Values stretch so much further than income
In collaboration with Everlane, we recently hosted our first live interview with jewelry designer and store owner Caroline Ventura. Check out some snaps from the night and read what Caroline had to say about surviving the creative world, what justifies an entrepreneur in the first place, and why naps at 2PM are totally OK.
“I never have an answer for the question ‘What Do You Do?’. Working in a creative field is so subjective, people are going to form their own opinion about what you do, regardless of how you introduce yourself. I never considered myself an artist until a friend of mine (who is, what I’d consider, a real artist) referred to me as one. I had a preconceived notion of what an artist was: I didn’t go to art school, I don’t know how to paint, I don’t know any art history. But when she said that, it unlocked this weird realization that that term ‘artist’ can encompass a shitload of things. So I think at the heart of it all, that’s what I define myself as.
In the beginning, it was really difficult for me to justify what I was doing because I wasn’t making any money. It took a long time for me to understand that money isn’t what makes work valuable. I’m doing things because I’m passionate about them, because I believe in them. Just because I’m not making money from them doesn’t mean that I’m not legit. Money is such a weird measure in our society. It shouldn’t be what defines you, what builds your confidence. It shouldn’t be what you strive for either. A little money is necessary, sure. But didn’t someone write a song about how it causes more problems? Haha. I remember the first time I told someone I was a jewelry designer, and feeling so strange saying it because I was literally making zero dollars. It wasn’t until 2 years after I started that I began making money. Up until then it almost felt like a glorified hobby, and it really bothered me that I didn’t feel OK with what I was doing because I wasn’t earning anything from it.
It took a lot of time (and therapy) to understand that. A lot of telling myself that I’m doing what I’m doing for a reason. That eventually, I will get there. But that I’m no less of an artist, or any less of a person because I’m not bringing in the income of someone else who’s doing something comparable.
My husband and I started talking about opening some kind of store 5 years ago. It’s never been about pushing products onto people, it’s about building a community experience. Where someone can come sit on the couch and read a magazine, or answer their emails. We had someone come in the other week who brought a bottle of wine with them, and we just hung out. If you want to buy something, buy something. If you don’t, that’s cool too. Calliope is on the ground floor, and my studio is in the back of the store, so I’m always there. My husband’s business is on the 2nd floor, and we live on the 3rd floor. We also have an event space that we do programming with adjacent to the store. It sounds very culty. Our whole life is in this building, and that’s the toughest thing right now: separating work and life. I also constantly struggle with managing the business side of things, while maintaining a sense of creativity. It sucks to think that you have to sacrifice some of that creative side to be successful.
I’m not into goals, and never set them for BRVTVS or the store. I think it’s important to reach for something, but for me it’s more about smaller steps in between. If you want to call those goals, sure, but I don’t function well when I say, ‘In 5 years, I want to have 3 Calliope’s.’ That creates so much pressure. I have a general picture of how I want to progress, but if it doesn’t work out the way that I anticipated or hoped, that’s OK too. Goals for me have always been a measure of success or failure. If you reached it, you succeeded, if you didn’t, you failed. When the truth is you didn’t fail. Maybe the trajectory you took to reach that goal lead you down a different path.
I think the first year of BRVTVS was the most difficult, because I was still trying to figure out who I was and what I was trying to put out there. Thinking, are people going to care? Do we need another gold jewelry line? I almost just said, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna go get a job.’ I’m also not the type of person who wants to wave her arms and say, ‘Hey! Look at this cool thing that I made, you should really love it!’ I’ll let you decide if you want to love it or not. So those early days were extremely tough for me. It can be uncomfortable talking about the hard things we go through to get to where we are. It’s far more fun to see the shiny Instagram photos of whatever you’re doing. Nobody wants to see the photo of somebody at 3AM answering emails. We’re so voyeuristic and rejoice in all of the pretty things, nobody really talks about slugging through the shit. I think in my situation, people assume that there must be money involved, or make presumptions about how we have this weird-ass building that we live in. But I started my company with $2500 in the bank. I never got funding, I don’t have investors, it’s just me. I started BRVTVS in 2010, and
I don’t know that we ever grow out of our fears.
5 years. Which is actually not that long, but at the time it felt like forever. There were really difficult moments, a lot of crying, a lot of therapy bills and a lot of beautiful failures. People also love to say, ‘I could do that.’ Great! Go do it! Saying that totally disregards the fact that someone has put a piece of their heart and soul out into the world. Don’t undermine what someone is doing by saying you could do it too. You have no idea what struggles that person had to overcome to do what they’re doing. It takes so much more than what you see on someone’s website… that’s just scratching the surface.
Creativity is only a small part of doing your own thing. There’s always going to be that freak 2% of people who can close their eyes and whip up something magical. Like they came out of the womb creating. I’m not one of them. And I don’t think most people are. It takes a lot of self confidence to push through that initial fear of putting something out into the world.
What keeps me going is the stupid small things, like waking up and going to get a cup of coffee. Some semblance of a routine, because in between that routine is chaos. Also, one of the best things about this world that I’ve created is getting to meet all of these really awesome people. For me it’s more about the interaction, less about a transaction. That sounds like a really bad tagline… but that interaction is so much cooler than sitting behind my computer. I’ve also learned recently that it’s OK to take time off. We get so caught up in trying to work harder and harder. You have to work hard, but you can’t drive yourself crazy. And you need to sleep. I like to take a nap. And if I want to stop my day at 2PM and take a fucking nap, then that’s OK. Otherwise I might be a total bitch. I’m also insanely lucky to work so closely with my husband. We have a weird and wonderful partnership where we sort of feed off each other… when he’s down, I know I have to step up, and vice versa.
My fears are the same as they were when I was 5 years old. I’m afraid of failing, and of people not taking me seriously. I think a lot of what I’ve struggled with is not being formally trained, or the fact that I’m a college drop out. Or because I model occasionally, people think I’ve had hand outs all my life. That said—one thing I’ve never felt disadvantaged by is the fact that I’m a woman. I feel like I should say that I have, but I don’t. There are men making cool shit and doing cool things, and women making cool shit and doing their thing, and I don’t think that either one should be afforded an opportunity based on their gender. This resurgence of women who are stepping up and starting their own companies is really wonderful. But I’ve never felt like I needed an extra helping hand just because I’m a girl.
Regardless of who you are or what you’re doing, it’s so important to do what feels right for you. Because that authenticity will shine through. Don’t do it for other people. If you start creating work around what other people say or what you think is expected of you, that becomes a huge road block. People are going say what they’re going to say, and that’s fine. I’m always reminding myself that I value my own creativity enough to know that this is what I want to do. What makes me happy is knowing that I’m doing this for myself first, others second.”