In the fall of 1997, I attended a birthday party for my great aunt's 2nd husband. I almost didn't go to the party, but that day changed my life. My second cousin, Susan Adame, whom I hadn't seen in years, was there. I asked her what she was up to. She described the school she was attending: The California School of Professional Fabric Design, in Berkeley, CA. I had never even heard of textile design before. Immediately, a light bulb went on in my head, and I decided right then and there that (textile design) was what I wanted to do with my life.
I had been working for 3 years at an independent securities broker/dealer in downtown San Francisco (Protected Investors of America). It was a good job and I learned a lot there, but that job found me (a whole other story..) and I knew it wasn't my "calling" in life. I was passionate about doing a good job but not about financial planning. Textile design I was excited about!
The 1st day after the party (and the conversation with my cousin) I called the school, signed up for next available class and after 18 months of working full time and going to school nights and weekends I finished the program! My life changed when I discovered the world of textile and surface design. Design and pattern had always surrounded me, but I was oblivious to it. I can vividly remember coming home from my first class and looking in the closet for the first time and seeing (actually noticing) the patterns on my clothes. From then on, it was all over. Life is full of pattern, and it is now impossible for me not to notice all of the design that surrounds me. In stores, in homes, in nature, on rugs, clothes, walls, forests, rocks, children, beds, cards, wrapping paper, trees, virtually everywhere I go I am surrounded by inspiration for my work. I love it. It has brought a heightened sense of awareness and a keener sense of detail.
The teacher of the school had sent me on a job interview...6 months before I was hoping to graduate. I did not get the job. However, the day after I graduated, I got a call from the same company (Karen Neuburger) and they offered me a job. They had no idea I had graduated the night before! Funny thing is, even if I had gotten the job offer the first time around I couldn't have taken it. I was working on a major software conversion at my job in SF and I couldn't have left them without seeing that project through. It was like magic the way things unfolded. Just when I was ready (school was over, software conversion was done) the phone rang and my new career was waiting for me. I couldn't have scripted it any better if I had tried.
Some friends and members of my family thought I was crazy to leave Protected Investors of America. I had been promoted to Vice President there and was making the most money I had ever made. I took about a 40% pay cut when I changed careers. It was an easy decision. I had to follow my passion.
One of my first pajama prints I designed for Karen Neuburger (KN) was their best selling pattern for that year. It was my first print to be in stores (it takes over a year for a design to end up on the shelves). I was going to Nordstrom's or Macy's every week to try to spot my first pajama design in a store. The strangest thing happened.... I saw a print that looked suspiciously like mine but under a different label. Hummmmmmm. I told this to my mentor and friend at work. On our next lunch break we drove to the mall and bought the suspicious pajamas. Believe it or not, the first print I ever designed was "knocked off" before mine ever hit stores. KN threatened a lawsuit and the company immediately removed the pjs from all their stores.
Another one of my first assignments was to create an "election print" for the 2000 election. I was told that they wanted 3 prints that were identical except that the color and the animal would change. They wanted a donkey, elephant and eagle (for the independent party). I suggested we do a tree version for the Green Party but was immediately shot down. It ended up being a huge PR campaign with all the candidates and their wives getting complimentary pajamas of their parties. KN also sent pjs to our local female Senators. I was told that Barbara Boxer liked them so much she purchased a pair for every woman in the Senate! They even were worn in Chicago down Michigan Ave. in a "get out the female vote" parade. I don't know if the President of the United States ever slept in his pjs or not. Maybe I don't really want to know. After the election was over, Karen did admit that perhaps we should have done a Green Party print.
I spent a fabulous, exciting, wonderful and challenging year at KN. It was my first textile design job and it was fantastic.
I spent the next 4 years working as a freelance designer for a start-up design firm in Sausalito. Yes, all those connotations of "start-up" can be true. It was grueling, exciting, nerve racking, fun, exciting, depressing and much more. The first account we landed was Wal-Mart (a major coup for a start-up). The tween bedding line we launched revolutionized and introduced a whole new market segment to home. I was told that one of the beds I designed was the best selling bed in world history. Now that is scary! It was a wild ride indeed. Working for them enabled us to fulfill our dream of moving to Gualala and buying our first house.
I love what I do. Creating patterns and designs is total joy for me. However, I felt like I was supposed to be doing something more meaningful with my life. In 2004, I got a call from a competitor wanting me to come work for them. I was in a good working relationship with my main client and this call was asking me to leave them. They offered me 20% more money and a schedule that was very tempting. However, I couldn't do it. It didn't feel right. It felt like a step sideways and my life choices had never been about the money. It was a blessing though, because it got me thinking. What is the next step? What does it look like?
