Living art in community for the future of social, sustainable commerce.
This week I had a great friend of mine help me design my new business cards. These are the 5th set of business cards I’ve printed in the last 3 years – each one a design for a new project, a new company, a new iteration of all the flavors and colors of my particular contribution. I learned early in my career, one turn short of the hula-hoop, that authenticity in your company’s brand is perhaps the most important marketing move you can make…an idea that unfortunately is still very undervalued.
The business world being a fractal of the larger picture of reality, I can understand why. To show up in full light, in full authenticity, requires an active practice of self-love. To be on the frontier of your identity, as David Whyte says, is stepping into a space of vulnerability. Four years into the game of vulnerability and the active unfolding of the layers of my heart have allowed me to look at it in a different way. David is his poem; “The Sudden Streams” speaks of vulnerability as competency – as a faculty for understanding the immensity of what is about to happen.
When you present the core of yourself to the world it is raw, it is humble, and shy, and quick to play hide and seek – eager for the affirmations of your social group to give it anchor. Here in San Francisco I interact on a regular basis with individuals who put themselves, their art, their deepest dreams, on the interrogation line – to be critiqued, loved, hated, and deemed success or failure in this world of fickle change. This act of open vulnerability and trust takes the strength of a warrior, and courage only the heart can provide.
I come back to this over and over again. Osho says; “The way of the heart is the way of courage. It is to live in insecurity; it is to live in love, and trust; it is to move in the unknown. It is leaving the past and allowing the future to be.”
One of these entrepreneurial businesses that I’ve found myself enamored by is the offspring of Jen Fritz and Maria Tabia – the aptly named Warrior Within Designs. I love these ladies and what they’re creating not just because their product – seriously sexy one-piece jumpsuits of all varieties, called – ‘The Onesie’ – are my favorite thing to wear, but because the way they do their business and engage in the world is a beautiful reflection of the depth of their self-love, their vulnerability. Jen and I understand each other as sisters on the path of artistic validity. Two nights ago I got her take on what it means to be a Warrior, and how her business came to be.
The dream of a company is usually the surprising after-effect of an expression…it doesn’t come first, it comes after we’ve presented a possibility to the world, and have received affirmation after affirmation from the world. For Jen Warrior Within started innocently as a homemade, mother-daughter costume creation for the artist’s mecca, Burning Man. The initial creative impulse gave way to more and later that year, on New Year’s Eve 2008/2009 here in San Francisco, Jen had over 100 girls ask her about her outfit. She remembers that it was those inquiries that gave her the confidence to understand where this could go. A heartbreak stirred passion and the need for an outlet, and the clothing became a crucial part of her healing process – a crucial step into the throes of adulthood. Out of the ashes of her vulnerability she sought the seeds of the Warrior Within, felt them taking root in transformation for the next chapter. I asked her how living on the edge has contributed to her growth:
“My entire life has come to this point at this time for a reason. Sometimes in life you’ll be presented with a piece of information or knowledge five times over and you won’t accept or understand it until the 5th time. That is the beauty in the journey to listen, to trust, to keep working hard, stepping forward asking for help. It’s has provided the greatest happiness I have yet to achieve. Starting this company was the beginning of my quest of self-development; finding the seed first, in the darkest of moments and building outward- it was the beginning of my journey into womanhood.”
Far more than a clothing business Jen and Maria see Warrior Within in the frame of what I hope to be the future of social, sustainable commerce. The platform is clothing, but the focus is conscious community exchange…which happens in a myriad of ways. They understand that part of our development as beings is the healthy need to tap into our creative power. To allow the generative qualities of our inner being be free. The space held for authentic expression feeds into what I call the ‘positive feedback loop’ in art – that creativity begets inspiration, and inspiration begets more inspiration. We encourage each other as part of a community, to celebrate our gifts.
As an enthusiastic member of the Onesie A-team I’ve watched and participated in the community that has built up around Warrior Within; men and women who stand by the brand of empowerment and self-discovery. Again, the medium is the clothes, but the experience is so much deeper than that. Jen says:
“We’re all about spreading the “Onesie Love”- to us that means spreading and celebrating our individuality in the form of creativity, happiness, community, sharing- accessing and expanding our special strengths as women and people. The Warrior spirit is something different for everyone. That is truly the beauty in all of this. The message is never “be like us” but BE LIKE YOU and love it. “
Of course, anyone who has attempted to make a living off their art knows that the path is not clear, or easy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve approached the end of the month without the money in the bank to clear the rent check, or the time to relax and renew. Such is the life of a new independent business. For Warrior Within, making it in San Francisco, the second most expensive city in the United States, presents a number of challenges. Beyond the obvious, the creative bar here is really high – which, they reflected, is an opportunity to expand as much as it is a daunting leap – if you’re not doing something different you’re going to get swallowed.
Osho reminds us: “Life can only be lived dangerously – there is no other way to live it. And even a single moment of that intensity is more gratifying that the whole eternity of mediocre living.”
So what makes it all worth it? For Jen and Maria it’s contributing to the vast mosaic of things that are happening in the community. It’s seeing the tears of shear of joy – the shock of, “oh my goodness, I’m beautiful” on their customer’s faces. It’s seeing their work on others, and hearing their stories. It’s interacting and fitting each individual in their studio. It’s the realization that they’re doing exactly what they want to be doing and the freedom that comes with it. Jeremiah Collins, Warrior Within’s super-man, reminds everyone whenever the going gets tough, “What else would we be doing? What is better than this?” And they mean it.
Jen and Maria understand that launching a sustainable business requires great intention, sincerity….and a heavy dose of trust. Call me foo-foo, but I believe, and have seen in my own life and theirs, that when you move on the call of the heart, somehow, some way, the doorways open and at the very least your local community is made better for it. So as artists in business we trust. Trust that the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center is operating on your behalf. That living your love, expressing your art, your gifts, is what you’re really here to do and all the meddling myopic misgivings are just that. The exchange is energetic first, from the heart.
I’ve lived on my edge – the frontier of my life – for the past 4 years and have enjoyed every last fulfilling, gifted, difficult and inspirational moment of it. Like the ladies at Warrior Within, recognize that where you’re at, making art, making love, making community – making life on your terms – takes bravery, strength and all the power of your inner Warrior. Authenticity is the most important piece of a solid brand communications platform, and you live the message. Are you selling clothes or building community? Are you slinging hula hoops or smiles? I believe the trick is to start in the heart, the ground of vulnerability and success will follow.