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Traverse City Startup Story: Constraints, Comparisons, and Introducing a Partner

February 13, 2017

Constraints = Creativity

One of our favorite things about our new business is that it’s so heavily design oriented. In the lead up to our launch, we’re redesigning elements of our brand, our website, our new mobile shop, product packaging and, of course, all of the clothing and other accessories that we’ll be offering come spring.

In many ways Heather is like a kid in a candy shop. She’s been a professional designer for almost 20 years, but all of that time has been spent designing for clients of our design agency. We’re grateful for all of the opportunities we’ve had to do work for many incredible clients over the years, but for Heather it’s been a great change of pace to do more work, for herself, untethered from client preferences.

At the same time, it’s intense! An ecommerce website alone can take at least six months to complete. All of the projects I identified above are happening at once and, if things proceed according to plan, we will wrap up (design and production/development) in less than six months. That’s on top of the busy agency work that consumes much of our day.

We’re not complaining – for the most part it’s been a blast, and we’re charged up about what we’re creating. Paradoxically, we believe the compressed timeframe has actually resulted in stronger design than we would have come up with if we had given ourselves more time.

It sounds counterintuitive but creative constraints often make a project better. Here’s an example that most people can relate to:

Ever sit before the blinking cursor on the blank computer screen, needing to write something, but feeling blocked? The paralysis of the blank page is a painful experience. Think back to high school English class. To get around this problem, teachers often place constraints on their writing students to get them going. The directive “write two pages” will likely result in considerable paralysis among students. But “write two pages about what you ate for breakfast this morning in the next 20 minutes” will undoubtedly get fingers flying across keyboards.

As G.K. Chesterton said: “Art consists in limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”

We are facing two primary constraints in our creative endeavour: lack of time and lack of budget. We’re not letting these things get in our way, however. In fact, having seen Heather in action for 20 years, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s some of the best work she’s ever done. Lack of time, in particular, is forcing her to make design decisions at a rapid pace, and we’re really pleased with where things are headed. Bring on the constraints!

Last week we started turning files over to our website developer so he could start building the new site. Here’s a sneak peek of the new design.

February 15, 2017

Life and Whim Partner Profile: Rose Soma

Heather and I are “bootstrappers” by nature, and so we try to dig in and have a deep understanding of each aspect of businesses we’re involved with. But we simply can’t do everything by ourselves. To move the ball forward we need to recruit, cultivate and rely upon partners. In some cases, as with our design agency, that means having a small, talented team of employees.

In the case of Life and Whim, however, we’re not hiring employees (yet), but rather relying on a freelance network of creative professionals to help us get our vision to the finish line. As part of this Startup Story series, we’ll be highlighting the awesome contributions that our extended team is making.

Our first “Partner Profile” is of Rose Soma. We first hired Rose to help out in a very different context – babysitting our three kids! Through conversation with Rose, Heather quickly realized that Rose had much more to offer.

Despite being just a senior in high school, Rose has unbounded creative and entrepreneurial spirit. She’s a seamstress who designs clothes for herself and others. She’s a talented illustrator. She produces polished video. She’s always brimming with ideas!

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Rose on several aspects of our launch. She’s been working closely with Heather in connection with our cape and vest prototypes, videos, as well as two additional product collections that we’ll be revealing to you soon. Here’s a quick preview of some illustrations Rose worked on for the Fairy Trails Field Guide for kids we’re developing.

In the fall Rose will be headed off to college to pursue a joint degree in fashion design and marketing. Here’s a bit more about Rose:

You’re clearly a creative with diverse interests and skills – a “multipotentialite.” Why did you decide to narrow your focus to fashion design in college?

Well it’s definitely helped being raised in a creative environment, with my mom being an artist, because I’ve been able to experiment with different types of art all my life. Growing up, I’ve gone through knitting phases, beading/jewelry making phases, I’ve dabbled in crocheting, painting, making hair accessories, purses, collages, books, doll clothes… you name it. Since my mom taught me how to sew, I instinctively started making clothes. It came pretty natural to me to just create things to wear – whether I was the one wearing them or not!

Although fashion design is what I’m most interested in right now, I’m also intrigued by Interior Design and Costume Design. I hope to dabble in these subjects a little bit at Western, too, because I always want to keep my options open and maybe I’ll end up falling in love with one of those.

Who is your most important creative mentor or inspiration?

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t my mom! I know it’s cliche, but she’s an artist herself, so it’s really cool to have her not only as a personal role model but an artistic one as well. If it wasn’t for her (and her craft room), I would never have learned creative techniques or had access to materials needed in order to make my imaginative ideas come to life. Even to this day she’ll treat me to new fabric and supplies, which she doesn’t have to do at all. I know she’ll always be there to feed my creativity which is really amazing; I’m very blessed.

