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Ode to a mentor
On March 10th a dear friend and mentor passed away. David Moore was the President of Protected Investors of America when I first started working there back in the 90s. I worked there for 5 years and had the pleasure of working under Dave for much of that time. He was thoughtful, intuitive and taught me SO much not just about business but about life.
I thought I would take this opportunity to pass on some of the wisdom I learned from Dave.
Another thing I learned from Dave was to appreciate good food. He was a foodie before that word existed in our lexicon. If you had the pleasure of going out to lunch or dinner with Dave you knew it was going to be an experience you would remember.
When Dave retired I designed his new "un-business" cards for him. He retired to sail on his boat the Wu Wei with his son, Richard. On the back of his cards we had printed the explanation of Wu Wei:
"Wu wei doesn't try. It doesn't think about it. It just does. And when it does, it doesn't appear to do much of anything. But things get done. Wu wei is like a sixth sense - being sensitive to circumstances. One of the most convenient things about this sense is you don't have to make so many difficult decisions. Instead, you can let them make themselves."
That sums up Dave's philosophy and one I still struggle to emulate.
Even after Dave retired we stayed in touch. He was always just a phone call away with sound advice and thoughtful questions. My life was richer with him in it. His body is gone but his love and wisdom remains.
When Dave retired he gave me the paperweight I always admired on his desk and a picture that hung in his office. Both are still here with me and will always be treasured. To quote the Peace Pilgrim, he has made the "glorious transition to a freer life."
Smooth sailing, Captain!
The Uggggggggg effect
I was in North Carolina in early December. I met with a GOTS certified dye house and completely "clicked" with the owners. Ya know when you meet someone and it's like you are simply on the same frequency? It was like that. We both believe strongly in doing the right thing for our customers, our environment, our communities. Neither of us believe in cutting corners or doing shady things like adding dye to get the weight of a fabric to appear heavier than it is. YES, companies do that! Eeeww.
I bring this up because when I was in the Carolinas I had a lot of time to myself in the car. I started thinking about the way things are manufactured these days. How cost has become such a driving factor. It seems to be valued over quality much of the time.
When I lecture I often recommend that people not buy cheap crap. The cost to people and planet are way more expensive (and hard to solve) than the just avoiding the items in the first place. The more I thought about it though, people aren't just selling things cheaply, they are selling CRAP and when it is cheap for some reason we let them get away with selling us crap. That's the problem. We accept crap.
Example: My mother-in-law loved her Ugg boots and wanted me to have a pair. She bought me a pair and within a couple of months the sheepskin interior was worn out and my ankle was rubbing against plastic. Ouch. Well, as I am sure you know, Uggs are NOT cheap. We called the company and were told, "No, they should not wear out that quickly. Send them back and we will send you a new pair." Done and done. Three months later, same thing happens. We call them yet again. We discover this time in talking with the customer service person that the new Uggs aren't made in Australia, they are made in . . . you guessed it . . . CHINA! I am sure they did this to save $$ but they definitely lost quality. At this point, we asked if there were ANY still made in Australia? Yes, different style and color. So I ordered those. That was over 3 years ago and I still am enjoying them and the sheepskin is still intact.
I went through the hassle of returning 2 pairs because I expected more for the money that was spent. I wondered though, would I have bothered with a pair of $20 knock off Uggs from Walmart? Probably not. In my opinion, there lies the problem with cheap crap. We don't expect it to be worth much and therefore we get what we pay for. Unfortunately, it isn't just ourselves that end up being hurt in the process; it's the factory workers that are paid poorly, the planet that is exploited, the landfills that grow enormous, the Gyres that spread. It's the vicious and unfortunate state of things.
We like to play victim. Blame mutli-national corporations but they are rich and powerful because we buy their crap and we don't hold them to any standards of quality. So I have reframed my statement. Cheap isn't the enemy, crap is. We've allowed it. 99 cent stores are all about this. Whose going to complain about something that only cost 99 cents? We should, or we shouldn't buy it. But to do both is to only exacerbate the problem.
Do you want to join my crusade to AVOID CRAP? Ok, I'll hop off my soapbox.
Back in 2004, I vividly remember waking up from a dream with this vision of what was wrong with our economy and how it could be fixed. The latest Occupy Wall Street Movement has this back on my mind. . .
I believed then (and still believe now) that what is wrong with our economy can be summed up in one word: GREED. Greed that exploits planet and people. The "Green Movement" has made strides on the planet side (albeit we still have a long way to go!) but the people part has, in my opinion, in this country, only gotten worse.
Case in point, check out this graph that shows that CEO pay is now 350 times the average worker's, up from 50 times from 1960-1985. 350x the AVERAGE worker! I wonder what the discrepancy is for the lowest paid worker? Here's another graph that proves the point. (The entire article and charts are worth looking at.)
