Finding our North Star

ss18 scarf-3I believe in mission statements. Whether it is for a trip, a business idea, community organization, or dinner party…knowing why we are doing what we do is imperative to our sense of accomplishment. This does not mean I sit down and write a “statement of intent” each time I set a new goal, but it does mean that I have spent some time in contemplating my motives for pretty much everything in my life.

I’ve come up with some general themes in why I do what I do, as I have built all kinds of things in my life and then decided to move on to what is next. I used to concern and confuse myself with my unending desire for “what was next”, as if I needed to fill some kind of void instead of honor my process.

My themes tend to stay the same: Create, Connect, and Learn. I will always want to create new things, I will always want to connect with others wholeheartedly, and I will never end my desire to learn and share that information. And so, I begin my next round of Workerby Workshops starting this week. I am offering each workshop in both Fargo/Moorhead and Minneapolis/Saint Paul, as my heart and business are in both places.

In Motivation, Momentum, and the Moon, we will talk about finding our own North Star. It is essential to creating goals with heart and that electric energy that makes our intentions and ideas a reality. We will also talk about the cycles of creativity, the dynamics of creative momentum, and how to work with the nature of the moon to synch up your creative process to the inherent “practical magic” of nature.

Excited to see you there.

xoxoMiss Anna Lee

A Sense of Place: the space we inhabit vs. the space we create.

Where you live impacts the life you have.

Your sense of community.

Your career and/or creative opportunities.

The conversations you have…or don’t have.

The older I get, the smarter my parents seem in retrospect. (I know I am not alone in this humbling realization.) I recall receiving this advice as a restless yet serious little girl/young lady/insufferable teenager:

Mom: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Dad: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Seems simple enough, and I’m certainly smart enough to know these sayings are true and we can’t run from who we are. Growing up in the northern prairie, I learned a certain tenacity to get through the harsh winters and general lack of cultural infusions of inspiration. I created art, not because I had anything in particular to say, but because it was inherent to my survival. I drew and painted pretty pictures and made my own clothes. It makes perfect sense to me that over the years I continued to keep one foot in fashion, the other in art.

Last summer I returned to my roots in Fargo/Moorhead after over 16 years in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. I surprised a lot of people with this decision, but I’ve learned that when I get a bright flash of inspiration I have to go with it. It’s just that this time the flash happened to be the love of my life.

As a creative, I have always been responsive to the space i am in. When I moved to Minneapolis in my 20s, I thought “OK, now these are my people”. So many opportunities, so much possibility, so many likeminded people. Now that I have returned “home”, I realize “OK, these are my people too”. However, it is different. The humor is a bit more dry, the air is a bit more cold, and (many of) the people are a bit more self-deprecating and stoic. I am surrounded by people who know how to survive the bitter cold.

By some miracle, I am painting again after over a decade. I am making prettier pictures than ever, but now I have plenty to say. I’ve been wondering what’s up with that- am I simply trying to survive? I’ve decided that it does not matter. For the first time in ages, I am creating because I can’t NOT create.

I am back on the soil I was planted in, and here I am- being me.

It has not been an easy transition, but that has been what has made it worthwhile. I’ve had to make some conscious decisions and create new patterns and systems to support the type of “businessy” work that I do, as well as honor the space I am in now.

So how do we “craft” a creative life without finding ourselves in a bubble? It has never been so easy to create or WANT to create a bubble these days. But now that we are beginning to understand the implications of being in a bubble, versus really understanding our surroundings…it becomes more important to take in the big picture.

I have found that getting really great answers to the the questions I ask myself really starts with asking better questions. So instead of asking questions like “why is it so hard to make new friends as an adult in the upper midwest?” or “why do people think it is ok to drive 15 miles per hour?” (OK, these are questions that I have DEFINITELY asked. But they really don’t get me anywhere. They are complain-y questions, not give-me-a-great-answer questions.) I’ve been working to find questions that actually accomplish something.

Here they are in case you find yourself in a similar situation:

1- Who am I, no matter what?

This is a different take on the “if money were no object…” question. Find yourself with a blank slate and what do you do with it? Me, I have to create art, have meaningful connections with my friends/family/community, and always be learning. It look me a long time to get to the core of who I am, but it really helps me come back to myself with things get chaotic. It is like a personal mission statement.

2- What conscious decisions can I make to support the life I would like to lead?

Once my core is understood, it is easier to make decisions to support what will make me feel solid, no matter where I am. I found a studio for me to create art and run my creative business, and I show up pretty much every day. I am carving out time to connect with the people I already know and taking time to meet new people, despite my introvert tendencies. I am also connecting with online communities and learning some very specific skill sets that I would not have access to otherwise, but now I could be anywhere in the world. I just happen to be here.

