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I used to want to be an opera singer. I studied classical voice in undergrad and worked at The Met in my 20s. Not as a singer, though. I worked in the education department.
A perk of that job was that I attended final dress rehearsals for all of the operas. This is where I got to see and hear Norman rehearse the role of Emilia Marty in Janacek’s The Makroposlis Case. Emilia Marty, an opera singer herself who has an interesting and long past. 300 years ago her father, a physician, made an elixir for the king for everlasting life. The king had the physician test the elixir on his daughter, Emilia. What a role. I’ll never forget it.
Hi Folks. As you may have read a few posts back, I’ve been making and selling saddle stitched leather bags. I enjoy working with my hands. And I enjoy the process of applying the knowledge I have to making something beautiful and practical. I draw on knowledge about creativity, sustainability, customer research, usability, materials & processes, operations, marketing, packaging, DIY & maker stuff. I also really enjoy the community I’ve been engaging with: artisans and craftspeople. They’ve been generous and helpful with their feedback as I’ve been getting this thing going.
I have a very simple site up. You can check it out here.
I hope you are doing well. Drop me a line at xanthe dot matychak at gmail dot com and let me know what creative things you’ve been up to. X
FOR FUN (a play on the title to this post)
I go back to, I go back to…
Hella Jongerius is a Dutch designer, founder of JongeriusLab (1993) based in Berlin. The first time I saw Jongerius’s work was about 10 years ago at a Droog exhibit in NYC. The piece of hers that burned a new pathway in my brain was Embroidered Tablecloth in which the designer ran a red embroidery thread through a white linen cloth and porcelain table setting.
This is what Jongerius does. She mixes industrial materials and processes with traditional ones. In doing this, she questions how we use these materials so that we might expand our thinking about what they are capable of and what they mean. The mix is powerful and disruptive yet beautiful and welcoming.
At present, Jongerius is preparing for a textiles show called Interlace at Lafayette Foundation in Paris. From what I see on instagram, the work is playful and gorgeous, simple and complex and I’d love – love – LOVE to see it in person. The show opens in June.
Since mid-March I’ve been designing and making hand cut & sewn leather bags. My goal is to launch a small line at a few crafts shows this fall. From there I will figure out what to do next. Make more inventory? Sell online? Manufacture on demand? Time will tell.
One thing I really enjoy about the process of designing and making bags is the slowness of it. It takes 4 hours to cut, prepare, and sew a full sized bag. In those 4 hours, I know exactly what I’m doing. My focus is on craftsmanship. My hands are busy. There is no room for electronics. Those hours are meditative and when I reach the end, I’ve made something beautiful and useful.
In design, there is a concept called “Slow Design” which rejects the hyperconsumption and waste that’s baked into a lot of mainstream design. The Slow Design movement took inspiration from the Slow Food movement which started in Italy in the 1980s. One could argue Italians have always had slow food values: they love their food; they appreciate knowing who grows it and how; and they make decisions about what they buy, cook, and eat based on these values.
Slow Design practitioners extend these values to physical products. They look at the entire life cycle of a product: where materials come from; how they are processed and by whom; how far the products travel for distribution; how much energy and water they use once in the hands of users; how long these products last; and what happens to them when they are no longer useful. Examining these steps in a product life cycle helps designers make decisions about what they make and why and how.
Slow Fashion is an extension of Slow Design. It’s a response to Fast Fashion, a much hyped about trend in which clothes are designed, made, distributed, sold, then thrown away as quickly as possible. Technology enables Fast Fashion. And the market, too. But Slow Fashion takes a different approach. Clothes and accessories are built to last. They are sourced ethically. They are made slowly. They cost more and they last longer.
