Today I am writing about the value of money. Like many people – I’ve had a precarious relationship with money. Thank the Lord I am much more organized about it than in the olden days, but I still uncover places for growth each week. My partner Drew struggled with me in the early years when I was too afraid to face the numbers. Student loans were crushing me, I was working side jobs to preserve space for this business, and facing the numbers was a giant scary monster of a task. But over the years, Drew helped me come around and face the numbers. One of the things he shared with me hit home (again) this week: facing the numbers is about getting clear on what you value – where you want to put your money, what you want to do with your life, your energy. Is the money you spend drinking coffee out or on restaurants or drinks worth more to you than saving for a vacation or a class or investing in a piece of equipment to build your dream project? It may sound like I am casting judgement here, but I am not. Drinking a nice coffee while you write or catch up with friends may be worth an enormous amount to you. The trick is – getting clear on the value of what you do with your life.
Moving to Princeton has only reinforced this thinking – because $500 goes very far. It is rent on a workshop space. It is many valuable hours of stipends for an apprentice. It is 50% of a used and very high-quality piece of sewing equipment that will last longer than a business owner will. It pays for a professional photoshoot with a fashion photographer in West Virginia.
For better or worse, we are not in the stage of growth in Princeton where there are lots of nice places to eat out or get coffee or have a drink – areas of my budget that I previously had to watch like a hawk since it is so extremely easy to spend lots of money on these things. With the absence of these activities, I find myself 1 year in with a changed relationship to money. Money – relatively small amounts of money for someone who writes multimillion-dollar proposals for a living – has an enormous impact in a place like Princeton. It just goes further.
And this is not a surprise – this is by design. I picked the small, Appalachian town of Princeton because, for all our challenges with the lack of resources, the crushing debt of deferred health care, unhealthy food options or a run-down infrastructure – rents are cheaper and people can get further with less money here. A beautiful creative dream can be born without millions of dollars of investment – because all the inputs – the photography, the workspace, the wages are a fraction of what they cost in New York or LA. And the workforce is extremely hardworking and resourceful (example: our trainer, Lisa Lambert offered that her husband could weld us pattern weights). And yet that doesn’t mean that we are going to follow the traditional model in fashion of squeezing more work out of people for less money. The manufacturing model we are building will provide health insurance and a good living wage. We are going to provide a good livable job or bust.
And yet I am cognizant that we must ask people to pay more for their garments. For some this will be and has always been easy. Some people have lots of money. And for others – like myself with my current day job – it would require some rethinking on what I spend my money on. And this is hard in the days of student loans and rising gas prices.
It is an interesting clashing of worlds, creating jobs in Princeton. If you live here or have family in West Virginia, you know that frugality is on the top list of values. Make a dollar go as far as possible. It leads to an incredible culture of resourcefulness. Caning beans you grew in your backyard so that you don’t have to buy veggies. Foraging food so you can spend less to live. Making quilts out of old clothes. I grapple with this when a community member asks me how much the blouses will cost. For most people in this area – it will be an unthinkable amount of money to spend on clothing. The tricky business of coming to Princeton to create jobs by selling high quality, ethically made apparel is the clashing of worlds. The inequity in our country grows more extreme by the day. This is the hard truth. This is the reality – and there is no place to close that gap, but in our reality today – by creating womenswear that is made by people who are payed enough to live, to support their families, and with materials and manufacturing practices that are environmentally sound. The promise that we make our customers: we are creating enormous value with what you give us in exchange for our garments – for you and for the people who make it.
For those of you who have already signed up for the Founder’s Circle or are considering it, your money has a huge impact in Princeton, West Virginia. Your time providing input on our process, your money to pay us to make you a custom blouse is creating high quality jobs in a beautiful space in a reviving downtown in small town America, where dreams are once again possible one stitch at a time.
For those of you who show your support each week by following along, cheering us on and sending us notes of support – that means the world to me. Together we are forming a whole that will make this successful – the supportive community, the money, the talented and creative sewers, the creative professionals, Lisa Lambert’s awesome instruction and a workshop space. All these pieces have created a movement of support that is making this dream happen. We are doing it folks. Thank you for making this happen.
Go, fight, win.