3- What are the things that I can not control that could seem to get in my way?

I have found more opportunities to bite my tongue and hold space for controversial conversations in the last several months than any other time in my life, as I am no longer in my “liberal bubble” of Minneapolis. I am learning how to be a stepmom. I am executing on my creative vision for my business in a place that is relatively devoid of my industry. Oh, and then there are those slow, slow drivers.

4- How can I blend the the intentional decisions with my inherent surroundings?

This is just life, but it is when sh*t gets real. I did not spend the last couple of decades of my life working towards healing and personal growth, to not be challenged so I can grow some more and have a deeper understanding of the human condition. We have to interact with our greater communities so we can better appreciate them and ourselves. And those slow cars? I’d love to say that they’ve taught me to slow down and enjoy the ride…but- ok, well, maybe…MAYBE.

What We Need to Know to Create a Sustainable Future for Fashion in MN

Four years ago last week, I produced my final Voltage: Fashion Amplified and started a job back at Target a few days days later after a three year hiatus. It was one of the more bittersweet times in my life, but I knew that an era in my life needed to end so a new one could begin.

The year leading up to this had been a bit of a roller coaster. Trying to get a non profit up and running during a financial downturn was a challenge in itself, but working to balance industry development with sustainable community support and representation was a whole other task. We were doing it, despite the odds, and by the summer of 2010 we had no fewer than 50 people consistently giving their time and talent to the vision of a local fashion resource as committee members and community leaders.

Around this time, I started seeking help from peers in other creative organizations as I had started seeing warning signs of burnout and founder syndrome.  I had lost my center and my sense of self in the process of making MNfashion a reality. I started to feel invisible, despite the fact that I was a relatively visible community leader.

I knew we had enough momentum to keep things going so I was confident that the organization would continue on without me, despite the inevitable ups and downs of organizational change. What I failed to consider was that what I had been putting in to the organization would be impossible to match. It took me a long time to realize that I had been giving more than I should have- it just seemed like what I was supposed to do with my life.

The last four years have been dedicated to getting back to myself and rebuilding my creative soul. I’ve slept a lot, connected more deeply with friends and family, gardened, taken time to be silly, and recommitted to my creative business: designing and making hats.

Jumping back into the community as a designer and supporter has been invigorating. Now that MNfashion is no longer an entity (as of September 2014), people are looking to what is next and what will replace it.  I am excited because I see the framework that was started years ago, a framework that did not exist when we started Voltage in 2004. The original intention was to build and connect, and we still have that.

Now, what’s next?

In my opinion, it is already happening. We are already doing it. There’s definitely some gaps that need to be filled, but the foundation is there. I say this as someone who cares deeply for the future of independent fashion in Minnesota. I think I have the unique perspective of being able to see a bird’s eye view of the community, but with the distance of an outsider as I am just jumping back in. I don’t claim to know everything that has happened or that is going on, but I am more confident than ever that there is a semblance of industry and resources for us to be successful.

I know were are all exhausted by lists of things “you must know about” or “you won’t believe”…but I have compiled my “top three things that we all need to know to create a sustainable future for fashion in MN”. I could easily write a book on each item, as this is stuff that I believe to my core. I am also providing links to local, MN-based resources that support each concept. Because what we need already exists. (Note that there is much more out there than I have posted!) And if there is something that you think is missing in MN? I ask you to refer to the third point below.

***Mind your Business.

Yes- that is business with a capital B.

There is no way for industry to thrive if we are not actively approaching our creative outlets as businesses. When you understand business concepts, you make different decisions. Not every project we take on will (or should) make money. But what projects/clients are you taking on to offset that? It is also not realistic that your startup will cover all of your expenses right away. So how will you supplement? And what strategic steps will you take to shift to a place where it is your main gig if that is what you want? If you treat your work as a hobby, it will always stay there. If that is what you want- that is fine. But don’t confuse hobby with career and don’t complain that you’ll never “make it” if you don’t mind your business.

Springboard for the Arts


Clothier Design Source

***Embrace interdependence.

We all need each other.

Most of us think that if we want something done right we have to do it ourselves. Perhaps we are right, but I can guarantee it is holding us all back in one way or another. As entrepreneurial creatives, we all have an independent spirit that drives us in a way that we can’t fully describe with words. But independence itself can be a misguided virtue when it comes to the sustainability of our creative businesses. So many businesses fail before they get a chance, or worse, just as they are getting a chance due to fear of asking for help. The flip side of this is asking for too many favors without realizing that favors are their own form of currency. We are all in this together, and if we understand that our actions impact others we can be much more conscious about where we offer help, where we ask for it, and when we hire it.

The Makers Coalition

American Craft Council


***Make shit happen.

This is what it all comes down to.

Make. Shit. Happen. People.

