Welcome to my blog, a living chronicle of my entrepreneurial journey to start a clothing company in Brooklyn, New York. So, why am I starting a company? What kind of clothing? And why am I sharing this process with you?
I have asked myself these questions many times, in both encouraging and disparaging ways. On paper, I’m ready. I’ve checked all of the boxes, done all of the things I could possibly do to prepare myself. I have studied all of the aspects of running a clothing business at some of the best schools in the world. I have worked my whole life for this. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.
On the other hand, who am I to do this? I’m not famous, I’ve never done it before, and furthermore, why would I want to? The fashion industry is a brutal business – it’s crowded, it’s opaque, it’s full of risk. Many awesome companies, companies that I admire, have failed. My business school training would lead me to a different industry, one with more “white space” and less risk. My design school training would have me creating blindly, guided only by my artistic vision. I’m trying to strike a balance between the two: create a company with a strong business foundation that makes well-designed products that people want.
I’ve decided that the only way to move forward is by focusing on the process. I think now more than ever people want to see what’s happening behind the scenes; we want full transparency. This is especially true in the fashion industry, which has historically been so exclusive and secretive. This is why I want to share my process with you. I have seen several examples in the last week of transparency and vulnerability that have emboldened me to do just that.
The first is the podcast Startup. If you’re not familiar, it follows all the ups and downs of starting a business, including all the embarrassment and failure along the way. I have been obsessively listening to it over the last week. What I love about it is the frankness and honesty with which it treats the messy process of starting a business. In my own business I have to be comfortable with being really bad at it for a while. Sucking is a crucial aspect of the creative process. You have to make really bad decisions and then make them better, over and over again. Startup documents this process in a way that is exciting and interesting.
Detail of Altar in a Baroque Church, by Adolph Menzel, 1880-1890, oil and blue pencil on oak. Photograph by Althea Simons.
Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible is the current exhibit at the new Met Breuer museum, and to me it proves that there is beauty in the process. I had wanted to go since I read about it in The New Yorker, and I finally visited last week. It was an unusual exhibit, tackling ideas of process, intent, death, participation, audience, and revelation with works spanning seven centuries. It’s a provocative idea, that art “becoming” can be even more beautiful than the finished product. It is introduced at the very beginning of the exhibit with a quote written in the years A.D. 77-79:
Photograph inside the installation Arrow of Time (Unfinished Life), created by Tatsuo Miyajima for the exhibition "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible" at the Met Breuer, digital LED counters hanging from the ceiling of the gallery. Photograph by Althea Simons.
While Pliny here is talking about artists who have died and left behind unfinished works, the concept holds for the living. We want to see the sketch; we want the whole story, the “full picture.” Showing the ideas behind the finished work is a way of including the audience/customer in your process. In the case of this exhibit, we the audience are thankful for it.
Piscine Versus the Best Hotels (or Various Loin), by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982, acrylic, oil paint stick, photocopies, and painted paper on paper and multiple canvas panels. Photograph by Althea Simons.
And finally there was this quote, posted by a friend on Facebook, from the Titan of vulnerability, Brené Brown. It is from her essay in The Prime Book, which was published by American photographer and filmmaker Peter Freed. What she writes is uncomfortable. Her message is raw and direct: there are so many ways we shield ourselves from the truth; it’s really hard to be vulnerable.
Starting this business is terrifying, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m ready to do it. I hope this blog will allow you to be a part of my journey, and that it will hold me accountable to you. In my next posts I will share what I think this company really is, what the company’s values are, and what my first product will be.
I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.
Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.
(By the way, I don’t think I’m mid-life. I hope I live longer than that.)