To Paint Is To Spend

I love to paint. I am not a good painter, but I love creating something out of oils, acrylics, or watercolors. There is something about the act of creation that calms me down; there is no pressure when I have a paintbrush in my hand, no expectations, no deadlines, no rules. Just a blank canvas that I am capable of changing into anything my imagination fancies. While painting the other day, I started to lack inspiration. Everything I was painting was worse than usual (which means it was shoddier than a preschoolers’ first art project). So I took a step back, and tried to figure out what was wrong. Then I saw it. I wasn’t using enough paint.

I was mixing these beautiful colors, but only a very small batch. When I ran out of the color, I couldn’t mix it correctly again. Why was I so tentative with my mixing? Was it that I was worried I would mix a hideous color and have to throw away the failed attempt? Was it that I didn’t want to waste paint if I was only going to cover a small surface area? Was it that I didn’t have enough of a certain kind of paint? Maybe it was all of that, because paint is expensive. That’s what I found myself thinking. Paint is expensive. My hesitation came from one simple thing: money. Stupid money. And the possibility of wasting money—which absolutely terrifies me. But painting is something that I love to do, and spending money on moderately priced oils and canvases adds an element of tranquility to my life. I’d already purchased the supplies, so why was I so hesitant to use them?

I find that this fear of spending money or wasting resources is not only present in my painting hobby, but also with By Grace. The financial sacrifice of owning a small business is overwhelming at times. It has been drilled into our heads that one of the major reasons startups fail is due to a lack of, or misappropriation of, resources. We have budgeted extremely carefully from day one, and still find ourselves shocked by certain expenses (such as shipping costs to and from Ghana or inflated fabric costs). Because of this, I have become extremely tentative when making decisions to spend money. I have this fear that if I place another big order or sample developments with a new vendor that we won’t see an adequate return on the investment. What if the wallets I ordered don’t sell? What if I picked a fabric that isn’t popular with our customers? What if the new vendor is horrible, and we can’t proceed to production with any of the developed samples? What if? What if? What if?

Emily and I both work full time jobs to pay for By Grace. Sometimes, we will pay our seamstresses before we pay our own bills! And I don’t say this so you feel sorry for us or criticize us for our naïveté or give us a pat on the back for investing in our dreams, but so that you understand my hesitation. I am gambling with my own livelihood. For me, making the wrong decision isn’t some paint I’m throwing away; it’s next month’s rent that is on the line.

We like to be open with our customers, and trust that you won’t hold it against us. We currently aren’t selling enough products to compensate for our expenses. And a lot of that has to do with the kind of fashion company we are. For example, sometimes we will place an order for a particular style that will prove to be a complete disaster. For whatever reason (sizing, damaged fabric, improper seams, and so on), the entire shipment will be unsellable. Unlike other companies, we don’t return the product and demand a refund. We know that the women with whom we work are still learning our expectations, and that our Western standards far exceed what they are used to producing. People are our priority. The women we employ come first, so there are times that we will eat the cost of an entire shipment of goods that we will never be able to sell.

However, I am learning that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. The more money we invest, the quicker we are able to offer a viable, high quality product to our customers. This allows us to make more money, so that we can employ more women to create even better product. I am realizing that I have been blinded by my fear, and that that inhibition has only cost By Grace profit, and ultimately impeded the impact we could be making.

Yesterday, I started a new painting. This painting required more paint than I’d ever put on one canvas—but it was my best work yet. It cost me more than I’d ever put into one piece, but my resources were not wasted because the end result was something I am proud of. When sitting at my easel, I have to remind myself that Steve Jobs started working out of a garage and that Richard Branson started with $500 and is now worth over $5 billion. When sitting at my computer or at my design table, I have to remember that By Grace is bigger and better than any painting I could ever conceive. This company, this dream, is going to require sacrifice and savvy, but we know that our risk will ultimately be our reward. Fear is no way to run a company. Letting money stress dictate your decisions inhibits you from reaching your ultimate goals. One day, we will be able to both make a profit and help people to the fullest extent. In the meantime, we’ll continue eating cereal and "borrowing" our friends’ wi-fi, so that we can keep the business moving full steam ahead, because we know that using enough paint is going to be beyond worth it.

Until next time,