Our girls love art and creativity. How did your family foster your passion for the creative arts?

As I just explained my mom has always been extremely influential in always providing me with ideas and materials. My dad is a sports guy, but as soon as I made the decision to stop playing sports and start focusing all of my energy into my art he was nothing but supportive. Most importantly, my parents raised me to always strive to reach my full potential, work hard, and believe in myself, so that’s what I’m doing! 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

If everything goes as planned, I’ll have graduated from Western with a double major in Marketing and Fashion Design. In my study abroad travels to New York and London, I’ll have hopefully made connections to businesses that I could work for, and then maybe I’d move up in the company to potentially become a CEO further down the road. If I decide to pursue the entrepreneurial route instead, I’ll start my business, which I’ve been drafting up for awhile now. I won’t give all my ideas away here, but it has to do with fashion design, recycling, and keeping textile waste out of landfills! I can see multitudes of other possible paths, and I’m definitely one to make my plans, but I know that ultimately God directs our steps and I’ll end up wherever I’m meant to be!

What do you love about growing up in Traverse City?

I truly do love the sense of community here. Through my involvement in Youth Advisory Council I’ve been introduced to dozens of small scale, local non-profits, and it’s great to see all the creative ideas and desire to help others. The support for young artists is so encouraging! Every adult I’ve worked with has been welcoming and intrigued by my work, helping and inspiring me to continue to create and market what I do.

Growing up, I loved having the freedom to be able to go on walks to the park and little grocery store I live near, and soon after being able to bike downtown or get dropped off at the mall. These little things I wouldn’t have been able to do growing up in a big city, especially with parents who are very concerned about my safety. I also always take living by the water for granted, especially in the winter, but I really do love living only a mile away from Lake Michigan. We’re all so lucky to live in such a beautiful place!

What are the things about Traverse City that inspire you creatively?

The art shows I’ve done here have been very inspiring and rewarding. I was the featured student artist at the Traverse Higher Art show in 2016, and I’m participating in the Higher Art Gallery’s Functional Market this May, where I’ll be selling some of my garments. Shanny Brooke, who runs the Higher Art Gallery, has been extraordinary to me, keeping me involved and sharing opportunities. I’ve done some of the Art Mixers, run by Robin Stanley, and at both show types I’ve met more encouraging artists in our community. Being a part of this network brings me to more people who inspire me in individual ways, whether by hiring me for a commission, inviting me to participate in a themed show (which forces me to create based new ideas), buying my work, or even just complimenting it. It’s a huge, inspiring, web of connections and inspirations that I love being a part of.

Tell us a little bit about your creations and what you like to make fashion or otherwise.

I’ve always loved making dresses most. Recently I’ve expanded into working onto other pieces like shawls, cardigans, shirts, and skirts. I love floral prints, unique materials, and altering things I find at thrift stores to change them into entirely new garments. I’m usually inspired by the material first, and then I come up with an idea and start working. I’ve also really been enjoying making creation process videos of everything I design, which helps me pay attention to detail and inspires me to keep creating!

When it comes to two-dimensional artwork, I love drawing intricate pen designs, and then sometimes adding a splash of watercolor. When I’m just itching to create, but don’t have a specific project to work on, this type of zentangle-doodle is what I turn to! When people step back and look at my artwork as a whole, I hope they see my versatility and desire learn.

I’m only eighteen, and I know my creative potential hasn’t leveled off yet; the world still holds so much more for me to absorb. This is the reason why I share my work on the internet – not only to track my own progress, but so others can see it as well and understand that to grow, you have to put yourself out there. I’m excited for what the future holds, and to see where my creative drive will take me. Thank you so much, Heather and Jay, for being a part of my creative journey!

February 17, 2017

To Compare is to Despair

One of the biggest challenges in starting something new is the feeling (the fear) that your stuff doesn’t stack up with that of others. It’s not easy to push aside this angst, but it’s necessary. One thing we’ve come to realize is that we’re just getting started on our march up the learning curve, which is fairly steep when it comes to something complex like design and manufacturing clothing. As we get farther along in the process, we better understand that we need to stop comparing our blooper reel to everyone else’s highlight reel. To compare is to despair.  {tweet that}

Instead we try to draw inspiration from others who are putting amazing things out into the world. With this mindset, their work serves to inspire us, not demoralize us. When the urge to compare arises, we try to recognize it, then quickly try to shift back to learning mode. After all, if they can do it, we can do it. We will do it.