A long post about the power of making things:
When I started Moop
I had a wild mixture of intentions - some lofty, some personal, some dreamy. Over the last 6 and a half years, those same goals and intentions still prevail but in slightly different ways. In the beginning, I was balancing working a full time job along with raising a family and trying to start a business. I would come home from work and begin work at home. There was just more to be done than I could do alone. So, I started having an assistant come on weekends. I worked 7 days a week between the two jobs for almost a year. Then, I quit the full time job and continued to work 7 days a week on Moop. If I was going to run the business that I wanted, it required that much time. Our bags were not the most refined when I first began. There was skill and attention to detail but, I had a long long long way to go before I could fully trust that every bag would hold up to daily use and that I could replicate them over and over. Our early adopters placed a lot of faith and trust in us and that meant so much to me and encouraged me to keep on. I spent my time on pattern development, learning production methods, stitch techniques and acquiring new equipment. I was learning so much and really enjoying it. But, there was important background that was also fueling my desire to build a small business, above wanting to support myself and my family. While I was a student, I studied labor history and textiles and politics and art making and became very concerned with sweatshop labor in the textile industry. Never realizing I would become a part of the manufacture of textile products.
I had done a fair amount of research on the ways in which large corporations were finding loopholes in laws to keep their factories running, without changing their practices. I started making my own clothing - it felt like a small way that I could protest labor injustice. That combined with an art education - one that taught me to ask questions and work things out through a process of making - led me to start Moop. Since then, I have learned so much more about the implications of running a business and the power of making things. I was sure that my customers would all want to purchase from me because they, too, wanted to protest sweatshop labor. Instead, I found a customer base with a much more diverse range of reasons.
Our customers were full of so many convictions that it just blew me away. But, the core of what I found so many believe in is supporting small business. It doesn't really affect change for me to make my own clothes....I suppose in tiny, insular ways it does. But, I have learned, running a small business affects a huge amount of change. Moop is not only a maker of canvas and waxed canvas bags, Moop is an employer and a supporter of other small businesses through our sourcing needs (and our life outside of Moop). I have met some incredible people. The family run operation that we buy our waxed canvas from is working with so much more experience than I have, on a scale much much larger than my own. But, it never stops the owner from calling me personally when I have a question. Our leather is sourced from a shoe manufacturer in upstate New York. We have had many long visits learning about each others businesses. It has been really important for me to meet another small business owner working on a similar scale as my own. It is reassuring to know there are others committed to working in this way. Our web designer has been with us from the very beginning. He brought his wealth of experience and has shared so generously over the years. He has been an important sounding board and has become a good friend. We've recently met an excited team of people working to develop some fabric from recycled materials. I have learned quite a bit through their enthusiasm for the bigness of the project they are taking on. Our sewing machine dealer is a wealth of information. He has built sewing factories for some of the largest corporations throughout the US and Mexico for the last 35 years. Oh, the stories he has shared! But, also, the things I have learned. For instance, the women who work in the factories he sets up in Mexico make the equivalent of $30 a week. Their weeks are 50-60 hours. That's less than a dollar an hour. In 2013.
Those who purchase from us, in some form or another, are embracing the idea that something better can exist. Change can happen but, it must happen from within. This has been a long running conversation between Jeremy and I over the years. One person making a social protest by making her own clothing does not change very much. It will not stop corporations from doing shady things and trying to cover it up. But, a small business that makes and sells products - working within the system that exists - affects not only herself but, everyone who supports it and wants to be changed by it. By choosing to purchase from a small business you are not buying only because you like a product, you are buying because you also want to support something greater than yourself. Your purchase from a small business helps that business and everyone who works in it. Supporting small businesses empowers other small businesses to open up, and take a chance, and hire employees and make great things...and on and on.
On its own, one small business will not change everything but, the collective small businesses that start and flourish and grow will and are making change. The internet has made this possible for so many, the world over. It has brought attention to a collective support of building a creative practice in a variety of industries. I feel so grateful that you all have supported us and made us a big part of that. I know you can go to a big box store and buy a quick and trendy bag. But, you're denying your ability to make change with your purchasing power. All of us have it in us to make choices about the things we support and the things we don't. When small businesses are supported by all of our collective buying power, more jobs are created and more interesting things happen. The sheer diversity of products and choices available on the market today is directly related to the internet and the small businesses that flourish there. As a business, you can specialize and be particular and become an expert in your niche market, without concern that you'll have enough customers in your home town. The wide world is your potential customer. And we, the consumer, benefit. We are no longer limited by what we can find in the mall or big box store. You can get anything you never knew you wanted. And, in doing so, you're supporting an international change in employment, entrepreneurship and economies. And, making the world a much more interesting place.