Category Archives: Get Inspired

find beauty even now

Find Beauty Even Now

Happy Monday everyone!

We’re in the height of summer around here. With it comes sweltering heat, a bit of hibernating, and loads of iced coffee. As we’ve spent almost a month back home, we’re in the fullness of the cusp of adulting. Some days it’s exhilarating, other days it can feel exhausting. We absolutely love our clients and everything they represent. But at the end of the day, hustle is still hustle. There’s beauty to the tension.

In the feelings of Mondays, may you find contentment. In the midst of the messy desks, conference calls, dirty diapers, and a cluttered house, may you find joy as you navigate your day. In the moments of heartbreak, hurt, and pain, may you find the beauty of wholeheartedness. May you find fresh inspiration, moments of beauty in the nuances of the ordinary and seemingly mundane. May you find the fresh breath, a slowing down, and a moment of mindfulness in between the necessary tasks.

Find beauty, even now.

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5 Tips on Creating Systems that Work

When it comes to all things business, my personality is a rare combination. I thrive on both process and structure within creativity. Due to some of the larger projects I have taken on over the past few years, my business has lead to consulting and helping other creative entrepreneurs build their business. Whether it’s conversations about planning, branding, or launching something to the public, many struggle to make and stick to systems. I’ve found that many systems can be quickly adapted and modified to something that works for you, your life, and your business.

Over the past year of listening to entrepreneurs, here are 5 tips on how to create systems that work.

Know thyself.

One of the biggest hangups in business is not knowing the best ways we work, process information, or derive creative energy. Here are a few great questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s the motivation behind my company? What are the core values behind it? How will this motivation propel me on days where I don’t feel like hustling?
  • When do you have the most energy? Schedule your days accordingly. If mornings are your thing, dedicate your creative, heavy thinking, project dreaming, copy writing time to this. If evenings are your jam, leave your mornings for sourcing, errands, and other things that make your business tick.
  • If structure and systems feel overwhelming and daunting, like everything within you wars against it, it’s time for a heart check. Ask yourself why? Have you believed that being creative means an on-the-go, carefree, nomadic life? Does structure feel counter to driving something creatively? Figure out a way to reconcile this tension and find a way to move forward. Without systems, you might feel like you’re drowning. Access the feelings within and make a plan to move past them.

Break things down into manageable parts.

When it comes to major project launches, overhauls, or client projects, break things down into something that is scaleable and manageable. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will any good business. Look at what you need to do. Break out a pen and paper. List it out and break it down. Know what your capacity is and what is manageable for you. For month long projects, I break down pre-production deadlines week by week. This allows for a bit more flexibility throughout my days allowing for things to have breathing room. However, I do know what I need to get accomplished throughout the week and get to it. If you’re offering services and have income goals for your year, look at your pricing structure and how much work you need to do to get there. For example, if you want to increase your sales by $20,000 for the year, divide that amount by 4. This means you need to increase your sales by $5,000 each quarter. This is a manageable $1600 per month, around $400 a week. Base your hourly rate and pricing structure accordingly.

Develop systems for pain points in your business (or life). 

Have an email list to develop that you’ve been putting off? Are you terrible at keeping a house and a healthy lifestyle? Do you have sheer panic when it comes to tax season? Develop systems for the things that slow you down and are pain points. In our house, this is really practical. We love things to be clean, but really hate spending days off doing chores. We take one morning to get everything done. Here’s how it works for us. We start with laundry. While we are doing our first load of wash, we put anything in the dryer that might need dry cleaning. As things are in the wash, we clean out the fridge, make a grocery list, and do a quick clean of the house. We switch laundry, put in our second load, and head to the store to put up anything we might need for the week. In around 3 hours, we complete everything we need to do (including 3 loads of laundry and a load of dry cleaning) for the week and it’s ready to have anyone over. We do the same thing for our bookkeeping. When our credit card bill comes in, we transpose expenses to excel. We try to do it once a month, but if we get a bit behind, we do it once a quarter. Taking things in smaller pieces, relieves pressure, and keeps overwhelm at bay.

Stick to your systems.

There are weeks where we don’t want to stick to our systems. We see friends who work a part-time schedule and it’s easy to be envious, want to bail, hit the lake, and embrace the carefree side of life. Dreams and going after a career are far from easy. It takes crazy amounts of time to get where you want to be, but in the long run we’re thankful and so grateful for what can happen when we choose to follow our systems.

Remember the purpose of systems. They provide freedom to run after greatness. 

