Essays

Year 31 Portraits

About a year ago I got this idea to do yearly portraits. I think it came from the realization that we change a bit every year but don’t document it. I know, I know – we all take photos at weddings or selfies while traveling. I’m talking about really capturing a moment in time – a photo to reminisce on where I was at the time, what I looked like, and how I felt. I’ve gotten in photography over the past year and I would say that this yearly ‘project’ is certainly inspired by Sally Mann’s portraiture. She captures real-life images (albeit in a stunning manner) of mundane moments. To me it feels like a celebration of everyday life. What is more important than that? As I get older the saying ‘the days are long but the years are short’ resonates more and more. I blink and a few months have passed, another summer has passed, two and a half months have passed since Europe, etc.

Anyway! I signed us up for a portrait session with my pal Katie Jameson on Matt’s 31st birthday. I love (love love) the way Katie captures people in her portraits and knew working with Katie would be the perfect intro to a yearly portrait. Matt and I haven’t been photographed professionally together since our wedding (five years ago!) and the whole time I was so grateful we were marking this moment in time. This is a special time for us – we just celebrated our five year wedding anniversary, October 15th (tomorrow!) is our 13th anniversary together, Matt is killing it professionally, I spend every day getting closer to aligning my purpose with my work, we are healthy, happy, and have two of the best pups. I am so grateful to Katie for capturing us during this time. I hope this inspires others to begin celebrating the everyday (and taking yearly portraits) as well!

Photos by Katie Jameson. Thank you so much, Katie!!

Choosing Challenge

Shot on the streets of Copenhagen in August 2017

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey.” – Wendell Berry

I’m determined to choose to do more hard things to get what I really want – really want is the key here. Something clicked for me while I was away and I think I finally got it – we work towards goals that are hard and seemingly impossible for the personal development/enrichment – not for the pain or even for the glory (I’m thinking about running a marathon but really anything we dedicate ourselves to applies here). It’s not about what we get, it’s about who we become in pursuit of our goal. Deep down, we all want to feel the satisfaction and exhaustion that comes from really applying yourself, working towards the goal, feeling filled up at the end of the day. We used to live simpler existences. Our ancestors hunted and gathered, made what was needed, tended to their family. Did our ancestors have an existential crisis about their purpose or feel ennui from their privilege? (Nope.) I also think about how my grandparents’ generation – not that long ago – tolerated a fluctuating level of discomfort. They didn’t have the same expectations for a mostly pain-free experience like my generation has developed along the way.

It got me thinking about how I spend my time when I’m in distraction mode aka ‘multi-tasking’. So many of us live in this space — mentally expired by 3 pm, stressed/anxious, bodies brimming with energy that needs to be used but we’re burned out and too exhausted to do anything. We work hard to pay for conveniences (because we don’t have time/energy to do it ourselves due to working so much) and then we’re so exhausted (mostly mentally, rarely are our bodies used sufficiently day to day) that we don’t truly experience the pleasure of our hard work. I find this profoundly sad and pointless. I have asked myself this for the past year or so – ‘what are we working so hard towards?’. Matt and I are part of the generation born in the late 80’s that feel the drive and pressure to achieve achieve achieve. I have personally been on this achievement hamster wheel ever since I left for college at 18. Though truthfully I started feeling the pressure of college and figuring out my career well before that, probably around 15 or so. And so over the past decade we have hustled – worked our asses off, said yes to every opportunity ever, sacrificed – moved away from friends and family out of college and moved several times since (we have great friends from college but feel like we are always re-building friendships as we bopped around chasing job after job until our late 20’s), took on debt to say yes to the next career opportunity in faith that it will work out, and generally sacrificed a personal life in pursuit of “making it”. All that has left me (I would say us but I can only speak for myself) burned out, exhausted, stressed, and feeling like a failure at 31.

Within the past year, my spirit started crying “uncle!” and begged to slow down, to find peace, to do less. That was the mindset I entered my month abroad with – I want to do less but better, I want to feel peaceful, I want to feel content. This is at direct odds with the lifestyle we created (inherited?). I started to feel nervous about mid-way through the trip as I’d relaxed, physiologically and mentally. I felt like I had to prepare to put my daily armor back on to get up and fight through every day. And somewhere along the way (I’m still figuring this out), I decided I didn’t have to go back to the way it was. It’s a daily decision the way we live – we choose every single day how we show up (most of us are just on auto pilot and don’t realize it). And I came back with a different resolve. I’ve been home for a bit and I still feel grounded in the desire to be present and do less. To choose the temporarily uncomfortable option to get what I really want. To stay out of the all-to-easy-to-get-into hustle and stress that I gravitate towards out of habit. This is my goal right now – to wake up each day, be quiet enough to hear what I really want, and figure out how to do it.

Here’s the personal side that got me thinking about this topic:

As someone who prefers to avoid discomfort, I’ve attempted to systematically remove uncomfortable experiences from my life one by one to the best of my ability over the last few years. Matt and I have worked hard and slowly began to spend more and more of our income paying to remove these so-called uncomfortable or hard things so we didn’t have to do them. We work in order to pay someone to clean our house, tend to our yard, file our taxes, sometimes use instacart, take our pups out on a playdate, etc. And as we remove more of these daily chores from our plate, I’ve started to feel more and more empty. Yeah, my life is getting more “comfortable”, but I feel less fulfilled. [I feel the need to stop and say that this may sound shallow or vapid and I really debated sharing this but this is my truth. It’s what I’m currently learning, what I’ve recently realized. I think there is a relatable truth in this regardless if another is in my exact situation or a different one.]