If you come from a foundation where you are taking care of your business and connecting with others in a meaningful way, you will inevitably have ideas and you need to make these ideas happen. Or you’ll be inspired by someone’s ideas and collaborate with them to make those ideas happen. Figure out why you’re stalling or sabotaging and do something about it. This can take a lot of introspection and time, but if you never work on it you’ll never move forward anyway.

Beth Hammarlund recently published an article offering her thoughtful perspective on the Twin Cities fashion community. And there was hope in there. You know why? Because people are making shit happen.


Cult Collective

Fashion Week MN

I am sharing these opinions for more reasons that to just be a cheerleader for local fashion. I’ve been reconnecting with peers and collaborators over the last several months, and it seems everyone is having the same conversations. And it has inspired me. While I am not going to pick up where I left off four years ago, there is a part of me that is awake again and I am putting together a monthly workshop/community connection series. This is not another non-profit organization, but part of a business concept I am working on as my personal call to action addressing the three points above. If this inspires you, let me know. I’d love to hear from you. (annalee(at)ruby3(dot)com)

Reflecting on life changes and choices

Working on my largest collection of hats to date, I am doing a lot of thinking whilst hand stitching. The interesting thing is that although the circumstances of my life change and evolve, there are certain things that stay the same. I have been thinking of getting this site back up and running- and happened to come back to it today to review what I wrote nearly 5 years ago. There are some shifts, to be certain. Major ones that I will write about soon enough. But it is so interesting to come back to some ideas that have been a part of me for years. I contemplated deleting past posts, going after a fresh start. But I now feel that may do a disservice to the documentation of my process. It’s so easy to present a tidy picture online- and I will certainly spare us all the emotional details- but being a creative human can be a messy affair and I am not about to pretend that things have not been messy over the years.

I’ve got some fun things brewing that I look forward to sharing. I’ve also got some of the serious stuff waiting to come out through the keyboard soon as well. I’ll try to keep a good balance of the two. In the meantime, I will be updating my *About* page shortly, so I figured I would preserve the “me” of five years ago (the one who apparently already knew she needed to move on from her role at MNfashion) right here:

“I am using this blog to begin collecting ideas of what people are doing on a global, local and personal level to address the need for sustainable options for fashion and apparel. This begins with re-use*reduce*recycle, but it goes much deeper than that. My goal is to bring together these ideas and to tell the stories of the people that are redefining what it means to be fashionable in a consumer-driven society, as well as the stories of  people who make a living making things to wear.

Over the last several years, I have worked with an amazing group of people to found MNfashion, an organization that supports and promotes the development of the independent fashion industry in Minneapolis/St Paul. Since my side project has now become my full-time gig, it makes sense that this project has come about to fill my constant need for a *side project*.

Also- I am a self-taught milliner and am interested in honing my skills as I figure out how to make a living making hats. I would like to learn traditional methods from different places around the globe and hope to intertwine these two goals through documentation on this site.

My hats:


Miss Anna Lee

Portland, OR: Portland Garment Factory

Portland Garment Factory

I had the honor of spending a couple of days with Britt Howard of  Portland Garment Factory. Things were hectic and busy- they have about 40 clients currently and their orders have grown so much that they have had to remove the boutique from the front of their studio to make room for additional machines to meet their orders. Started in 2008, PGF is a cut and sew facility that also does sample sewing, pattern-making, design consultations. They recently relocated from a smaller space to their location in SE Portland. I’d imagine they will be continuing to grow and may need a new location soon. I took the photos on a slower day, Saturday, as the space was near capacity any of the other days with the sewers, production team and a steady stream of designers stopping by. There is no doubt that this is a needed resource in Portland, and I’d like to see similar facilities develop throughout the independent fashion hot spots throughout the country. Britt is quickly becoming a dear friend to me and I am sure that this is the first in many posts I will be making about the work they are doing.

Saturday at PGF

Wall Art

Overwhelmed by Beauty

So, I am a bit embarrassed to say that although I grew up in North Dakota, I had never been to the Badlands, much less west of North Dakota in a car. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and inspired to make road-tripping a bigger part of my life. The three days of driving went quickly, in part due to the lovely and entertaining travel companions I had, but also due to the fact that each moment felt like a new experience as we drove through the mountains.

North Dakota
Idaho, photo by Benja Pastrana
Washington State

Beautiful Day to Hit the Road

Today- pick up Benjamin and Mariano, two musicians from Argentina that I met through my friend Kimberly. They need to get to Seattle and I am definitely headed that way. We’ll be stopping through Fargo, ND to catch up with a friend of mine and then hopefully crossing the state to end up in Theodore Roosevelt National Park to camp for the night. It will be my first time in the Badlands and I hope to have some amazing photos to share.