As an entrepreneur you got started for a reason. You had an idea, a plan, and something that excited. You probably got into business for yourself for a good reason. You love the idea of working from your yoga pants in bed, the flexibility in hours, or the idea of building your own vision. The purpose of systems is to serve the greater good of your business. It allows for freedom, growth, and abundance to occur. Systems allow you to tweak things, make improvements, and with a bit of discipline provide creative freedom unlike ever before.

How are you doing at developing system? Is this a pain point in your business? What tasks do you need a system and a workflow for?

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.


open up let the light in

Getting Real: Open up Let the Light In

I sat in an office and was having a conversation. During this meeting, I was hit smack in the face. Another one of those moments,  I became definitively more self aware in a seconds then I had been in years. It was phrased as a simple question.

“Mel, what if the very things you desire in life, are the very things you are insulating yourself from?”

It was after that conversation I went on a journey. It was surrounded by a simple question. In light of the mess, the current challenges that life had delivered, how was I going to be mindful and to live open? What did dropping perfectionism, shame, and letting others in again look like. How would I lend myself to trust again, putting together pieces, and invite people into relationship.

I’m thankful to admit that the subsequent months got better. Things got easier. As an creative entrepreneur it’s easy to relate to others out of a feed, likes, engagement, and following. We’re all committed to the hustle and as an extrovert who frequently works from a coffee shop, we all can sit in our respective corners and relate strictly to one another out of curated feeds and content that fill our days. It’s easy, but far from true, honest, or the connection we so deeply long for. The year got better and there was something that was unlocked within others. Somewhere through mindfulness, journey, and much prayer, I was able to live open and found myself in a place where greater freedom existed. I was no longer confined to the definitions of my work or the significance that my creativity could bring to the world. Rather, I found breath, freedom, and love in relating to others without expectation. There was a freshness, a rawness to it all that I have come to love.

How will you live open today?

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.

Endless Summer Playlist

Vol 5 | Endless Summer Playlist

It seems we’re now in the height of summer. Our days are spent getting up early and hitting the gym, to squeeze in the fun moments of margin. It means night swims, bonfires with friends on the beach, and walks at sunset. Outside of the heat it has become one of my favorite seasons. The days are long, things are a bit more laid back, and I love the rhythm it provides. In celebration of an endless summer vibe, we put together this little playlist. We hope it sets the perfect backdrop for workflows, afternoon adventures, and any roadtrip your summer might hold.

Keep reading for the full playlist after the jump!

Vol 5 | Endless Summer Playlist

Do you have any favorite tunes this summer? Music finds you can’t live without?

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.

anchal brand stories

Brand Stories: Anchal Project

Coupling social change, minimal aesthetic, and sustainable growth, Anchal Project is changing what we know of the fair trade industry. Based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, I sat down with Colleen and Maggie, the two sisters behind the project, for this in-depth interview. I walked away inspired, invigorated, and truly excited about what Anchal is doing and hope you will as well.

Keep on reading for the full interview after the jump!

How did Anchal Project begin?

{Colleen}: It started as a class project. When I was in graduate school at the School of Rhode Island Design. I was studying landscape architecture. I thought I was going to design parks and plazas. But as apart of a seminar course I was talking called Design and Development. During that class, I had the opportunity to travel to India and work with local organization, New Light, a non-profit in Calcutta. It was here that I had this realization and the “A-ha” moment that I could combine my passion and interest in design with positive social and environmental change. Our group project was really just a call for some sort of textiles initiative. As we started talking with this NGO, she was in the middle of a red light district. Once we had this dialog, she was expressing a void in their programming for the commercial sex workers. They had outreach and needs met for the children, but they didn’t really have anything in their programming or economic alternatives for the women themselves. So we started brainstorming ideas, come back to Rhode Island, sold notebooks and notecards. We raised $400 and that was what got the project off the ground initially. We started training our first group of artisans shortly following. This was in 2009. Then Maggie joined forces quickly after that. After we had done a lot of piloting work selling products. Then from there, together we’ve really grown the business and the organization.

What is the main difference between Anchal Project and other fair trade brands?

