21 May

The Silver Thread

THREE years ago, I was so mentally and psychologically unwell, I had self-harming thoughts every day. I excluded myself from literally every social contact except the completely necessary. I suffered from paralysing anxiety and depression which had me convinced my life was not worth living. I existed in a waking nightmare. My doctor and I worked together on a mental health plan which included medication and therapy. I could not work. I could not leave my postcode, often, the shops was as far as I could go. So I worked with that.

Every couple of days, then eventually every day, I would go to the shops. But not just any shops. Op Shops. You see, I LOVE op shops. I’m a collector, a bower bird. My mum calls it hoarding. She’s probably right. But this collecting of second hand things is inexplicably joy-filled to me. While browsing through op shops, the thoughts and feelings of anxiety, self-loathing and depression disappeared. Desperate for relief, several days a week I tracked around local op shops. Then I found some in Sydney, so I drove the hour and a half to visit those too, perhaps spending all day driving and shopping, gathering and hunting. And slowly, the number of days spent at home with anxiety were replaced with days out feeling happy, excited, and rewarded with bags of inexpensive joy.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn to wondering what I could do with my treasures. I found a little community of buyers and sellers on Instagram, and I began a little money spinning hobby. I was having fun. I found the end of the silver thread. I saw some pendants on Pinterest I loved, and thought I could probably make something similar, so I looked up YouTube videos on jewellery making. I sold some. Then I wondered if I could upcycle some op shop clothes to go with my jewelry pieces. After a few months selling online, I booked a market stall.

Next minute, I have a shop. I have recovery. I have reconciliation to my peace, my joy, my mental health, my spiritual gifts and equilibrium. I am studying again. I haven’t experienced anxiety such as I was in some time now. Every day, I wake and look for the glimmer of the silver thread, leading me forward to the next thing. I have learned not to overthink, to live in the moment, to be grateful, to embrace change and all the souls who enter my life now because of what I do. I love my life.

I write all this my dear friends not to boast about my success, but to tell you with all my heart THERE IS HOPE. There is a silver thread. It may not look or feel like you expect, but there is a way forward. I did not want to break down. I did not want to even go on living. It was a dark, dark place. And it’s not the first time I’ve survived such a fall into darkness. Depression, cancer, and other physical and mental challenges have dragged me down holes I thought led to hell at best. But I am here. The silver thread is clear to me now, but I know there may come a time when my sight grows cloudy again. My task is to do my healing work while I can, to be thankful for the moment, and to appreciate all the souls on this path, here and now. One thing I know now beyond doubt – there is a conspiracy for our good going on all around us. This is the silver thread. If we look for the glimmer, and follow it, we will find ways and paths forward. Sometimes there is no “cure”, no escape. I am not cured of mental illness. But I am empowered in my path of healing. Each day I know what to do to be well. And I do that, because I know that’s all I can do.

Be well, dear friends. I pray you can find the silver thread today in amongst the melee and the mess and find yourself able to fashion it into something marvellous, to follow it through to a clear path, an open way. There is a conspiracy for your joy in the workings of all things. Close your eyes. Listen for the voice of support, encouragement, love. There it is. Now step forward, just one step. There is hope. There is hope.

Love, Sister Jo.

***If you or someone you love feel you need help or support for thoughts of anxiety, depression or self-harm, please seek professional support from a qualified health professional.

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06 Feb

Don’t You Dare Say Sorry

I caught myself earlier today, about to apologise to someone who asked me if I would discount one of my pieces by almost half to match her offer.

I thought to myself, why do I need to say sorry?

There was also no need to be impolite, so I carefully worded a brief response.

If I were to accept her lower offer, I basically cut in half my compensation for the time and creativity I put into the piece. The price was set after careful consideration of the hours I spent making it, and the materials. Those materials didn’t drop out of the air – I spend hours every day sourcing fabrics and other pieces.

I feel our widespread attitude of cheap, fast fashion made by low paid workers, flooding the market with mass produced, low quality clothing is behind this. We don’t have any value for the time spent making the products we consume any more.