I started thinking about all of this while I was on an extended trip in August. While away, and traveling alone, I encountered situations that ranged from mild discomfort to tear-inducing frustration several times a day. And because I was completely alone in a foreign country, I couldn’t fall apart. It is the first time in my life I didn’t have anyone else to lean on during a hard moment (I realize this makes me blessed beyond measure). It was a revelation for me – I realized that facing head-on and conquering several discomforts every day left me feeling deep satisfaction at the end of the day. WHAT?? This is exactly what I’d been working towards avoiding and removing from my daily life.

I came back from my trip and started choosing the uncomfortable path. For me, this means spending my time working towards things I truly want. This also means not immediately turning to money to solve the problem.  I was aware that this would be a decision I make in small ways, every day, not a decision I make once and then stick to it.


Further reading —

An article via The Cut on women in their 30’s and ambition. My takeaway – don’t expect my career to fulfill my purpose. Have more than one priority in my life. Focusing on my personal life will make me happier and work smarter.

“Instead of bringing about a leisure class living in actual leisure, we have wrought a world where the upwardly mobile are instead obsessed with productivity. Indeed, productivity itself has become a kind of class signifier.” – fascinating NYT article about a ‘lifestyle guru who sells self-absorption as the ultimate luxury product’.

Nandina in July

Shot on a summer day in Texas. Canon EOS3 + Fuji Superia 400, 35 mm.

A seeker (and still am)

Published ex post facto, originally written July 15, 2017.

snap from my first roll of film!

These past few months have challenged me and exhausted me to the point that I’ve dropped the pretenses that I’ve operated with since childhood. For awhile I felt ready to outgrow my old habits – like a snake’s old skin they were restrictive and I felt disconnected from them – but I didn’t know how to actually release them. And then slowly, as I began to speak my truth and be more willing to just be myself, I’ve felt a natural evolution. It really is that simple. Be yourself – whoever you are in this moment. Feel whatever you feel, sit with it, let it be there. And trust whatever you’re feeling or whatever action you want to take. We have so much intelligence in our beings. When we stop getting caught up in ‘who we should be’ and forcing/pushing/running/trying/grinding then we can actually just be who we are. So simple and yet so profound. It has taken me six years of true struggle to realize that for myself. I hope that by sharing this it can take you less.

As I arrive in this new version of myself, I’ve felt clarity around one of my biggest existential struggles – my purpose. (A side note – I think there is way too much emphasis on defining our purpose. For me, it’s created a ton of pressure to find my purpose and I felt lost/less than without having my ‘purpose’ totally set in stone.) It wasn’t a huge revelation, it probably rarely is, but it felt like a relief to stumble on this simple truth of myself. I wrote this a month ago, “I figured out some progress on my purpose – I think it’s to connect. When I think about what lights me up, what moves me, what inspires me, what motivates me I always come back to connection – feeling connected to another person, to humanity, connecting people to each other, to ideas, etc.”. How did I realize this? Through interaction with others, of course.

Last month I went down to Mexico to visit a friend while she was on a work assignment at a beautiful resort in Cabo. Besides the top-notch location, the staff really made the experience. The most touching and profound part of my trip was experiencing the staff greeting. Each time I passed or encountered the resort staff, they placed their right hand on their heart and bowed their head. The gesture symbolizes “welcome from our heart”. Now, skeptics would say that they are trained to do that and it is not a choice. And that the resort is in a resort community and there is a service mindset in the area. And of course I’ve considered that and it is true. But does that fact take away from the gesture? Not to me. It absolutely seemed sincere and even if it wasn’t (which it was), what really matters is what I take away from it. Our greetings made me feel connected to them and I felt deep gratitude for the gesture and sentiment.

It reminded me of my time in Bali earlier this year. The Balinese greeted in a similar way, by placing their hands in a prayer position and a small bow. (Same skeptical judgements apply – Bali is arguably third world and extremely dependent on tourism. But I believe the same – I felt their gestures were genuine to their own nature and I returned the greeting each time with deep gratitude and feelings of connection. I don’t believe they greeted me for my benefit, I believe their greeting was a reflection of their true nature). To me, there is a common thread with these experiences that to be frank, I’m still fettering out. I know it has to do with being connected to something greater than myself. I think it also has to do with the disconnection I’ve felt being raised in a solitary, individualized society like the US where we don’t particularly value community or the greater good. I’ll share more on this as I continue to understand the role of purpose and connection.

I believe two sources helped me take this next step in my personal evolution. One – I listened to the You are a Badass books by Jen Sincero (book 1 book 2), which I highly recommend. The concepts are digestible, she is incredibly likeable and witty, and you will undoubtedly learn a few things (I listened to them on Audible, my favorite way to ‘read’ non-fiction). These books aren’t life changing but they definitely made an impact on me and inspired me to change a few of my beliefs and thoughts. The simple change of altering your beliefs and thoughts can change your life because you show up differently and your belief in what is possible expands. I believe that is the secret to ‘changing your life”.

