The Anti-Networker

Before I went freelance, I took one of those hokey quizzes. “Are You Ready to be Out On Your Own?” For the most part, I “passed.” Self-starter? Check. Organized? Check. Good with change? 1/2 a check. But then, the kicker: Are you good at networking?

To be honest, I didn’t really know what it meant. I went to school for the arts, where networking seemed much more subtle and nebulous. I’ve attended a handful of industry events and I’m usually the one standing in a corner with a muffin in my hand, waiting anxiously for the next panel to start. Networking, it turns out, can be nearly impossible for an introvert.

Professional development resources always tell you to reach out boldly but sincerely, with good intentions. I thought that was an oxymoron. How do you self-promote without being selfish? I sent out lots and lots of query letters during my first month freelancing, expressing my interest in working for brands I liked. A few responded, but for the most part, there was a lot of silence. I didn’t think I was doing it right. Then, I had a revelation that now seems like a bit of a no-brainer.

You don’t network with businesses. You network with people.

People with passion for their projects, interests outside of work, individual quirks and communication preferences. Now, networking I don’t get. But people, I get. People, I like. So I’ve started approaching my relationships with that in mind. It’s nice to send an email to a business I admire or a person whose interests align with mine, without expecting anything in return. I follow local businesses on social media, I subscribe to newsletters. I’m trying to be less strategic and more sincere. To me, it’s not about a broad sense of self marketing, but about building relationships that last beyond the span of time it takes to eat a conference-subsidized muffin. And that seems like a skill worth working on.

Snapshots

It’s been a quiet few weeks around here. A website to design, book covers to work on. Homemade dinners, walks in warmer weather. So many books, plus a whole weekend spent catching up on last season’s Mad Men. Here are some close-ups of life in the Cleve.

photo of dried roses

A bundle of tiny dried roses on my windowsill.

bourbon. not mine.

Bourbon, Mad Men style. Not mine.

gold elephants on a silk blanket

Lots of time curled next to this gold blanket.

thank you note from client

A sweet note from a new client.

Substance: A Short Retrospective

It was with much sadness that I helped Substance edit their farewell letter this past week. After eight years, this beautiful sustainable fashion boutique will be closing the doors to their storefront and website. I’ve been working with owner and CEO Christina for almost three years now, in one capacity or another, and Substance has always been one of my very favorite clients.

I remember the first day I interviewed with Christina. I was so careful about what I was going to wear–it was my first job even remotely related to fashion. My outfit was much too stuffy for the sincere, artful style everyone working there cultivated. But Christina was so kind and gracious, and put me right at ease. I have such fond memories of opening the doors during my Tuesday shifts in graduate school. The sunlight was bright against the weathered cement floors. The clothes hung in colorful, orderly rows. Then I settled in with coffee from the cafe down the street and my laptop, and set to designing.

The best part about designing for Substance was the atmosphere of collaboration. Though there were stakeholders, I felt as if I were a big part of the creative process. I was invited to write copy, even though that wasn’t strictly my job. If I had an idea to shoot a video for the site, I got the thumbs up. I helped with photography once in awhile. Everyone there was given a place of responsibility, and encouraged to use their voice. I think this set a significant precedent for how I wanted to relate to other businesses and clients throughout my career.

So, to thank Christina and the team at Substance (past and present) for their support, I wanted to do a brief survey of a few of the marketing campaigns I helped ideate and execute during my time there. I’m lucky to have had so many opportunities working for such a great brand!

Cubist-inspired homepage banner

*One of my very first designs for Substance, inspired by the handmade line designed in-house

Feral Childe email by Thao Thai

*A fun campaign highlighting independent designers and textile extraordinaires, Feral Childe

animated, illustrated shipping reminder email

*My first attempt at an animated email. The bird hopped up to the top of the stack as snow fell in the background.

graceful and feminine postcard design

*A romantic treatment for a graceful collection

Geometric promotional banner for fashion boutique

*A simple representation of a simple concept. One clutch, seven colors.

colorful banner for spring break essentials

*Brilliant colors and campy-meets-contemporary ’80s-inspired design to help set the mood for fun and sun.

Pursuit of the Nearly Perfect

musings on perfection. photo by DOJ
Photo by Doj

The other day, I heard some magic words from a client. “It’s perfect–don’t change a thing!” These moments are understandably rare in a creative’s life. My client’s note gave me a high for the rest of the day. Perfect. But as amazing as those words are to hear, they got me thinking about my obsession with that word. Because I am obsessed.

Growing up, an A on an exam was never enough. It had to be an A+. Always, the highest possible grade. I wasn’t satisfied unless I saw a long row of them on a report card. And soon, that relentless need permeated into other aspects of my life. Is this boyfriend perfect? Is this dress “the one”? Is my home spotless? The problem with perfect is that there’s nowhere to go afterwards. You wonder if you’ve missed something along the way. You wonder what’s next. Not to mention that perfect is pretty darn rare–some might say impossible–to achieve.

Once I was out in the world, working for others, I found that design, art, and writing are a few fields where perfect doesn’t actually cut it. Though I’d labor over a book cover or a piece of writing, it was really that undefinable ingredient, that element of surprise, that would take a work to the next level. I could play by the rules, sticking to the style guide, taking art direction precisely, making every red-penned edit, but it was that messy, unexpected something that changed the whole landscape of the work.

Perfect is all well and good. The pursuit of it can make us better. But the failure of perfection is really where inspiration lies for me.

100 Books

The 100 Books Project by Thao Thai

Like most English majors, I went through books at a breakneck speed in college and graduate school. It was par the course–Dostoevsky in the morning, Alice Munro in the evening. At suppertime? A cookbook for pleasure reading.

So, a few years out of grad school and almost ten (ten!) out of college, I thought it would be fun to track a list of books I’ve read for the year. I remember once in college estimating my yearly book consumption to be around 100. So 100 will be the magic number (see the science in my approach?). Novels, poetry chapbooks, cookbooks–any full-length work that’s bound and printed (e-books can be the exception). As you’ll see, it’s an… eclectic mix.

Visit my 100 Books page to see a list of what I’ve read so far, along with a short and sweet rating system of 1 to 5, 5 being the most un-put-down-able. Since I recently started tracking books, I lost a couple of months there, due to my unfortunate lack of long term recall. But the book journey commences!

Recommendations are very welcome! Happy reading. :)