I value my time. I value my talent. I value the creativity I’ve spent years honing, and give hours of in my studio. I won’t apologise for asking an appropriate compensation for that. And if you’re a maker, neither should you.

Save your sorry for when you make a mistake or commit a wrong against someone. Don’t you dare give it when someone questions what your gifts, talents and time are worth. Asking to be compensated for being brilliantly yourself is not grounds for an apology.

Jo xx

27 Jan

Steal Like An Artist, Give Like A Goddess

From time to time when I am holding a market stall, I will overhear two folks chatting and one will say to the other something like “Oh, you know, I could make one like that for you. Don’t waste your money.” I smile. I offer to help them do it, if they’d like.

I have people tell me my garments are made from tablecloths and old jeans, as if I didn’t realise it. I laugh and smile.

I know full well there are people out there who see what I’m doing, who are biding their time, waiting to see if there is money in it, people who can sew way better than I can, who will wait until I’ve made my mistakes and paved a way in the market before they step up and take their own risks and start up doing something very similar. People who will look at my photos and try work out how something is done, who will struggle to come up with different aspects of their enterprise, so will subtly borrow from aspects of mine.

I know this, because I have done it. I do it now.

And here’s a secret. All smart businesspeople and artisans will do it.

When you begin to break your ground as a woman in business or in your chosen field, those who would like to do the same, are perhaps planning to, or who are on a parallel path will be watching. And it’s hard when you’ve done a massive amount of work and it seems like someone else is trying to ride your coattails, copy your model or short cut to success using ideas or concepts you created. I know.

I’ve had people – not strangers, friends – consult with me covertly as if they were a potential client, then the very next week turn around and set up a business providing the exact same service to the exact same market. It’s confusing, hurtful, angering even.

Then, I have also had people, close friends, people I have helped and supported and given willingly of my knowledge and creativity, accuse me of stealing their ideas and clients and opportunities, when this was in no way way my intent. That is no less and hurtful.

But you know what? All that looking around us in suspicion and worry is a waste of energy and time.

And the fact is I spend a lot of my time looking at Pinterest and Instagram, getting inspiration and ideas for what I do, gleaning info on what’s hot and what’s not. Sourcing ways of putting things together and looking at photos of others creations.

And I put my stuff out there too, hoping to inspire others.

Of course, I don’t expect others to give me their business information, Dress patterns, client databases. I don’t ask, and I would not respond to those who want this stuff from me. But I would help another woman who was afraid to take the last few steps into her success when her journey is so clear and her capacity so strong it’s thumping her in the face.

I no longer care if people think they can do what I do. I’m sure they can. I look at what others create and I am arrogant enough to believe I can do what they do.

In fact, the only difference between me and the folks who say they could easily do what I do, is that went and I did it and they did not.

There is no copying, there is no stealing when it comes to what I do. Others do not have the relationships and the fun with my clients that I share with them. My creations give my clients joy and laughter and confidence. Others can copy my clothes, undercut my prices, market to my customers, but they cannot be there in that moment when my client and I share a connection through my pieces.

There are more ideas than there are grains of sand on the beach. The important thing is the experience which transpires between the creator, and the one who is moved by the creation. I want my pieces to help my clients realise their inner suspicion they are creative, they are not invisible, they are right to be confident, and they can have fun. My desire of that my creations give women permission to bring out the best parts of themselves. I want to join with them in agreeing they are beautiful, and need not be afraid to draw attention to themselves. I long to help women feel they can dress themselves the way they feel; with colour, creativity and fun.

Please, please copy me, but only if this is your mission too, because in the end, for me, it’s not just about fashion. It’s about spirit, heart and soul.