{Maggie}: I think we are all mission-driven, but kind of have a different approach. One, we focus really heavily on aesthetic and design. Not only is it how we have creative problem solving but how we approach programmatic difficulties or organizing artisans structure in the program. But we really value a contemporary design aesthetic within the company and with the goods themselves. One big difference is we don’t work with artisans or skilled artisans to begin with. These women have never had a job before or really skills to speak of. We spend a lot of time training with them and with that we kind of want them to have a leg up in the fair trade world so having contemporary and modern aesthetic is important. Then I think because we are working with such a small group of women we really are dedicating the growth of our company to parallel the skill improvement and being sustainable with the growth. We started with a group of 15 artisans, now we have over 130. We wanted to make sure that as they progressed in their skillset our products reflected it accordingly. We started with a very simple quilt, then they advanced and we started making scarves. Then they learned how to work with zippers and it was a miracle. As they’ve improved, our business has grown. We’ve been able to challenge them and they’ve been able to challenge us. So together we’ve been able to have a constant evolution of our product.

{Colleen}: I’d say in addition, because Maggie and I both have a design background that it was really important to us early on that we would give the design and the tools to the artisans themselves for them to become the designers. We’re slowly teaching techniques and color theory and composition and creative outlets essentially. We’re in the final stages of that and we’ve found it coming full circle as they’re actually designing the pieces and creating it. Which is exciting.

Do you sense a change in the fashion industry? Are you finding more knowledgeable consumers?

The mindset of the consumer often depends on where we are and who the event is targeting. Overall, people are more aware and we’ve been doing this for seven years. People seem to have a general reference point for what fair trade is and a brand to compare it to. Even if it’s a brand like Toms shoes, they kind of get it. Even in the beginning those companies weren’t mainstream. Now they are, so it’s a little bit easier for us to tell our story. But in the beginning, it was a lot of education. We would mention one part of social enterprise and people would be like, “What?” We’ve really noticed a shift and more people that we speak to is less of the longing of a rationalization of why you should buy this but are a little more educated to begin with.

And I agree, particularly with the fair trade element of it is one thing, but as you speak to the fashion shift in the kind of where things are sourced and people caring about the true cost, the fashion revolution, led to a mainstream dialogue where people now share and create change together.

It’s really interesting too, because we had our program in India for 7 years time and convincing people that everything you purchase is made by somebody from half way around the world, why not invest in somebody you know? Why not invest in the maker where you can see her face, know her story, and know it’s fair trade wages? But when we launched our local initiative with our Dyescape garden, which is where we’re growing natural dyes and aiming to produce items here in Louisville, that was the epiphany moment for a lot of people. It kind of gives us another element of explanation to people. It’s saying, “We’re more similar, than we are different.”

Tell us a bit more about Dyescape.

{Colleen}: That happened on a whim of a conversation entry. It was something that we had been thinking about for a while as far as how to bring the model closer to home. It was a great opportunity to combine a lot of our interests in design and spacial design and urban design all into one project. In 2014, I put together a design proposal that the city had a call for entry for communities or designers to put together their creative solutions for vacant properties. Our proposal was for a natural dye garden and an educational space within it. It’s kind of the anchor to a larger network of gardens that could help cultivate and grow natural dye plants because it’s such a major polluter in the global environment. We started construction in 2014 and then had our first growing season in 2015. But essentially right now, we’ve trained 6 women who were trafficked in the sex trade here in Louisville grow, harvest, and dye with plants that are grown here, not elsewhere, with all natural dyes. That’s going to continue. We just received a grant about a month ago. That will help have enough foundation and seed money to continue training. We made a line of ornaments that we sold during the Christmas of last year that we made here and sold.  Everything again, goes back to meeting the need of women where they are and then adapting the program to their needs. That’s kind of where we’re at with that. We’re hoping to launch a full collection with Dyescape with homegrown stuff.

You moved studios in January. Why did you want to be situated in the Portland neighborhood?

{Colleen}: Well, one our garden is right down the street, so that was a high priority. I think we wanted to be apart of a creative culture and we have loved being with other non-profits and creatives. It’s kind of like that dream space that we could always have more collaboration happen. In our old space we were isolated more. It made sense when we were looking for new spaces, that Gill showed us this old school building. We walked in and loved all of the light. Our old office had hardly any windows. But mainly because of all the other people that also showed interest in this building and then the neighborhood in general, we wanted to be apart of something that could reinvigorate the community. We had been going to the community meetings for the last few years and had started to become invested in the neighborhood too.

How do you cultivate creativity and ideation? What does your creative process look like?

{Maggie} : For both of us it’s definitely different. We just completed a two-week shret, a design intensive where we finalized our winter/fall collection. We’re always looking for inspiration everywhere. We like to take trips and travel is important for both of us. We both do have different processes.

{Colleen}: What inspires a lot of the pieces we design for Anchal specifically that’s based on the vernacular imagery of the artisans themselves. It really inspires me to design certain pieces and our whole Narrative Collection was  designed from an entry in India that we gathered over the years. I always have to get into nature and decompress before I come back. I like to draw and sketch out ideas. I think it’s like opposites. She’s over on her computer and I’m over at the desk drawing stuff. I do a lot of different iterations and like to paint things.