During my interview with the start-up client I asked about the environmental and social practices of the manufacturers that make their products. They had good explanations, but I knew I wasn't totally comfortable with it either. I also knew that I wasn't in a position (yet) to change it either. I knew I wouldn't be able to work under such conditions forever and the call from the competitor was the push I needed to finally align my heart, head and hands.
To appease my mounting concern for the environmental and social impact I was indirectly contributing to, I called a small USA made organic children's clothing manufacturer hoping to get a job designing for them. They were completely discouraging. "There is no money, we are barely getting by, we have no funds for design, dream on," blah blah blah. I got off the phone and immediately knew I was not going to be derailed. I just needed to rethink my tactic for the next chapter of my life.
After a few days of mulling things over, it struck me. I was thinking too small. I didn't just want a comfortable job in a small eco friendly company.... I want to revolutionize the textile market! I had come to a point in my career where I was ready to create the change I needed to see in our industry. I realized I finally was in a position to take a stand for what I believe in.
Since making the personal commitment to revolutionize the textile market, I have become a ferocious investigator of all things having to do with sustainable environmentally friendly textiles. I immediately joined the Organic Trade Association and attended their conference in Chicago.
Experience leads me to believe that when you are on the "right" journey things unfold in magical ways. While at The Green Business Conference in SF in the fall of 2004 I was waiting to speak with Julia Butterfly Hill and give her a copy of my award winning environmental art piece, Trees Talk (wisdom from a Redwood tree). Kate Scott was also waiting to talk with Julia. We struck up a conversation as we waited our turn and immediately hit it off. Kate is an amazing apparel designer who uses organic and sustainable fabrics. We had such a good time talking that Julia Butterfly Hill didn't want to interrupt us! I asked Kate why she didn't use many prints in her line and she explained how limited her choices of organic prints were. She told me about Organic Cotton Plus where she purchased most of her organic fabric. It was in that chance meeting that my life took another drastic turn. The idea of creating my own line of organic prints was born.
Around this same time, my father in law was diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed away on January 10, 2005 on his 66th birthday - or rebirth day, as we like to call it. The months of cross country travel and visits changed us all. The family came together like never before. His passing was peaceful, calm and beautiful. We should all be so lucky to be at home surrounded by love. The gift Paul (my father in law) gave me through this process was a new awareness of how precious life is. I had been waiting for the "right time" to start my own line of prints. Mark Twain once said,
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."My friend Elise has this as the signature on her email. I read it one day while in the midst of lung cancer tests and hospital visits and I knew I had to act.... Now. Paul's sickness acted as a catalyst for my leap into the next chapter of life. We came home from one of our visits in December and I promptly wrote my resignation letter to the start-up I had given the last 4+ years of my life. It was fun helping them see their vision to reality but the time had come to make my own vision real.
On Christmas Eve, I attended the 9 lessons (a multi-denominational religious service) at the Gualala Arts Center with some friends who were in town visiting. After the service I was talking with one of my friends and I admitted to them I had written but not sent my resignation letter. I described my vision of producing my own line of organic prints and she asked, "What's stopping you?" I explained that financially I was nervous about giving up a steady income stream and simultaneously taking on a huge financial risk. On the spot, without hesitation, she said, "we'll invest in it!" No debate, no pause, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. She had that much faith and confidence in me. On the drive home, I described the experience to my houseguests and immediately they said, "We'll invest in you, too." Wow! Talk about feeling overwhelmed. I literally had to fight back the tears. What other sign did I need to see the time was right?
I need to also acknowledge my husband. His supportive, fearless confidence in me has been a source of strength and inspiration. I wouldn't be who I am today without him. I am so blessed. From the day I met him in 1991 to today he has been my friend, partner, accountant, critic, cheerleader and confidant. I am deeply grateful.
I delivered my resignation on Dec. 28th 2004. I was hesitant about dropping the bomb during the holiday season, but I also didn't feel right about waiting any longer. I was scheduled to go to Germany with them in January and I wanted to give them as much time as possible to find someone else to go or get their money back. Paul's rebirth day was during that scheduled trip to Germany. Being there with him and the rest of the family was something priceless. I personally like to call this sort of thing synchronicity - the interconnectedness of the universe, experienced and recognized.
The journey is still unfolding. It always will be. The love and support, the magic that unfolds when we pause long enough to notice it...keeps me inspired, amazed, dumbfounded, and excited about each new day and each new challenge... for it is in these moments that we truly live. The journey is indeed the prize.
Thank you for your time. If you want to be kept updated as my journey unfolds, feel free to sign up for my email updates. Most importantly, I hope you will take this moment to be thankful for some of the magic you have experienced in your own life. I guarantee it's there if you look for it.