Let's do the math. So... say I make $50,000/year that means the CEO is making over $17 MILLION dollars a year or... $47,945/day - 365 days of the year. Is there truly anyone who is worth SOOO much more than everyone else? I am NOT against paying heads of companies large salaries, I just think they should not do so at the expense of the employees that make the company run. I think we need limits on compensation and if our government doesn't have the will to make it happen, I think WE THE PEOPLE can make it happen. How? you ask.
My solution is a color coded rating system based solely on economic discrepancies between employees. The color code system would be Green, Yellow, Red. The symbol could be an infinity sign in the various colors and stages of completion and distortion (example above).
The GREED ALERT break down:
Green closed infinity sign: Highest paid employee makes no more than 10x the lowest paid full time employee (including bonus and incentives).
Yellow almost closed infinity sign: Highest paid employee makes no more than 100x the lowest paid full time employee (including bonus and incentives).
Red very distorted infinity sign: Highest paid employee makes more than 100x the lowest paid full time employee (including bonus and incentives).
These easily identifiable color coded symbols could be posted in store windows, web sites, on products, etc. as a selling point (unwritten message for Green: We care about our workers) and as a warning label on stores who fall in the RED zone. Obviously, the RED companies would view this as negative publicity would not want to post their color but if a company is publicly owned their compensation information is public. With some research we could have a website or app that would let you look up a company and find out their color code/Greed Alert rating.
We could target some of the worst companies with grassroots exposure. People all over the country could post about the RED companies on the same day on blogs, facebook, twitter, ya get the idea. With a target on a high profile company, I believe we could get quite a bit of media coverage of such an organized event. The cost would be minimal.
With enough use/education I envision people asking the places they shop -- "What color are you?" or "What's your GA (Greed Alert) rating?" The beautiful thing is that it speaks to the general public regardless of politics, race or religion... and has the potential for real change. Wouldn't you rather work for and support companies whose discrepancy in pay is not obscene? If it worked, we would see the gap close and wealth back in the hands of more than a handful of people. I think it could re-ignite our economy and country in a profound way. If you want to give your top guys a raise, great! You just need to give your bottom guys a raise too.
I believe this grassroots movement has the potential to change the business world as we know it. Years ago when this thought first hit me, I registered CloseTheLoop.org and also GreedAlert.org I would happily donate these to the right group willing to do the research and web design necessary to pull this off.
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. Please forward this to anyone you know who could help bring the vision to reality -- if you think it is worthwhile. Ok, I'll hop off my soap box now.
Shower Curtain Success!
I do NOT like vinyl shower curtains. I use to design them for places like WalMart and Target. I can still vividly remember the smell that accompanied the samples that would arrive. They off-gas terrifically -- a sure sign of toxic chemicals invading the air you breathe.
We have an odd (deep) shower in our house and I have been looking for the perfect NON-vinyl liner for quite some time. You may remember my post about making a Tyveks one last year. Well, that worked for a while but the Tyveks molded and ended up not being a good solution. It came out of the shower super wrinkly and I didn't dare iron it and they did not disappear when the curtain got wet.
This summer I took the Tyveks one down and replaced it with my own organic cotton sateen fabric.
I used our Vein organic cotton sateen fabric. As many of you know by now, I do not sew so this curtain liner was made without a sewing machine! I knew I didn't want hems to trap extra water and hold moisture so I simply used the selvages as the top and bottom and tore (yep you read it correctly) the sides. The only tool I did use was to apply the grommets. If you know how to make a button hole I am sure that would have worked just as well.
I have been SUPER impressed with how quickly the fabric dries. It lets no water through and it can easily be tossed in the washing machine if you want to freshen it up. I don't have to iron it. If it has a few wrinkles, I just spray it down the next time I am in the shower and voila - no more wrinkles. I truly believe that organic cotton sateen (light weight) IS the answer to toxic vinyl shower curtains.
What do you use?
No more blue Mondays
This week my friend Elaine posted on Facebook:
Thinking of you today, Harmony - I'm wearing my favorite Eyes of the World skirt for a green Monday.
This got us talking about creating a Green Monday Movement. What if each of us made a conscious effort to do something "green" every Monday? It could be wearing organic cotton, remembering your fabric bag when you go shopping, biking to work, eating an organic meal, planting a seed, recycling, up-cycling, picking up a piece of trash, taking public transit . . . the possibilities are endless!
I am not personally much into Twitter, but Elaine suggested we start a #GreenMonday hashtag (is that the right word?) and see if we can take this concept viral! Do you think we can do it? Let's try!!!
I encourage you to post pictures or comment on the Harmony Art facebook page next Monday (September 26th) and every Monday after that about what you did on "Green Monday". Or you can add a comment on this blog too. Feel free to spread the word on Twitter, your own facebook page or blog . . . and let's see what happens! If nothing else, it will be fun for the few of us who take the call to action and perhaps, just perhaps it will catch on.
To quote Elaine again, "Mondays have been blue for too long!"