So if someone messages you asking for your commercial recipe, your special formula, your unique pattern, thank them for taking the time to notice what you’re doing. Remember, they believe you have something they don’t, and this is the only way they know how to get what they think is missing from their business. But you and I know different. They have everything available to them to make their enterprise a success, because it won’t be a special ingredient or the way a dress is cut that does it. It will be the way they make their client feel. It will be the experience people have when transacting with them. It will be because of the beliefs they affirm for them, and the creativity they inspire in them. Remind your new friend they need to believe they have everything they need to do this for their clients, and if they don’t, they’re looking in the wrong place. Then blow them a virtual kiss, wish them well, and go back to trawling Pinterest for your own inspiration. Joking. Not joking.

In the end, selling and buying, trade, is about people. And people are full of insecurities, fears and foibles. In business, we will get hurt and we will offend others, just as we will in our personal lives. And when I say commerce is about people, I do not mean we cannot be what we’ve come to know as “professional” – run our enterprise profitably and with integrity. However, let’s not lose sight of the end game. When we are all sitting together in the nursing home, or on the beach in Bali, or whatever, it’s not going to matter whether we both published books about rare beetles in Africa, or both made face creams sold wrapped in bamboo leaves picked by barefoot eunuchs in a secret rainforest. Let’s all just have fun. Let’s all just make a living doing what we love. And let’s all remember, there are plenty of ideas and customers and money to go around. Stay in your lane. Smile for your competitors. Keep your cool. And for goodness sake, remember we are all in this together.

20 Jul

Sister Jo Bangles story is my story.

Sister Jo Bangles has a story. And her story is my story.

Just over two years ago, I suffered an emotional and mental crisis. A breakdown, followed by months of debilitating depression. I quit my job. I stopped writing. In fact, at the time I became unwell, I had a book released by a publisher after years of trying to be published, and I found myself barely able to tell people about it, let alone promote it. We moved back with my parents so we could cope financially on one income. I felt ashamed, crippled and helpless. All I wanted to do was hide in a hole or sleep. Thank God good friends and family encouraged me to seek out quality mental health support. It saved my life.

As I began to recover, I realized it was important I didn’t develop a habit of staying away from people and places. I needed also to avoid being with and believing the depression, which told me there was nothing worthwhile in the world, and I was finished as a person, and as a creator. I decided I’d get up, and get out of the house as often as I could. I started getting in the habit of visiting op-shops, a past time I’d always loved and which gave me joy. While browsing through the shelves looking for bargains, I didn’t think depressing thoughts. Whenever I was out and about on the op shop trail, I was happy, and my heart was light.

I brought home a ton of crap in those few months.

I found a small community of folks doing what I was doing, and trading their goodies through social media. I began to grow a little pocket money making venture – more op shop money, woohoo!

An unstoppable creative, I remembered some jewelry pieces I’d seen on Pinterest, and I thought I could make the kind of jewelry I liked from the bits I was finding in my explorations. I looked at a few videos online on how to make jewelry. And I was away.

Before long, I decided to get my sewing machine out and make a few pieces from op shop finds. I had never been one for buying new clothes anyway, and I saw so much inspiration on Pinterest I knew I could never run out of ideas!

What I love most still about creating these pieces is the feeling I get having gathered something which was considered no longer useful or beautiful, and giving it new life. It gives me so much bliss to resurrect the torn, the broken and the thrown away things of this world, to be a force against our disposable culture and throwaway mentality.

What really continues to inspire me is knowing Sister Jo Bangles has at her heart a culture of embracing, rather than hiding imperfection, of celebrating vulnerability rather than rejecting it, and of allowing the loose threads and ragged seams be seen, and seen as beautiful and worthy.

I know that in my own vulnerability, in my imperfection and brokenness, I am worthy and beautiful. Society may see me as an aging woman with mental health issues, unemployable perhaps, overweight (whatever that is), scarred and broken in places, not rich, without all the trappings to show for a “successful” life, but that’s not who or what I am. I am creative, bold, vulnerable, beautiful, strong, worthy and courageous. I’m a survivor. I have so much living left to do.

Just like all my Sister Jo Bangles creations.

I trust they bring you as much joy as they do me.

Love, Jo xxx