As good as this sounds, Slow Design comes with complexities just as mainstream design does. While Slow Design is gentle on the environment, fair to labor, and offers customers an alternative to hyperconsumption, the obvious complication is that Slow Design costs more dollars to make and sell. This means that average folks can’t afford it. I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps integrating “Buy One Give One” pricing into Slow Design and food can help bridge that gap. Many organic farmers around here participate in the “Healthy Food for All” program which commits a fixed percentage of what they produce to be sold at a deep discount to individuals and families with economic challenges. Another way for a slow business to bridge the gap is to integrate fair wage jobs. I’d love to, one day, hire women who struggle with economic challenges to help me make the bags I’m making. As I said, it takes four hours to make a full sized bag. I cut, prepare, and sew the leather by hand. In future, I hope to mix and apply my own dyes. I’m gonna need some extra hands, for sure.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Can Fast Fashion Be Green? (Vogue, 2018)
What the heck is Vegan Leather (again, it’s complicated)
In no particular order:
ON MENTAL HEALTH
ON CIRCULAR ECONOMY
ON MEDIA THEORY
And books that I’m reading now that might turn into faves:
Brené Brown’s hour-long special premiered on netflix this past weekend. I appreciate Brown’s work on mental health. I read her book Rising Strong when I was going through a really hard time in my life and it helped me a lot. So I watched her special this past weekend. Some of the stories I had heard before but it was good to hear them again. But what was really helpful for me was to hear Brown in conversation with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast yesterday. Maron can be cynical and snarky and so can I. So it was helpful to hear someone with those personality traits work through some of the research and concepts that Dr. Brown puts forth. Helpful because as inspiring as Brown’s research is, it’s hard to put it into practice. She admits this several times in the interview, that putting this research into practice is hard, even for her.
Here are some points from the interview that stood out for me:
BE VULNERABLE WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE. One of Brown’s main messages is that vulnerability and courage are tied. I agree. I once had a mentor who said, “You can’t be brave if there’s nothing to be afraid of” and I love it that he said that. However, Brown and Maron point out that it’s possible to be vulnerable with the wrong people. And that’s not brave. It’s just a bad habit. And we do it over and over because we know that they will reject us. And we do it so that we can confirm the painful yet familiar story that we don’t belong or that we are unlovable.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES. We all do it. We tell ourselves horrible stories about ourselves. How everyone hates us, how we suck at this or that. Our brains are wired to do this. The work then is to be conscious of that storytelling. To say out loud, “The story I’m telling myself is ___.” To be aware that the story isn’t true even though it’s how we feel. Even though it’s something we go to for an odd comfort.
THIS WORK STARTS IN MIDLIFE. In Brown’s observation, midlife is when most folks start to work at taking off their armor. Armor is the cynicism we hold or the things we do to protect ourselves from our own pain and from other people. At midlife, people start to say to themselves, “This armor is freaking killing me. I get it that it used to keep me safe, but I can’t f*cking breathe. It is no longer serving me.” So they start on a path to chip away at it. It’s not easy. We spent years building it up. But taking it down is possible and it’s worth striving for.
SELF WORTH IS A GIFT TO OTHERS. Self Worth is hard for a lot of us. But to strive for it isn’t only good for yourself, but for the people around you. Because when you show up with self-worth, you’re a better person to be around. Plus, other folks don’t have to carry the weight of your self-hate or have to defend themselves if that hate manifests in you lashing out. It’s hard work to gain self-worth. But it’s work worth doing. For more reasons than I had realized. Pro-tip: Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Check out the interview at the link below. It starts about 10 minutes in
I’m reading Mariana Mazzucato’s book The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. In the book, MM asks a complex question: Is it fair that investors and execs get such extreme rewards from successful companies when those companies were built on public investment in innovation? She answers the question, too, with a resounding NO. To be clear, Mazzucato’s not against these folks getting paid, it’s just that she thinks the gov’t should get some of that money too since so often it is the government kickstarting these innovations through their grant programs.
I won’t pretend I’m smart enough to understand all of the complexities here. But these sure are interesting questions.
Link to Mazzucato’s book here
And who can forget this little gem:
I once had a figure drawing teacher who would (playfully) slap my drawing hand if I were working on a detail of a figure without first mapping out the entire body. Zoom in too soon and you might be drawing a perfect hand but in the wrong place. I love it that she did that.
If you pay attention to trends in new tech adoption, then the tension between convenience vs quality is on your radar. Time and time again, consumers give up some amount of quality for convenience. Think about mobile phones, even before smartphones. Mobiles don’t sound nearly as good as a landline nor is the connection as robust. But the convenience of mobility eventually won. You can think about this tradeoff with other products: Netflix, online news, digital photos. The list goes on.
Of course, there are instances in which we really do want quality. Medical solutions come to mind. Also, perhaps, in the B2B space. I’ve been watching online supply chain startups like Fictiv and Maker’s Row. These aren’t consumer-facing companies but rather, business facing ones. And I wonder how their business-customers navigate the convenience vs quality trade-off. It seems it might be a tough sell in the B2B space. But only time will tell.
TAKE IT FURTHER