1. a commercial business.
2. the fact or condition of being with another or others, especially in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment.
I love the juxtaposition of these two meanings of the word “company.” To me, each definition has a very different tone. The first – “a commercial business”– is curt and matter-of-fact; it makes me think of a machine. The second is decidedly warmer, more intimate, communal. Of course, a great company is both of these things: a highly functional, commercially successful enterprise and a community of people – employees, customers, stakeholders – bound by a shared mission, vision, and values.
I am always drawn to juxtaposition; I love the challenge of engaging seemingly disparate concepts. I think about clothing in the same way; clothing is all about identity, and identity is about two opposing concerns: individuality and belonging. We want to feel different and unique, but also long to feel that we are bound to a group or category. Clothing serves these dual functions – it allows us to express our individuality by how we style ourselves, and also places us in a certain context. Others can understand something about us by observing what we wear, and in this way we attract the company of like-minded people. In choosing what to wear, we are simultaneously concerned with being appropriate (fitting in) and unique (standing out).
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity as I work to define my business and, more specifically, to come up with a name for it. I have named several businesses in my career as a brand strategist. It is never an easy process, but somehow it is much harder when it is your company. I have lost that outsider perspective, the easy detachment of a consultant. At the branding agency, the naming process included an element of play – we riffed off of each other, made jokes, said ridiculous things to spark new avenues of inquiry.
The cabin where I stayed last weekend.
I spent this last long weekend at a cabin on a lake in rural western Maine, close to where I grew up, in the company of dear friends. Vacation always makes me think about what is necessary and important, especially when it comes to my wardrobe. I always want to pack my favorite and most appropriate items for a trip. I want favorites because I know I will be happy wearing them; they will make me feel at home while I am away. I want pieces that are appropriate for specific activities – one shouldn’t be without a swimsuit on a lake, for instance – but I also want clothes suitable to the specific feeling or atmosphere of the trip. Packing for a weekend in Maine with people I’ve known my whole life, I didn’t want to bring anything superfluous. This weekend was pure, simple, and full of small pleasures. I wanted to wear things that were similarly cozy, easy, and familiar.
Reading Still Life with Oysters and Lemon
I read a short but cerebral book while in Maine, Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters and Lemon. The title refers to a 17th century painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem, which Doty uses as a vehicle to explore our attachment to ordinary things. I love books like this that meander between storytelling and philosophy, and I was especially delighted to read Doty’s thoughts on identity:
Intimacy, says the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, is the highest value.
I resist this statement at first. What about artistic achievement, or moral courage, or heroism, or altruistic acts, or work in the cause of social change? What about wealth or accomplishment? And yet something about it rings true, finally – that what we want is to be brought into relation, to be inside, within. Perhaps it’s true that nothing matters more to us than that.
But then why resist intimacy, why seem to flee it? A powerful countercurrent pulls against our drive toward connection; we also desire individualization, separateness, freedom. On one side of the balance is the need for home, for the deep solid roots of place and belonging; on the other is the desire for travel and motion, for the single separate spark of the self freely moving forward, out into time, into the great absorbing stream of the world.
A fierce internal debate, between staying moored and drifting away, between holding on and letting go. Perhaps wisdom lies in our ability to negotiate between these two poles. Necessary to us, both of them–but how to live in connection without feeling suffocated, compromised, erased? We long to connect; we fear that if we do, our freedom and individuality will disappear.
Our clothes are some of our most intimate objects; they touch our skin, envelop us, warm us, protect us. They help us to express our individuality and to feel part of a meaningful community. With the right attire, we can feel free and grounded at the same time.
“I am rooted, but I flow.”
– Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Maine oysters (with lemons).
Thank you for reading, and please subscribe to accompany me on my journey to start a company. There is so much more to come.