We woke up this morning to the sound of gunshots in the woods. Hunting season has begun! Though I have no intention of ever shooting a deer, the crispness in the air indicates that my own sort of hunting season has also begun. Sweater hunting!
In order to make all my coats, I have become quite the thrift store gladiator. My creations eat up thousands and thousands of sweaters a year. I am an insufferable snob about the fibers I use, which makes sweater collecting an increasingly challenging sport. To find enough suitable jumpers, exquisite shopping routes and rituals have emerged. Starting in the fall, my sweater hunting expeditions take me all over the Northeast – from the Adirondacks to the Poconos to the Berkshires, and to the eastern end of Long Island.
I have my regular stores that I storm down upon with tactical precision. The managers tremble when I step through the door. The cashiers ask to go on lunchbreak when they see me navigating my armada of shopping carts toward the counter. The poor people in line behind me mutter under their breath. I can work a thrift store like nobody’s business. If you see me in your Salvation Army – get out of my way! (Just kidding, please – come say hello!!)
By the end of the day my car is stuffed to the ceiling with sweaters. The annoying “fasten seat belt” alarm goes off on the passenger seat because the bag of sweaters is so heavy. It is a glorious triumph.
Or at least it used to be.
I noticed last year that pickings are getting slimmer at the thrift stores. I have to travel further and further. Each store has less and less suitable sweaters. Wool is almost an endangered species. And they price! Oy! When I started out a few years ago I tried to average about $2.50 per sweater. Now (gulp!) they are selling for an average of $7.99 -if I can find them at all.
This past Wednesday was my first sweater hunt of the season. I went to my best best best store, the one where I always hit the jackpot. I felt crestfallen as I scanned the aisles. I was confused. Where were the sweaters?? It was surreal. This is prime season, and yet there was nothing. I continued on to seven more big thrift shops on Wednesday, and it was even.
I have no idea what is happening behind the scenes of the sweater economy. I do not know where all the nice wool sweaters have disappeared to. I don’t know why the prices have tripled. I can venture a bunch of guesses, but it does little to mitigate the fact that I might be kind of screwed. If this last sweater expedition is any indication of things to come, I am going to have to radically alter my business model.
(Wait – before I go on – I know that some wonderful people are gonna read this and tell me that they live in some thrift shop paradise where sweaters are cheap and plentiful, and offer to send them to me. I just want to nip that in the bud. By the time you mail me a sweater, you have to add several dollars of overhead for the postage, which make it cost prohibitive. Not to mention the fact that I am way too picky and demanding to trust another person to pick out sweaters for me. But thanks! I love you!! Hug!!)
I returned from my thrift store hunt a little depressed. Do you ever have those days where everything seems to indicate that our society is just hurdling towards greater lameness? The oceans are rising, the bees and dying, the government is watching every move we make, our health insurance sucks, corporations are taking over everything, we are all getting obese and apathetic, wars are erupting, and dammit, the thrift stores have so much less cool stuff than they used to! Ok, Maybe in that context Thrift Store Lameness isn’t the hugest tragedy to grapple with. But, still. You know what I mean.
This last sweater hunt was sobering. It forced me to confront the fact that my whole business model is so tenuous. Being a small business owner means that I am vulnerable. The Great Sweater Scarcity is just one piece of the puzzle. There are a dozen other Things Beyond My Control that can swoop down at any minute and rattle the crap out of my business. Not the least of which is my own human limitations. Sometimes I just get sort of tired of working so hard.
I wouldn’t trade my independence for anything. I will never have a boss or work for anybody every again. But sometimes being the captain of the ship is quite exhausting. I can never just go on autopilot and assume that things will just take care of themselves. As unbelievably fortunate as my business has been, I still have to constantly look at the horizon and contemplate what my next move must be. It is a constant temptation to just press my nose to the grindstone and keep repeating what has worked so well for me in the past. But in my heart I know that in order to make this weird business of mine thrive, I have to be innovating. I can never take for granted that my good fortune will continue. I have to look up to see the next vine I am going to grab as I swing from tree to tree. As pleasant as it would be to spend the next 50 years continuing to sew cute sweaters in my attic, I gotta look at the big picture.
(Please don’t sound the alarm – I am still first and foremost a sweatermaker, and I will do my best to keep up my pace. I am not exiting the sweater building. But I am trying to force myself to be a little more disciplined about envisioning what comes next.)
One of the magical things about making one-of-a-kind clothing, is that for each creation, you directly touch one person. You get to have that spark of connection and authenticity that is so utterly precious. You speak to each customer directly and feel a lovely glow of communion. The price of this warm fuzziness is the tremendous amount of work involved. If I want to reach more people, I have to sew more sweaters. Believe me, I try! But I am only one girl. I don’t want to hire someone else to make my art for me. I don’t want a stranger emailing my customers. My sweater business will always be limited in how much it can grow, because it is dependent on just my ten little fingers.
One of the (many!) great things about writing my Katwise Guide to Sweaters was that it was the first time that I made one creation, but I was able to share that one creation with thousands of thousands of people. It felt amazing to be liberated from that one-to-one correlation between effort and profit. Writing that book was the gift that keeps giving. Basically, what I am saying is that I want to write more books.
I am going to write books.
I have known this for so long. I have so much to say. I have the most heart-warming audience anyone could ask for! All the stars are lined up for this to happen. I want this.
Yet, it is so scary!!! I have been alarmed at my capacity for self-sabotage. All day long I get emails from people asking for business advice, or words of encouragement about how to pursue their artist dreams. I am a bubbly fountain of anecdotes and insightful wisecracks when it comes to other people. But following my own best advice has provided me with all sorts of new ways to squirrel away from my most cherished ambitions.
I started this blog at the beginning of the year as an exercise in writing discipline. I totally sucked! Dude, I only wrote like, half a dozen blog posts all year. Sometimes I get a great story in my head that I want to share, but them I feel underwhelmed by the photos I have to accompany it. I just let the whole thing unravel before it gets written. I gotta stop that.
So, here I am, officially apologizing for my future blog posts. They might not have photos. They definitely will have typos. My Self indulgent, run on sentences might exhaust you at times. But if I am gonna write, I gotta just WRITE, and not allow those things to distract me. Even right now I have about 10 photos I want to put in this post to make it cuter, but I know that it will take me so long to hunt them down that I will lose my steam to ever post this. So, fuck photos. Ok?
So, my question to you is this: If I am gonna write for you, what would you most like to read??
Also, do you have any good advice about how to be a more disciplined writer?
I really want to hear your thoughts, but these blog comments have been overrun with spam…so, if you can share your ideas on my Facebook page,that would be awesome!
Tags: blog, katwise, sweater, writing