And second – a truly profound thought for me. A few months ago I asked myself, “What if nothing is wrong with me?”. My first response was that nothing is actually wrong with me but the sense that I’m not being who I ‘should’ be (there’s the shoulds again) or that I’m not doing what I ‘should’ do has plagued me since childhood. I have always felt wrong – I am deeply introverted and that was not embraced in all my years of school. I am also introverted in a family full of lots of loud, talkative people who have little concept of healthy boundaries and personal space. My dad left my family when I was four and I thought that I wasn’t good enough for him to stay. I’m not chatty enough or my shyness is bad because it isn’t what people want from me. I loved art growing up but thought I should get a ‘real’ degree and build a corporate career. I haven’t felt peace with my body since my pre-teen years. And on and on.

All of this I silently carried and felt disappointed/ashamed/unworthy/different – all of which leads to feelings of disconnection. But that little voice started repeating the question – “what if nothing is wrong with me?” – over and over. And then I began to explore what it would be like to release all the energy I put into trying to change those things. What if I just put a bathing suit on and look like a 31 year old woman with hormones and softness (because that’s what happens to a lot of bodies during childbearing years)? What if I choose to feel comfortable with my quietness and let others feel however they feel about it? What if I identify with my dad for leaving and choosing to stay gone with my own relationships right now? What if I let myself pursue art without knowing where it will lead (and definitely not worry if it’s good enough)? And so that’s what I’ve been doing. I have a thought that feels like conflict with who I am and then I ask myself, “what if it’s not wrong?”.

So many of us suffer unnecessarily and live smaller existences than we are meant to. Trust yourself, your desires, your instincts, what you feel called to, and what you feel deeply against. Start small by following those little impulses and desires that we often ignore in our everyday lives. Most importantly, spend time doing things you truly care about and light you up – that is the best way to gain clarity.

“I have been a seeker and still am

but I stopped asking the books and the stars.

I started listening to the teaching of my soul.”

-Rumi

One week + one day in CPH

Copenhagen Streets

“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Andersen

I’ve been in Copenhagen for just over a week now and want to report on what I’ve done, seen, experienced, and thought so far. It has been an experience for me and not quite what I envisioned. The first few days I was extremely jet-lagged, not sleeping enough, and had some serious doubts about what I thought I was doing traveling alone to a place I’d never been and knew exactly zero people. I’m proud to say I only had one meltdown and shed just a few tears in despair and frustration. (I think because I knew I was on my own and no one would save me if I really lost it.) I’m seeing now that I’m used to leaning on someone during traveling and letting them take the lead when I feel overwhelmed. A good thing to learn about myself and eight days in I already feel more independent. Yes, it still can take me 1.5 hours to get takeaway for dinner and I’ve walked in the wrong direction more than a few times but I’m figuring it out. It makes me appreciate new experiences and also have a lot of compassion and gratitude for my younger self when I moved to D.C. for university completely alone when I was very much used to being one of a pair. Maybe that’s why I like exploring a new city on foot (and apparently solo) so much – I’m seeking that feeling over and over.

Magic Light

Anyway, here are some takeaways so far:

  • I finished a book – The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it easy to get into, to pick up and put down, and a few passages very profound. I’d suggest starting with her article, Thanksgiving in Mongolia, in the New Yorker and then pick up the book if you enjoyed and want more.
  • I have been walking, walking, walking. CPH is very walkable and I’ve walked everywhere so far, between 5-10 miles a day. I’m loving it as it could not be further than driving and sitting in Texas traffic all day every day. I miss living in a walkable city that gets you out and about.
  • I enjoyed my workshop with tortus so much that I signed up for a 5.5 day workshop that begins Monday! It surprised me how much progress I made in just two days and the notion of how much improvement I could see over five days was just too tempting for me as someone that is motivated by personal improvement. Eric is incredibly talented and a great teacher. Perhaps it was the structure of throwing ten hours over two days but I saw more improvement (and learned lots of tips) than I have in much of the year that I took classes once a week. Also, due to the nature of a short two day workshop, we could not keep anything and that was ultimately liberating for me. My personality is to keep everything and make it as perfect as possible but knowing that I would be scrapping everything gave me latitude to play and push myself. It has actually inspired me to take that attitude into other areas of work, particularly jewelry and photos. I want to push myself more (and feel less fear around failure or something breaking/not working on the first try), edit, only keep the very best pieces I feel most connected to, and keep trying new things.
  • What can I say about the Danes? Well, I’d say that they’ve surprised me a bit. I naively assumed that Danes would be how I found the Dutch: extremely friendly, warm, and fairly open. So far, I’ve found Danes to be aloof, a bit impatient, and direct. I’d put it this way — they don’t suffer fools in any sense. Americans tend to be warm and friendly with most people and especially polite to strangers. It doesn’t really matter if it’s sincere, it’s just the norm. I feel that the Danes are opposite – they don’t do niceties or friendly greetings, they don’t chit-chat, they communicate directly with strangers. (As someone with a pretty solid resting bitch face I feel I can also say that many Danes, men and women, also have a solid rbf and a ‘don’t mess with me attitude’). But I’ve seen them in groups (they are always in groups) and they are very open and warm amongst their circle. As a solo traveler it was a bit of a shock at first and truthfully, it made me feel very alone, but I’ve acclimated to it. I can appreciate that it is their genuine nature – they are never going to be fake nice – they are always going to be 100% truthful. I can get behind that as someone who personally struggles with feeling too direct within American culture.
  • Coming on the heels of feeling very alone – I have felt all the feelings while on my own. I felt isolated and lonely for the first few days and it’s only in the past few days that I’ve felt some of the highs that come with feeling those lows. I have been aware and diligent about these feelings and any attempt to avoid them. They’ve served a great purpose – I’ve spent lots of time with zero distractions (actual silence in my fifth floor walk up!) reflecting and sitting with myself. I’ve unwound and have enough space that I can actually hear myself and some of my deeper desires. It is what I hoped for in traveling alone and I think gaining clarity will pay off in spades.