{Maggie}: It’s reflective of our backgrounds. She was landscape architecture and I was architecture. I tend to be a bit more structured and controlled with things and she’s a bit more crazy. It’s also reflective of how we run the business. She’s always like, “Yes. Yes, let’s do that. Totally.” Whereas, I typically respond with, “Let’s bring it back. Bring it back in.” It’s good because she pushes and says yes to stuff. Dyescape wouldn’t have happened. When we got it, I was like, “Oh no. Now what have we gotten into now. What are we going to explore here?” We definitely have a different process but it balances our talents and weaknesses.

What is a piece of advice would you give to a small business owner, dreamer, or creative?

{Maggie}: There’s definitely a lot of advice I would give. But there’s always the first step. It feels somewhat daunting to find it and discover what that step is. However, when you take the first step and put it out there, realize you’re doing a lot more than some people ever will. I’ve watched people. Our generation has so many beautiful ideas and has an opportunity to do things no generation ever has before. You look around and if you just talk to people, make those connections, you’re not going to be able to do it alone. Start talking to people and taking the first step with networking. It gets you more power, energy, and a toolkit of resources. Despite going to community meetings and going to every networking event out there, just take that first step and begin getting yourself and your idea into the world and out there. Just start talking about it.

{Colleen}: I’ll reiterate that point. I think when you have an idea, something that you might want to start, it’s very fragile inside of you. It’s scary to talk about it. Even with family or friends, but once you do put it out in the world just by speaking about it, then it holds you a little bit more accountable. Then you can take your first steps and you never know who they’ll connect you to based on that conversation. You never know the connections you can make and where it might lead. But with that, it’s not like I came to this with a business plan and everything was all hashed out and I knew exactly what to do. I was a design student. I didn’t know what a non-profit was. I didn’t know how to do much of anything. But I had this idea that we could create change by giving basic jobs and design training and career opportunities to these women. I think that being 24 with no experience it was hard to get listened to, hard to get funding early, but that was the defining point. Once you get an idea, and have a few people on board, you build a little track record. That’s what we did. Even with the artisans. We worked with them for a few months and we made one piece. It was such a celebration. I could then take pictures of these artisans, of what they had created, and connect it to a product and talk about it full circle, then that continued to snowball. Just keep pushing, one little step at a time. Take the idea and push it as far as it can possibly go.

Around your space I’ve noticed the phrase, “Love your didi.” Tell me a little bit more about that.

{Maggie}: Didi means sister in Hindi. All the artisans communicate that way and that’s all of us. It’s just like sisters. It’s simply “Didi.” Kind of like, I need you or wanting to get attention of someone. We had a campaign early on in the begin of Anchal. It was a conversation with actress America Ferrera, launching our infinity scarves. It was the Didi connection, simply that we’re a global sisterhood. Everyone is a sister and support your sisters. It started as that and then became office slang used jokingly.

{Colleen}: More than anything, it’s a compassionate and endearing word that we all like to use around the office and in general when talking about the project and our artisans. In general women can be really competitive, but we’re all really in this together.

As you look to Fall/Winter collections and the rest of 2017, how are you wanting to grow the company?

{Maggie}: As of right now a lot of our revenue is through online sales and retail. We are funded through donations and retail currently. We want to become self-sufficient through sales alone. Though we do a few pop-up events, we’re expanded our wholesale and partnerships. We’ve done two NYNow trade shows and are doing another one in August. That’s a lot of our focus right now. We’re expanding our brand awareness, getting our product into places as we can. We have stuff in Tokyo, all over the country, and in London. We’re increasing our partnerships and just completed a custom collaboration with an organization called, Thistle Farms. They do similar work as what we do and they do a lot of body care products. They do lotions, candles, and they’re a fantastic organization. We just did a bunch of quilts for them. We’ve done a collaboration with Urban Outfitters in the past and that was hopeful for us for the scale of partnerships to look forward to.

{Colleen}: In the next three years we hope to double in size artisan wise, so that just means our focus is continuing to improve the products and expand. As far as products that we’ve designed, we’ll be expanding our table linens, new collections of more affordable priced quilts, pillows, and bags. We’ve got lots of different stuff.

Thank you so much for joining us for this brand interview and a huge thanks to the women at Anchal for making time for this interview. Make sure to follow Anchal Project’s Instagram.

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