Photo from Voltage 2010, by Jenn Barnett
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.
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.
***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.
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)