  • I’m listening to audiobooks to curb loneliness. So far, I’ve gone back and forth between these: one two. My tendency is to listen to audiobooks over and over to: 1. gain as much information as possible, 2. hear things I might’ve missed the first time around, 3. hear the same things (that I want to adopt) over and over. There’s also a sense of familiarity to re-listening which I find comforting.
  • Before I left, I downloaded Ozark onto my ipad. Holy shit, if you haven’t watched it yet I highly (highly) recommend it. It is dark, intense, and has zero predictability. I loved it.
  • I found a matcha place (apparently the only one in CPH) about 1/2 mile from my airbnb! I’ve been drinking matcha for a few months now as I switched to green tea (I’m trying to stop drinking black tea as it leaves me jittery/anxious). It is a very well-designed space (as everything in Copenhagen is) and I’m really enjoyed the honey matcha iced tea at BYOH Matcha.
  • I have had decent luck with eating around my dietary restrictions (I don’t eat dairy or gluten). Thankfully most restaurants are very accommodating with allergies but it really does limit what I can eat – I have pretty much eaten a salad or a burger (no bun) at every meal. Not all that surprising when you consider that most Danes eat a few slices of bread every day, often with cheese or butter, as one of their meals. And a funny anecdote about salad – I ordered a salad with a vinaigrette dressing substitute (most dressings are made with cream or dairy of some sort) and was served a salad with a side of vinegar :).
  • Dining alone (something I love to do) feels a bit strange here. As I said above, Danes are always in groups. The only time I see someone eating alone is when they’re walking down the street eating a sandwich or a slice of pizza. I have literally not seen a solo diner besides myself. I think it is cultural – there is an emphasis on community and togetherness, especially around food and dining. I guess it could be seen as a missed opportunity to dine alone? I will say it strikes me a bit funny as Danes are so independent and individualist but they are always out and about in groups. Anyway, I am looking forward to sitting down to a real meal when my dining companion, Matt, arrives.
  • Touristy stuff I’ve done so far: Tivoli, Nyhavn, and Christiana + Paper Island (food trucks/street food). Touristy stuff I’m looking forward to: Louisiana Museum of Art, Botanic Gardens, changing of the guards at the Amalienborg Palace, Meat Packing District, Torvehallerne.
  • Places I’ve enjoyed so far: Hay House, walking/shopping the walking street (Strøget), Royal Copenhagen. Food I’ve enjoyed: Mad & Kaffe, Sticks’n’Sushi, NOHO, Strøm bar, Danish hot dogs (food stand).
  • I’m staying in Vesterbro (my airbnb), just south of the city center. I’ve heard it compared to Williamsburg in BK and that’s about right. It’s gritty, hipster-y (+ attitudes), lots of culture, a little seedy, not a lot of tourists. I’d stay in Vesterbro again and next time I’d also look at a few days in Østerbro and/or Christianshavn.
  • I watched The Happy Film yesterday. I found it really thought provoking and much deeper than I expected. My two favorite takeaways:
    • “If I’ve done it before I get bored. If it haven’t done it before I get anxious.”
    • Seeking discomfort is a great way to build confidence

Well that’s a lot more than I thought there would be! I guess spending the better part of a week alone results in me having lots of thoughts and things to share. I’ll share more photos soon!

Full Moon in Copenhagen. August, 7 2017.

Everything is an Experiment

Here goes – I am closing the Moulton storefront.

While we often interpret closing or ending a venture a failure, I don’t see it that way at all. Opening a brick and mortar was an experiment for me. Retail has piqued my interest for years, particularly individually owned retail shops, and I felt that opening a retail shop of my own was in my future. At my 30th birthday dinner a friend asked me what I wanted to accomplish in the next year, five years, and ten years. I blurted out that I wanted to open a retail shop in the next five years (it was the first time I’d said it outloud and some wine might have been involved. But it was a truth deep within me that I didn’t over-think and just came out. I’ve learned to trust those truths over the years as I feel that they are meant for me – even if I think they’re a bit crazy at first).

And so I opened up to my goal of opening a retail shop. I thought it would come to fruition within the next three years or so. I was very surprised when a space became open, a space that I had said aloud was exactly where and what I wanted, just four months later. I felt like I’d been tapped by a magic stick that I got to be in this location with some amazing partners in the space. A location that I’d frequented often five years before when we moved to Austin. It felt right.

