Journal followers are likely familiar with one of the newer faces on our design team: Erin Reitz (née Connelly), who we have featured recently. Erin and business partner Kerry Clark Speake are co-founders of The Commons, a Charleston, South Carolina-based shop that sells high quality, local, and American-made housewares. In addition to the work at The Commons, Erin and Kerry also collaborate with talented artisans to create their own collection of glassware and hand-thrown ceramics: The Shelter Collection. (And we’re also working on a glassware collaboration, which will be out this holiday season.)
But, Erin’s design skills extend beyond the arena of home goods. She also has extensive design experience creating garments and accessories. Before opening The Commons, she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and interned with designer Nanette Lepore, before going on to work with brands like Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Levi Strauss & Co., and Eddie Bauer. Though a key member of the Alabama Chanin design team, Erin’s home base is in Charleston, where she resides with her husband (and Alabama Chanin collaborator) Brooks Reitz.
As part of our continuous exploration into the creative process, we were interested in finding out what spurs creativity in someone who has worked at all ends of the spectrum—from a large corporation, to her own independent craftwork. We are also excited to share what we are learning about Erin and her creative point-of-view through our work together.
(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.)
Alabama Chanin: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?
Erin Reitz: For me to be truly creative, yes. I have been a designer for so long in the commercial retail environment that I am able to create on demand. I can quickly design clothing to fit the need. But I almost see this as creative problem solving rather than an artistic creativity. Considering all your parameters, and coming up with the best solution.
When I am truly creative, it feels like an entirely different state of mind. I will get lost in a story in my head, with an incredible rush of energy and optimism. This usually comes in distinct waves when I am well rested (or drinking coffee) and when some piece of new inspiration has come up. Either from traveling, or discovering a new artist, or even just taking a walk and smelling something new…then I can be triggered into creating a concept. When I am in this mode, it feels similar in my mind to being lost in a book; I can feel it so deeply from many angles.
The best feeling is when you can find a creative partner to express these thoughts to without them losing their power once you have said them out loud. I feel this deeply with my partner in The Commons, Kerry Speake. And Natalie and I have an immediate comfort, where I feel like I can say the weirdest thing that has just popped into my brain, and she fully listens and responds like we are in the same place.
AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?
ER: I think it is probably both. But there are people who feel more comfortable operating from their right brain, where you have fewer constraints with facts and more potential to alter perceptions.
AC: Creativity for me is ______________________.
ER: Creativity for me is the juiciest part of life.
AC: How do you define success?
ER: True expression.
AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?
ER: I think you cut your losses if you have lost interest. But as long as you still feel like you’re walking a path that resonates with your initial intention then PRESS ON!
AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?
ER: The lightest parts are in the beginning, when the first flash of the idea comes. And it seems like connections are popping all over your brain. The idea and story feels like it has no boundaries. There are so many ways to interpret the shape you’re inspired by, so many materials and techniques that could achieve the texture or color, and so many meanings that you can portray through one simple idea. I love tying these ideas together, building a wall of images, and sketching into the defining principles of that idea.
The heaviest part is selling it.
AC: What parts of your imagination seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?
ER: This is my favorite question.
The lightest are the visual components. Seeing something inspiring and beginning to link it to ideas. When I am in the space in my brain that feels limitless and hopeful. When I am romancing myself with the idea and creating the fantasy around it.
The heaviest is the fear of executing the idea. Where there are boundaries everywhere…What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t find that material? What if I can’t make a reality what I see in my head? And then, even worse—if this is an idea I want to sell – what if it doesn’t? It is all tied together and weighed down by fear.
Luckily the light side usually greatly outweighs the heavy side!
AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?
ER: Yes! To stay creative I need to work at creating the empty spaces in my mind, so I have space to wonder. Meditation has been a key part of this for me for a long time. Always looking for the “right path” – and I don’t think you can find that unless you have some quiet in your mind regularly. That really helps to steer my mind away from listening to the fearful voices as well.
Lately I have discovered that exercise is equally important to this as meditation. I’ve finally realized the connection to a strong body and strong mind. And how much easier it is to walk that path you’re trying to create when you can literally walk with strength and ease.
AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?
ER: I have always had a fantasy of being a museum curator. I LOVE collections. I find it so pleasurable to make esoteric links between things…invisible strings tying a group together. But I also know that is why I love clothing: connecting a group in ways that are obvious to people, and ways that no one may ever know.