Audrey and I decided to take the day off yesterday. We've been rather pensive, really. Even Plumpy (Audrey's puppy) looks a bit . . . weighted down. It's raining, and muddy, and cold, but clearly, spring is on its way, and we're ready for a fresh start.
Thank you, each and every one, who commented on the post below. I'm really touched by your cyber-pats on the back -- thank you -- and relieved by those that have recognized that self-employment, even lovely, creative self-employment, is not . . . charmed. It's about as charmed as my pretend vision of the country, or jolly England. I know you know this. I'm flattered and honored to be any kind of inspiration, but I'd be fairly uncomfortable with it, too, if I didn't think I'd communicated my perceptions, struggles, and realities honestly. I think the joys are pretty obvious. I mean, those pretty much are what you think they are.
But as with anything else that requires you to pour every ounce of your strength and talent into it, it's a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, a lot of stress, too. And I share it with you not so much because I am interested in encouraging you to start your own business, or not start your own business -- I really, honestly, truly have absolutely no idea whether or not you should start your own business, and I would never, ever presume to encourage or discourage anyone to do or not do so. Not because I don't really care but . . . this girl has her hands full. I mostly -- almost entirely -- care about whether or not I'll be able to continue to do it. I share it because I'm trying to figure it out, too; since I work mostly alone and thus talk mostly to myself, it's good to have conversation. And if through my own honesty I can shine a little light that helps anyone else, well, that is more than I could've hoped for. My goals: They're basic. Survival is one. A general sort of not-too-delusional happiness is one. I do what I can to keep these coming. I try to control what I can, brighten a few corners with pretty things, and not contribute to suffering in the world as much as possible. But . . . a girl's gotta pay the rent! And she's got puppies to feed!
As you might know, Debbie Bliss is one of my great inspirations, not only for her designs, her yarns, her books, and her beauty, but for her longevity in her industry, and her flexibility. A couple of years ago, I read an interview with her in Interweave Knits, and it has both inspired and haunted me ever since. But I am grateful -- truly -- for its lessons, which wedged themselves into a crevice in my mind and have never been all that far from my own thoughts about everything I am trying to do myself. This is from the spring 2004 issue of IK in an article called "Design Sense & Sensibility" by Brenda Dayne:
" . . . Debbie has published over twenty books of knitwear designs for babies, children, and adults, and has become one of the most hardworking and prolific designers in the business. Despite her publishing success, however, she's found it difficult to make a living as a handknit designer. 'People often assume that if you have books in print, and are selling patterns for publication, you're doing well,' she says. But the reality of making a living from handknitting is that it is 'very, very difficult.' "
Even for Debbie? Oh my. Really? Wow. It continues, and don't you think this sounds just dreamy:
"Prompted by a desire to turn her design skills into a profitable business, Debbie opened a childrenswear and yarn shop in a quaint and trendy London neighborhood in the spring of 1999. The shop showcased her kids' knits in a setting plucked from a 1950s' nursery. Displayed amid a chalkboard, school desks, and diminutive chairs were Debbie's child-size cardigans, miniature Aran pullovers, whimsical hats and mittens, and her signature booties designed with tiny ears and eyes to look like baby animals."
What, and I mean what could sound cooler than that. We would love that! say we. We would shop there everyday! But let's keep reading:
"Word of the quirky little shop soon spread, and it became a sort of pilgrimage destination for handknitters from around the world. The pilgrims, however, were more interested in visiting than buying. . . . At the end of her three-year lease, she reluctantly decided to close the shop doors."
I read this in bed one night, after about a year and a half of owning Ella Posie. I sat straight up as if someone had attached a string to my head, and pulled. The light bulb went on. If this could happen to Debbie, I had to accept that it could certainly happen to me. It happened all the time, to good, talented, hard-working people who were doing everything right. Granted, Debbie admitted that it was difficult to balance running a shop with designing, and family obligations -- but who doesn't need to balance these things? Having popularity, spewing adorableness, doing good work, and offering inspiration don't automatically pay the bills or buy groceries. Failure isn't even necessarily personal; it's just . . . I don't know what it is. Statistical. It depends on so many things. I don't have a degree in business. Nevertheless, you'd be surprised at how few people buying something it can really take to keep a thing alive. Not all that many. We are simple people, we yarny types. We're not trying to be millionaires. We're trying to pay the bills, and keep doing what we're doing. Customers who make choices about where to shop, who see value in helping keep independent, neighborhood businesseses alive, make that possible.
I don't write this with the intention of sending you sullenly, guiltily into my store, I really don't. But I do urge you to consider your own relationship to whoever it is that inspires you -- consider and honor it by recognizing the reality, be it financial, practical, or temporal, behind that person's . . . availability . . . to inspire you.
I've received many private emails from shop owners and designers in the past day who have inspired me to follow up with this post. I feel a responsibility to speak not only for myself but for them.
I also encourage you to consider spending some of your money at local, independent businesses, in your own neighborhood, wherever that may be. Here are some reasons why. I find them extremely compelling, in an empirical way.