It has been an incredible experience. I’ve grown tremendously as a person. I am still surprised that I, a fairly quiet introvert, opened a store. A storefront! That I’ve worked countless hours at building. Where I’ve spent more time talking this past year than maybe the previous three years combined. It is truly a feat for me and one that I never would’ve thought I’d be brave enough to do. I am so grateful for this past year – I think it’s been my most transformative year yet.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m closing then? It sounds like it has been all amazing. Well, it’s a complicated answer. While having the store has been truly amazing, it has also challenged me and really pushed me to my limit. And living at my limit caused me to become really aware of my energy, my time, and my sense of fulfillment.

Some of you may know that I had cancer six years ago. I was 24 when I developed ovarian cancer (answers to your questions: Yes, that is really young. No, I didn’t have a family history or predisposition. Yes, I lost my hair. Yes, it sucked. My surgeon described it as bad luck.). It was a grueling nine month journey to recovery and I am very grateful to be in remission for almost six years. I am also grateful for my experience and I feel very lucky that I came out of it as a better person and with a hopeful prognosis. My experience with cancer changed me deeply and set me up with a very intense evaluative process for how I spend my time (my life).

So I was really shaken when I had a health scare this spring. I’m not going to bury the lead – I am healthy and have a few upcoming follow ups to make sure all is good. But for a few days I wasn’t sure which way it would go and let me tell you, nothing will clarify your priorities like not knowing. And while I lived in that place of fear and the unknown, I dwelled on a specific question – if I am not well, am I content with where I am and what I’ve done these past six years? It’s basically a version of: if this all ended tomorrow do I feel satisfied with where I am and what I’ve done? Everyone says it but we really don’t realize how truly fragile life is. Things can change in an instant.

So, I spent many weeks thinking on that: am I content with where I am? For me that means: Am I spending my energy in a way that lights me up? Am I making a difference the world? Am I connecting to the people and things that matter? Am I fulfilled? Etc.

And then very quietly I knew. I knew that closing the store was the right thing to do. And then I spent a couple months thinking through it, making very sure that it was the right decision. And I mourned it – closing the store felt like a loss at first. And a failure. It was a dream of mine and I had entered into it with the best of intentions – I truly believed that owning a store was ‘it’ for me. Over time I’ve come to see it as a success. And that some things are meant to be in our life for a short time. I set a goal to open the store and I actually accomplished it! It is an incredible feat to accomplish any goal and see something through. I am grateful for it and I am also grateful to let it go when it isn’t part of my purpose anymore.

So now what? Well, I have a few exciting things on the horizon. I am traveling to Europe for the month of August! I am taking a ceramics workshop in Denmark, spending two weeks traveling alone, and then spending two weeks traveling with Matt. (Spending a month traveling is another one of my blurt-out-not-sure-how comments I made after my first trip to Europe in the summer of 2015. My sister reminded me that I’d told her that and now it’s coming true). I have traveled more this year than any other and this year is my first time traveling solo on two international trips. I am thrilled and nervous. I am growing so much this year, it feels good. I wrote this back in 2015 and it still resonates with me: I’m beginning to see travel as more than a luxury, it’s an investment in personal development. Yes, thank you, more please.

As for business, there are some changes on the horizon. I want to devote more time and energy to custom and semi-custom work. I’ve gotten to collaborate on some incredible projects this past year that challenged and fulfilled me, deepened my relationships with clients, and left everyone thrilled at the end. And I’ve had to say no to some things due to lack of time in my schedule. My heart has always been in the custom work, it’s just taken me awhile to fully realize it and have the courage to pursue it fully.

And lastly, I’m excited to have space in my schedule for the things I love – Learning. Ceramics. Photography. Sewing clothes. Maybe even a drawing class! I’m also developing a podcast (which both excites and terrifies me – a theme for me it seems).

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much! I love that I get to do this work and I’m grateful for this wonderful community that I’ve found myself in. Thank you, thank you for the support this year and the ones before it.

Lastly, a few logistical things. One, our last day open will be July 31st. Two, online shop/custom work will be on vacation for the month of August. Three, keep an eye out for a sale beginning next week! Sign up for the newsletter or keep up on instagram to be notified. 

We are all born creative

One of my beliefs is that our curiosities are quietly tugging us to go somewhere for a reason. I’ve learned over the past few years to listen to that curiosity, even when I don’t quite understand why. I trust that those seemingly random interests and impulses are part of a bigger picture that I can’t quite see. And truthfully, I think that it makes my work more interesting. I’ve come to see my work as a sum of the knowledge and skills I’ve picked up along the way. I’m not just a jewelry designer, I’m a vessel for techniques and knowledge and my output (be it jewelry, pottery, leather, opening a shop, writing, etc.) is influenced by the intersections across mediums.

The past two years or so I found myself drawn to photography as a means of documenting. Of capturing details, little and big. Of preserving a moment – a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a sunset, a studio still life. I started with my iphone like many do. And it is incredible what it can do, especially considering the small package. But I started to find myself wanting to have more control over the image and capturing details that don’t usually come through an automatic image.

So! After much dragging my feet, I bit the bullet and invested in a dreamy camera (to me at least). When thinking on a mirrorless vs dslr, I felt interested in a mirrorless camera and was able to test one before making the big purchase. (I’d previously owned an entry dslr and didn’t carry it around much due to it’s size). I ended up loving the Fuji colors! And the size felt right for what I wanted – everyday use and travel. I went with the Fuji X-T2 and I am very happy so far. Of the all the X series options, I chose the X-T2 because of its 4k capabilities. I like the idea of being able to grow into a camera vs outgrowing one really fast.

