A former business partner of mine once wrote a press release that stated our company “came from nowhere.” When I read that “came from nowhere” years ago, my stomach began to turn and, honestly I was a little angry and my feelings were a bit hurt. That sentence seemed to imply that our work was effortless and my business was created magically, without the pains of labor. It certainly didn’t feel to me like I came from nowhere.
Who was talking about me working my way through design school with a four-year-old child, on a wish and a prayer? Who talked about years of working day-in-day-out? Who knew that, in the beginning, I often worked alone, in a basement full of cave crickets and the occasional 6-foot snake? Those were important moments in the life of our company. Ignoring those moments makes our accomplishments seem less important. Nothing comes from nowhere.
The sentiment of “came from nowhere,” of instant gratification, seems rampant in our modern society. My seven-year old daughter wants to know how to play the piano – today. As Alabama Chanin has grown and adapted over the last ten years, we have seen young designers and writers come and go, wanting to learn it all and have it all immediately, as experts like Diane Hall, our master seamstress, sit quietly alongside, watching. While a healthy dose of enthusiasm is desirable, a healthy respect for where a company comes from, what trials it has weathered, and what has gone before seems to be lacking.
Artist Chuck Close famously said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” And, while that might be slightly cynical, there is certainly a grain of truth there. There are thousands, even millions, of great ideas out there. But, what transforms a great idea into something tangible is really just a lot of determination and hard work. That sounds simple, maybe even trite, but most successful business owners will agree. Show up. Do the work. Care about what you are doing. Learn when others are willing to teach. And excel where others fail. The “how” is up to you.
Successful and lasting businesses that are born and, more importantly, grow, are built piece-by-piece; each component must fit together like a well-made jigsaw puzzle, with a finished product that makes sense as a larger whole. It is inevitable that you will attempt to put the wrong piece in the wrong place. Sometimes, you may try to force an ill-fitting piece into the wrong shaped space. With time and experience, you learn – if you are paying attention.
Math-teacher-turned-psychologist Angela Duckworth has extensively researched how hard work and “grit” impact success toward long-term goals. She found that, for many subjects, grit is an “x-factor” that helps people achieve long-term goals. Grit, Duckworth found, is only slightly related to IQ. In other words, there are smart gritty people and dumb gritty people. Regardless, students who were studied that scored high on the “grit scale*” were more likely to earn high grades, regardless of whether those students were considered smart or dumb (according to her measurements). So, those that want to succeed should ask themselves: How motivated am I? How much do I want this? How hard am I willing to work to earn it? How gritty am I?
Our industry, and our society as a whole, is often focused on immediate wants. That’s how fast fashion came to be: consumers wanted more, faster, and cheaper. The costs of this way of doing business are beginning to haunt us, as the old idiom warned – the chickens are coming home to roost. Our Slow Design approach embodies more than just design and fashion. It is a representation of how we approach business and life. If you slow down a bit, you see that more, faster, and cheaper is not as important as it seems. And if you slow down a bit more, you can see that you have teachers all around you – succeeding, failing, and modifying their approaches. Success doesn’t “come from nowhere.” Success comes from your experiences, your willingness to learn, and your true grit.