I meant to post this on Monday, but life sort of got in the way. Although the video isn't really about MLK Jr., it does quote him both at the beginning and at the end of this talk by Nic Marks titled: The Happy Planet Index. It's 16 minutes long and definitely worth watching/listening to, in my opinion.
If you aren't already familiar with the website TED it has just a ton of interesting lectures by people around the globe on all sorts of topics and all of them are FREE.
Cheers to small pleasures
This happy kelp was discovered December 10th, 2010 on Cooks Beach in Gualala, California. Except for the words and heart, this photograph has not been altered.
Wind Over Mountain (or Smacked Down)
The on-demand digital printer Spoonflower asked me to participate in their "Celebrity Smackdown" design competition. The theme we were given was The Elements and we were told to interpret as we liked. You can see the other entries and the winning fabric by clicking this link.
Above is the design I came up with and here's the explanation:
My design was inspired by the ancient I Ching, specifically reading number 53: Wind over Mountain. (The top leaves/petals have an image of grasses being blown in the wind. The lower leaves/petals contain photos of mountains.) The background of my design is the ancient I Ching coin (round coin with square hole in the center).
53: Wind over Mountain - Chien/Development - Those who persevere make continuous progress.
I really wanted to take the opportunity to do a design that could not be printed using rotary technology (which is how I print my stock fabrics). Rotary screens could never get the photographic effect that you can achieve with digital. I figured if I was going to do a design specifically for digital printing it should use those advantages.... unlimited colors with no per color screen charges - heaven!
I have done some digital printing in the past for special projects like a photo shoot for Modern Bride magazine or special pillows for an interior design project, but I had never printed with Spoonflower. I learned a few things in the process. Spoonflower is definitely geared towards automation. Their business model certainly seems to hing on this. See, I did the design, in repeat, uploaded it only to find out my esoteric 3" drop was not an option. WHA? I was shocked to learn that digital printing can be less accommodating than rotary. I had never in my 13 years of designing textiles been told that my drop had to be a particular size. So, of course, being me I had to ask why? It comes down to automation. To give everyone the right to make any drop would require different scripts to be written. Spoonflower only has automated 1/2 drops along with a few other more straight forward options. So, if you want to print with them you must get with their program. Wish I had realized this before I did the repeat - sigh - I did the repeat over. From their business model it makes complete sense. From a designer's perspective, I found it annoying.
I told Spoonflower I would ONLY participate if I could specify that my print only be printed on organic fabrics. I made the commitment to organic fabrics in January of 2005 and am not about to end that commitment for this competition. They agreed to my "terms" but are so far unable to limit what selection of base fabrics someone can choose. So, my design is not available for purchase at this time. They tell me they are working on it. This is another example of the down side of automation. On the plus side their printing is very reasonably priced and they seemed to have created a wonderful community of designers. If I were a new designer just the thrill of seeing my design on fabric would have me sucked in. Their weekly (open to all) contests are also a great way to get your designs seen and your name out there. Congrats to Samarra Khaja (representing the Spoonflower home team) for her takin' the win.
What would I have gotten if I had won? Well, the prize was that 20% of the sales of the fabric of any of the contestants would go to the charity of the winner's choice. Drat! That would have been fun to pick. Oh well... you win some, you lose some.
To quote the I Ching this design is based on again: " Those who persevere make continuous progress." Cheers to that.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture at the Gualala Arts Center given by Karma Singye Dorji titled Bhutan: Kingdom on the Cusp of Change with images by photographer and artist, Jeanne Gadol. I loved finding out that in Bhutan the most common greeting (like our hello/goodbye) is So Kuzuzangpola which means may your body and spirit by in balance. Imagine having that reminder told to you several times a day. Bhutan also monitors GNH (not GNP) which is the Gross National Happiness. Obviously the Buddhist roots in this country are strong.
I just liked that and wanted to share it with you. While I am on the topic of things I like, here's a link to a recent article in my favorite business magazine, Fast Company, about Walmart and Swedish clothing giant H&M launching pilot sustainability efforts at major textile mills in China.
So, my husband recently bought the Vera book for me. I am a huge Vera fan and I must admit I sat down and read the entire book cover to cover in one sitting. I find it really inspirational to read about other textile women who had a vision and brought it to life. Few have done it as gracefully and beautifully as Vera Neumann.
One of the things that struck me as I read about her life and career was... get this...
"Vera distinguished herself as the first American designer to manufacture product in the People's Republic (of China) destined for U.S. sale."
So there it is -- printed textiles were the first U.S. sold product to be outsourced to China! I swear, the more I learn about textiles and textile designers the more I think we are the ones to watch if you want to know where things are headed.
Reminder - it was textiles that launched the industrial revolution. What will we lead the world into next? Stay tuned to find out.
Note: Photo is of a Vera napkin set I inherited from my maternal grandmother (Evelyn). I love them!
Founder of Harmony Art organic design.