And then I started my search for how I would learn manual photography. I went in knowing that I wanted to take a class because A. I love taking classes and learning new things! and B. I learn best when a medium is taught sequentially. I struggle with grasping knowledge when it’s piecemeal or taught in a nebulous fashion. And I have asked many (many) people to explain what aperture, shutter speed and ISO mean and I could never wrap my head around it. So I knew I needed to find a high quality class or instructor because I didn’t want to spend 6 weeks not really getting something (I’ve done this before in other classes and it is so frustrating to complete a course and still not get it). Once I knew I wanted to take a class I kept my ears open and randomly walked past Austin School of Photography (ASOP), who happens to be in the same building as the store. I looked them up and they have excellent reviews – they’re almost hard to believe because they are so positive and complimentary. So, I signed up for the Photo 1 class and here I am.

I’m going to share my progress over the coming weeks with two goals. One, to document my progress and two, to share with you in hopes of inspiring you to learn a new medium that you feel tugged to. I am a firm believer in that we are all eternal students and our primary focus in life should be to stay curious, actively seek new information, and let it change you. If you are interested in something and don’t know why, don’t question it! Just go with it. Watch a youtube video, find a mentor, take a class, or just play around. If you don’t know what you’re interested in learning – think back to your childhood and ask yourself, “What felt like play?” or “What did you enjoy doing just for fun?”. Don’t put pressure on yourself – this is a do what I say not what I do suggestion. I am notorious for showing up as a perfectionist and putting lots of pressure on myself to get it right, to be great at the beginning, be a savant at everything I try. And while it probably causes unnecessary suffering, it pushes me to keep going because nothing feels better than that first moment when it clicks and I know I’ve got it. That moment inspires me because I know I can accomplish any task or even master a medium with practice, patience, and perseverance. And I firmly believe that anyone can. Every single one of us is creative, we are all born creative. Think back on your childhood self, wasn’t he/she creative in play? In creating without judgement? We all are and the work is to get back to that childhood space where we create from our deeper selves and see what comes of it.

Here are some photos (taken on automatic, unedited for posterity).

Before class:



My 2017 Goals

I’m naming 2017 the year I learn to share myself – or at least that’s what I’m aiming to accomplish. I’m going to work on sharing my non-business interests, my essentials (the products/objects/services that I spend hours researching to find the right fit for me), and personal projects. And I hope to share some advice and tips/tricks along the way to.

Seth Godin said that showing up and sharing yourself in a public way (in his case, online) makes you a better person. It forces you to share your opinions and make predictions and that process – I think it’s standing for something – makes you better for it. I can definitely get behind that and I hope that by showing up here and practicing sharing myself that I become better for it (I have a good feeling that I will). [Seth Godin said this on a podcast last year – I really enjoyed the whole episode].

So, here goes. I’m sharing the targets I’m shooting at in 2017.

Share yourself

I touched on this above. I struggle with sharing myself – I usually think, “who cares?” or “why do I think I’m special?”. I’m sure many can relate. And I’ve come to think A. isn’t a good excuse and B. I share because I feel compelled to, not _______ (to impress someone, so someone reads it, or even to help someone – though I hope it does).

One word: remarkable

My word for 2017 is remarkable. I think the catch is how I’m interpreting it. To me, remarkable means creating/making/spending energy on something worth remarking on. I am not defining it from a place of perfection or needing it to be the most relevant thing ever. I want to make sure I’m creating things that feel special and perhaps it has more to do with the approach than the result.

10 strict pushups

Every year I add ‘feel strong’ or ‘feel fit’ to my list and I realized this year that I’ve shied away from putting a goal next to it. I think it’s because I feel intimidated, like what if I can’t reach it? Then I realized that it’s not the point! The point of these targets are not to achieve them perfectly but to have something to shoot at. So I’m tasking myself with being able to do 10 strict pushups in a row by the end of the year. I already feel more motivated about workouts thinking about this goal (vs. vague notions of feeling strong).

1 week money fast/month

This one target is a bit of a wildcard for me – it randomly popped in my head while I was pondering goals/targets for 2017. I’ve decided to not spend any money for one week each month (with the exception of a grocery trip if needed).

Recently, I began to notice that I don’t always make purchases that I feel good about. As I thought about this more deeply, I realized that the doesn’t-feel-good purchases tend to take two forms: A. mindlessly spending on convenience items (ex: grabbing lunch out instead of heating up lunch at home) and B. buying things I really, really want but don’t necessarily need (ex: a new pair of boots). I realized that sometimes I feel overindulged when spending money but I don’t take any proactive steps to prevent or stop it. One of my big takeaways from doing a Whole30 was that removing options removes guilt and allows you to then choose from an intentional place. So I’ve decided to experiment with spending fasts this year and see how it changes how I approach spending (and saving!).

Explore curiosities

This is always a goal of mine and one I take very seriously. I believe that our curiosities are pulling us to new, meaningful things and we should listen closely to them. Right now I’m feeling pulled towards learning/practicing photography more. I’d also love to learn video – I’ve been inspired ever since filming an episode of Creative Spaces last year. And I’m feeling the urge to throw more pottery lately.

