discuss v. unacceptable content. How frank can I be on my blog? Where are we as a society when it comes to talking openly about business? Is there a way I can speak directly, with examples, in a respectful way? Do people value a business owner's perspective? Is engaging a waste of time and ever precious life force which could be used creating?

Honestly, I am not interested in vagueness. That doesn't mean I will engage in a live all-tell all though I am interested in acknowledging the ups and downs of running a business. That it isn't always peachy keen for a host of reasons; distribution issues, quality issues, customer expectations.

This week, I've seriously considered shutting the blog down. I am already stressed. Is this going to kill my business? Can I have yet another venue in which I am critiqued? In other words, am I just setting myself up for critique? Am I living up to my intentions? Have I even explained the intentions of my blog this year? Am I willing to run a business that is not honest and direct? Is it possible to stay open to others, compassionate, creative, and face critique, and continue to move through it while running a retail shop? I think I've done an ok job at this though am hoping that through this exercise this year, and through the support of my community, I will find solace.

This is what I know. I am human. I screw up. I have opinions and ideas. Sometimes, I speak too harshly. For that I apologize to anyone who may be offended by my posts. I hope and try to speak clearly, respectfully, and truthfully about my experience - though I also acknowledge that you may not agree - and for that I will not hold a grudge against you, as long as you speak to me with respect and with your truth. I hope that you will gain a sense of what it's like to have a small crafting business and that you may gain insight to your role, and your power, within our country's financial health.

I know for me, so far, the blog has given me a great sense of gratitude. As I post photos, and look back over the past 6 weeks, I can not believe the amazing people who are surrounding me and feel very lucky.

In my right mind, I would acknowledge my worries and fears and place them in a box. That at the end of the day, as important it is to have balance sheets, inventory counts, and creativity, it is as important to just accept. So my mind is chattering, ok that is what it's doing. So my mind is quiet, that's what it's doing. To watch instead of try to control. Stress and pressure has broken my ability to do this on a continuous basis. I think business owners need help. And if you support small business, and value it's existence, and they have been kind to you, I ask you to extend your compassion.


Techmuse said...

I hope you don't decide to close this blog down--I love reading it--and I love your reflections on the challenges of being a small business. Part of each person's life is the need to reflect. It takes courage to reflect openly and we will be here to support you--whether we agree with your opinions and ideas or not. It does take a "hard skin" to post your ideas these days--but I think it's part of being an active citizen in these days of internet democracy.
On another note--I've posted some directions for project bags on my web site--if you think about making kits--and would like to use my directions--let's chat.

Fiona said...

I love reading your posts and hope that you will be able to continue to write.

Anonymous said...

I would hate if if you stopped blogging now just when you've started to "dig deeper" and have shared some really meaningful ideas and challenges.

You've brought up a lot of interesting points and I think that there is no right answer on what is appropriate to post. Tell the truth.

The "colored" Museum said...

Dear Kristin thank you for your honesty and willingness to share your journey with us all. You do not have a thankless role. What AVFKW offers is a creative and nurturing space not only for that community but also for the customers, the guest artists, your employees and the vendors you support by carrying their products. The blog is a daily testament of life, period. It's an opportunity for supporters, customers and friends of AVFKW to have a peak "behind the curtain" and it's an opportunity for your to not only express your thoughts and concerns but also your gratitude. It's your public journey. Owning a business is both at the same time challenging and rewarding just depends which you choose to focus on. So thank you for the gift you bring through AVFKW and know that we do have compassion and appreciation. AND IGNORE THE HATERS!

IndianaArtGirl said...

I love your blog. I think you're great. I live in Indiana and will probably never be able to get to your store but I say - press on! I faithfully support locally owned shops here and have the stash to prove it) and they have the same issues, same hopes, same dreams, and probably the same challenges. Hang tough and don't forget to blog about the joys sometimes too!

cauchy09 said...

Please don't stop writing, K! Your honesty and openness are refreshing and provide a glimpse of the reality behind the retail stage-curtain. You are doing a service here for your customers and for budding shop-owners who have no idea what to expect.

Keep on keeping on!

Larkin said...

Been catching up, reading backwards tonight - thank you for these posts about your business. It is incredibly eye-opening, and interesting. I appreciate your sharing and your candor, and I definitely appreciate what YOU do on a daily basis, and what your business means to you, your family, your employees, the rest of your community. Thank you.