Are you living out your dreams – your heart's desire? When was the last time you thought about that childhood dream that you tucked away into the folds of your every day clothes, but that you still hold close and still hold dear?
Today is a very special Tuesday. I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to share with you someone who is making so many of her heart's desires a reality in more ways than one. She has an inspiring story about how she overcame obstacles and faced life head-on with her dreams, her family and as a result is making those desires a REALITY in her life.
As I usher in the second ever INSPIRING BIRD interview, let me introduce you to a creative bird who is talented and driven – a visionary and someone who is allowing the possibility of creativity to enhance every part of her life. My hope is that you will be inspired today, to think about your own childhood dreams and what you can begin doing this day to help make them more of a reality in your every day life.
Everyone, I would like you to meet:After 14 years working in design in the apparel industry, Susan is pursuing the craft of design with a more hands-on approach and has started her own clothing line: .:UNA:. Read and hear in the interview and podcast attached below, how her dreams, choices and drive have landed her in the middle of this exciting endeavor. . .and be inspired!
Susan, tell us about .:UNA:. and your role in the company. . .
The name Una, in Latin, means “in one, together”… in essence it is an assortment of “ones” that encompass things that inspire me – intricate vintage trims (cotton laces, buttons), as well as various graphic images. I work mostly with knits, due to the forgiving nature of the fabric. In a lot of ways it’s an exercise or study (in much the same way a painter might take a subject and explore it). When I sent out my introduction e-mail for Una, it was in the form of a birth announcement… the idea of having my own label has been gestating for an incredibly long time. In fact, Una is my third (and final) attempt to get my own label off of the ground. The two other attempts were made in the midst of 40+ hour workweeks and trying to devote as much time as I could to my young daughter. At the time, I was really struggling for balance, focus, and freedom to create on my terms and on my own timeline…. And I would get really frustrated that I couldn’t pour more of myself into each – the first priority being my little girl.
As for my role in the company, I’ve dubbed myself “Head Girl” – a little more tongue-in-cheek. It’s really more of a co-operative. I’ve had the opportunity to enlist the expertise of several talented individuals that I have either worked with in my past professional life, or sought out because I needed to learn more skills to make Una a reality. One of the most rewarding aspects of this venture has been working with these individuals that I adore and respect. I am constantly struck by the encouragement and generosity (of self and talent) of others….
Have you always had this dream? When did you recognize this dream within you?
I think if we all look back on what we wanted to be when we were young, and where we actually ended up, it doesn’t always correspond. At the age of five, I was convinced that I was a princess who had been adopted by a nice, working-class couple, and would resume my royal life at the age of 16. My dreams went from princess… to ballerina… to veterinarian… to lawyer (fighting for the rights of others!)… but all the while, I was very particular about my ensembles…. My mom always let me select my clothing and dress myself. (Which would explain the black fishnet stockings, red patent leather shoes, and purple fur coat at age four….) Then, as a young teenager, I discovered Vogue, Taxi, Donna… it was a whole new world… (at that time, Seattle was a lot more “back-woods” than it is today). I began experimenting with making my own clothes or customizing them. During high school I took sewing, and a pilot class of “Fashion Merchandising and Design”, and from that point on I knew that I wanted to pursue a career of designing clothing. I remember the sheer joy of my first job in the industry as a “Technical Engineer” (creating specs for garments)… Every single day I would marvel that they were actually paying me to be there. It is a tremendous gift when you can make a living doing something you truly love.
What was the scariest thing you encountered along the way to making .:UNA:. a reality?
The scariest thing for me is losing my anonymity. After designing for large apparel companies for 14 years, you get accustomed to the many layers that separate the designer from the end-consumer. On top of that, you are designing items for a distinct customer that you, yourself, may not personally wear. With my own label, I have to put my personal aesthetic out there, and there’s an underlying fear of rejection…. But I recognize (and embrace) that not everyone is going to like my point of view. My audience is quite small, and if there is a handful that appreciates it, then that’s enough. (And because my production is so small, it works out nicely.)
The process of creating this company has been really organic. In the beginning, I read books, and wrote a simple business plan, but nothing really prepares you until you get into the thick of it. That would be the second scariest aspect – taking the first step and committing to it. I’ve encountered a lot of challenges along the way, but I have to maintain faith in my path and keep a positive outlook. My hope and desire is for Una to grow, but even it if doesn’t, I will cherish having this time to learn more about hands-on design… ultimately it’s a an opportunity for personal growth, and the flexibility enables me to spend more time with my daughter. The past few months have been the best I’ve had in years!
What finally gave you the courage to just do it? Everyone has dreams, but not everyone makes their dreams a reality or knows how to - what allowed you to make it real in your life?
The courage was actually borne out of desperation, and has taken me years to build. The past few years have been a little rough on my body – I was in a car accident in 2004, which required months of intensive chiropractic care. Then at the beginning of 2005, I contracted a serious illness, from which took me a year to regain my health. All the while, I was working and trying to be a good parent. It’s hard to maintain a positive outlook when you’re suffering… but the suffering is a blessing. It forces you to stop and really consider your priorities. In fact, it takes you to a whole new level of perspective and gratitude. At the end of 2006, I had officially hit a breaking point in my career. I was running ragged from stress, and my health was taking a downward spiral… My spirit was screaming for mercy and I craved balance. When I left my job, I gave myself a couple of months to just “be”. I explored other options outside of design, but ultimately decided to pursue it in the way that I am now. To afford this, we were fortunate to have a fair amount of equity in our home, so we sold it without any regrets.
What is your ultimate dream?
This is a big one, and I’ve got a few, so I thought I’d break it down a bit:
For Una, I would like to continue to build my line, piece by piece, and keep it relatively small. Getting the merchandise out there is secondary to the intent. It’s really just about small-scale crafting and connecting with the community. Originally, I wanted to create a design co-operative under the name “No Mass”, a movement of sorts, for independent designers and artists… but it’s already going on out there, and I am just now realizing the extent of it. I’m excited to become a part of it.
On a broader level, I would love to see a more peaceful world and to have honor and accountability restored within our nation. I am taking more time to increase my participation in different causes, like the environment, or the war in Iraq….. and more recently to speak out against the military threat against the monks in Burma. It’s heartbreaking to see a peaceful protest end in gunfire. Never underestimate the power of one… especially when the effect begins to multiply!
On a spiritual level, (it sounds a little lofty), but I would like to achieve enlightenment. At this point in my life, I don’t even know what that would look like. In the meantime, I am grateful for the opportunity to have more time with my family, explore my craft, build a small company, and live in the moment.
How does your creative life enhance the other parts of your life?
So far, it has taken me to various countries, introduced me to incredible and inspiring people, and taught me some invaluable lessons through experiences and interactions. It has given me strength and wisdom, and has certainly shaped who I am today.
In general, I find that it simply brightens my mood and energizes my soul to have time to focus on creating things…. that positive energy filters into my everyday interactions. Not just with my family and friends, but with strangers. Smiles and laughter are contagious, and one of my goals is to spread joy and enthusiasm whenever and wherever possible!
My creative life also shapes the way I parent – and I really enjoy fostering my daughter’s creativity and imagination, because ultimately I think it will help her face, question, and resolve various challenges throughout her life.
Click here to listen to the rest of the interview!
INSPIRING BIRD PODCAST 2
As you listen to the podcast to hear more about Susan, .:UNA:. and what Susan is so blessed to have in her life, get a sneek "peep" at what she is currently working on next for .:UNA:.
So beautiful. . .thank you so much, Susan.