Hang out 1x/week

Community is so important to me and has become vital to my creative career. I preach the importance of giving time to one’s community and I don’t think I prioritize it enough myself. So I’m shooting to create one social event per week, whether that’s coffee with someone new to me or dinner with good friends. This is even more important to me since opening the shop – as an introvert I get plenty of face time with others now that I don’t I seek out my friendships and creative community as much as I want to.

Prioritize self care

Especially in the mornings. I know the importance of self care and I keep learning it over and over. It’s not an indulgence or luxury, it is a foundational need for every person. I’ve learned a routine that works for me: I have a list of self care actions that I practice daily (that don’t feel like chores or another to-do). Checking three off is a good day, checking more off is even better (and checking none off is ‘a try better tomorrow, notice how you feel today’ day). My current list: take a bath, read, move my body, meditate, write 3 gratitudes before bed, cup of tea, write 1 page in the morning, sleep 8 hours, play, track food + exercise. I prioritize self care by keeping a simple spreadsheet beside my bed that I check off before bed. My target: to focus on self care throughout the day, not just before bed.

How to Communicate, Display, and Sell at a Pop Up Shop

How to communicate and sell at a pop up shop

Moulton pop up at West Elm, December 2015

I do several pop ups per year as a jewelry business with a private studio but not a brick and mortar. I’m honored that Moulton has popped up at local boutiques like Kettle & Brine and Byron & Blue and national brands like Madewell and West Elm. Over time, I’ve learned lots of pop up shop best practices, tips, and what not to do. Basically, I’ve learned how to communicate, display, and sell at a pop up shop. I’ve collated all of my knowledge here to share as I wish I’d had this when I started out. Our best work comes from creating out of necessity, right?

The most important takeaway to start —

you will excel at pop ups or shows if you are genuinely interested in making real connections with shoppers.

Everyone can feel when someone is selling to them or only interested in making money — you will scare or repel people away with that tactic. It can be vulnerable to stand there with your work on display and essentially asking people to judge it by making a purchase or not. If you shift your focus to interacting and connecting then the vulnerable and egoic feelings are less likely to overwhelm you. And then you define success by the only thing you have control over — yourself.

Another way to look at it when you’re struggling — see it as market research. You get to watch what people touch, what they point and smile or laugh at, what they try on, what they ask about. And most importantly – you get feedback on who your ideal customer is. This is the best indicator to me of what customer favorites are, helps to guide me in production and what to highlight on social media, what to pitch to ambassadors/influencers, and/or do promotional sales. It is the single most helpful feedback I get on my work.

…..

Let’s get to it! Here are my tips:

Set Up

  • Put newsletter sign up on the shopper’s right side of table along with a stack of business cards. For some reason most people start at the left side of your table and move right. Taking advantage of this tendency will get you the most newsletter sign ups. And for shy shoppers or people who aren’t interested in buying that day they might just make a beeline for your newsletter sign up and not say a word to you.

sidenote: I cannot stress the importance of newsletter sign ups enough. Even if 90% of people don’t buy from you at the pop up, having their email allows you to continue to reach out to them and persuade them to become your customer (maybe even repeat customer). A lot of people are conscious consumers and they may not buy outright and that’s totally okay. Meeting you in person and getting a feel for your work means they might make a purchase for a gift or during holiday season. Not to mention that being delivered directly to someone’s email inbox is the only method where you insert your information into their life — they have to seek you out on social media channels. Newsletter sign ups are gold.

  • It’s a good idea to put low priced item near the newsletter sign up and business card stack. Maybe you can place a group of samples or one offs that are discounted (and/or might be discontinued) or even just a lower priced item. Another way to grab them and get them to browse for a minute or two.
  • Here’s roughly my set up equation (this is secondary to aesthetics but I default to this): I like to place my expensive items in the back middle of the table. Intermediately priced objects go on the shoppers left. Low, entry level buy in items are front and center, closest to them — bonus points if they can sort through them. Intermediate items in shoppers back right corner. Discounted/OOAK/discontinued/low price item near newsletter sign up (front right, close to them).

How to communicate and sell at a pop up shop

Moulton show display / photo via Kettle & Brine

Display

  • Bring a mirror if you sell anything that they put on themselves (hair accessories, jewelry, pins, clothes, bags, etc.)
  • Keep scissors, tape, string, and paper (or index cards) in your pop up box. See below for my always packed pop up box.
  • Have dishes or bins in the front center to let people sort through while they browse and talk to you. It will help ease the awkwardness of the interaction (people don’t like shopping if they feel watched) and give them a reason to hang around for longer.
  • Use a variety of displays — keep in mind colors, textures and height.
  • Work on collecting interesting pieces for your display. In the beginning I did everything uniform (because I like symmetry aka I’m a perfectionist) but I’ve learned that pieces pop less when everything is the same. So I’ve worked on collecting interesting pieces (can be conversation starter!) like an antique cast iron mirror, dishes from anthropologie and thrift/vintage stores, linen flag with my logo that a local screen printer did, black aquarium sand in dishes to lay bracelets on top (makes them pop and people love sifting it while talking), etc. My current favorite display piece is a vintage brass longhorn name card holder that I found in Florence — what are the chances!

Interacting/Connection

  • Make sure to display some of your favorite work and/or work you’re really proud of to talk about with customers. This will come in handy with connecting and you’ll sometimes be asked your origin story and/or what you’re excited about. Think about it like this: everyone knows that artists are often discovering new things and incorporating new techniques into their work. A great way to connect is to be transparent and let people into your process. (A personal example: I took a ceramics class because I was interested in learning and thought I’d just make displays for shows. I ended up getting really into it and I love getting to talk about it with shoppers. And they think it’s really cool when they find out that I made the ring dishes.)
  • Have an elevator speech prepared if you’re nervous about talking to strangers. It really is up to you to engage and guide the conversation. This was so hard for me in the beginning but I’ve learned some tips:

> 1. Have your elevator speech prepared. Mine goes like this: “Hi! How are you?/How’s your day going?” A minute later after finishing up how are yous: “Everything is handmade here in my Austin studio with my two hands, feel free to try anything on, and let me know if you have any questions!” And at same time or a minute or few minutes later: “There’s a pop up special today — you save 20% when you buy two or more things.”

2. Have a few questions ready to ask. I.e. “How’s your summer going?” “What do you have going on today?” “Do you live here in Austin?”

  • Don’t sit at your table, stand and preferably off to the side. I know it’s tempting to sit when it’s slow or your feet hurt but I guarantee you it will affect your sales. And standing off to the side is less intimidating for a customer to approach. Depends on set up but I usually stand off to my right side. (If you must sit, make sure it’s on a stool. No chairs.).

Sales

  • I’m not sure this needs to be said but I use a square reader at pop ups. I’ve used it since the beginning and am used to how it works. Plus now it’s everywhere so people are familiar and trust it. I’ve thought about using the quickbooks reader as that’s my accounting software but haven’t made the switch. (I would probably only switch if it helped keep up with inventory or there was another incentive).
  • I generally don’t keep a cash bank on me. Most people make purchases with a debit card regardless of the price and I usually forget to bring one. That said, if someone wants to pay with cash then I do my best to round with what they have (and usually forfeit a few dollars because I can’t make change. Never more than $4).
  • Consider offering promotions. One that works well for me is 20% off when you buy two or more things. It incentives spending extra and people feel like they’re getting a good deal. It’s fun all around — higher sales and happier customers. Also promotes a giving mentality, i.e. they wanted one for themselves and then grabbed another for their sister/friend.

Practical Tips

  • Variety of prices. Make sure to have one entry level item and a variety of prices from there. This varies depending on your goods but for me this shakes out to: one style that’s $30 and then goods that range from $40-$250 or so. This allows shoppers a low buy in if they’re a fan of you/your work but can’t afford or don’t want to make a significant investment. On the other end, shoppers are sometimes looking for investment pieces or they have restrictions on what they can wear (i.e. they need to wear karat gold) in which case they’re prepared to make a more significant investment and you have made that possible for them!
  • I often get asked how to get in touch with owners/events person at a store. My best advice is this: connect to the owner and/or events person by supporting them first — cold pitches can be hard (for me at least). Better yet, have someone introduce you — that connection will be stronger and also make you more comfortable. If you don’t have someone in common, support them first. Be their customer. After you’ve shown your support ask them if they ever collaborate with small brands and express your interest. Then let it be. Put it out into the universe but don’t be overwhelming or pushy. A genuine connection will be much more successful than a forced one.
How to communicate and sell at a pop up shop
Moulton pop up, February 2016
  • If you’re slow, keep busy by rearranging and straightening the table. Things get moved around and messy so it’s important to keep up with in general. Also, most people won’t approach you if you’re standing there starting at them and/or on your phone
  • People are attracted to your table when there’s a few people around because it’s less pressure on them and I think there’s a psychological component to it. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to have a few things to sort through in the front center (for me it’s a few dishes with an assortment of rings). People can talk to their friends, browse, try things on, ask questions and people will keep coming up.
  • Plan to know what you’ll say if someone asks for an additional discount. People will try to haggle, don’t get offended. Just know how you want to approach it.
  • It’s okay to have staff on hand to help but it’s really best for the owner to be there too. Customers are interested in the origin story, your passion, connecting with you, and being a proud ambassador of your work. This is where you can create true fans. Ideally you’d be there doing the meet and greet and then have someone help with sales and packing orders up.

I keep a box permanently packed for pop ups so when it’s time to do a pop up I only need to pack the goods for sale. Here’s a list of what I include:

  • flat displays
  • cedar blocks to elevate pieces
  • a mirror
  • an assortment of dishes and trays
  • black aquarium sand
  • scissors and tape
  • pen and paper (or index cards — better weight)
  • packaging (jewelry boxes, tissue paper, shopping bags, etc.)
  • notebook to collect newsletter sign ups
  • table cloth
  • business cards
  • sign with your logo (I use screen printed flag by Ramona Press, in the past I’ve used a piece of wood with my logo laser burned)
  • price tags — I’ve tried them all and I like these a lot
  • a table (here’s my favorite table and legs — it’s heavy to schlep around but looks really modern and expensive). A folding table is much easier but doesn’t look as good!

…..

I think that’s it! I’ve covered everything I can think of. Still have a question? Ask me in the comments!

Was this article helpful? Let me know if the comments so I’ll know to write more!

 

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