Anna asked me to write a post about what the betsy & iya buildout means to me a few weeks back during a weekly check-in meeting. When she asked, I didn't immediately know what it meant. Since then, the question has quietly hung out in a back mind-corner, occasionally looking up and catching my eye--giving a soft smile before going back to its whiskey in the candlelight.... (yes, apparently my mind is a pretty rad little pub). Over the past few days, as we enter the last week of construction and the million details that come with it, I've found myself walking over to that back corner and sitting with the question, sometimes for a few seconds; sometimes for longer. Bit by bit, the answer has come to me.
Will working on the flooring at Betsy's former studio, circa 2010.
There are many things this build out means. There are some simple things. It means jobs. Jobs for our makers and production manager; jobs for sales associates, a retail manager, and our shipper; a job for our marketing and social media strategist, a PR person, web developer, graphic designer, a job for me and one for Betsy. There are jobs for interior designers, a general contractor, all the sub-contractors, the companies who make the doors and windows and sheetrock and light fixtures and paint and screws and all the tools that built this space. There are the folks who underwrote and processed our loan, the guys who designed and installed our sound system, and the vintage shop owners and employees around town where we bought furnishings. There's our workbench maker, our table maker, the folks screen printing our dressing room curtain, and the sign company making our wall decals. There's even jobs in there for my dad and the folks he works with, who designed and sold us our new telephone system. Of course, the buildout is about all the independent artists and designers whose work we carry in our shop: people and companies just like ours who make things on a small scale in a very big-scale world. Wife and husband teams, art-school grads defying the stereotype of the starving artist, solopreneurs, an ex-realestate agent turned perfumer, a Montanan leathersmith, a San Franciscan architect turned jewelry designer; I'm not an economist, but I find this all incredibly inspiring. As someone who eventually got laid off in the aftermath of the big 2008 crash, I'm proud to be a part of what I believe is a more stable, grassroots recovery. Hopefully, it's an economy that lifts up more boats than just the luxury yachts. Betsy & Will surveying progress shortly after the wood framing went up (giving us WALLS!).
The buildout is about highs and lows. When you factor in lease negotiations, plan development, and permitting, Betsy and I have been at this expansion for over a year now. There's the high of that final handshake between us and our landlords after weeks of lease negotiations. There's the low of discovering the first set of plans we submitted to the city of Portland needed a brand new ADA-compliant bathroom and an extra egress door to get permits. There's the high of seeing walls disappear and new ones materialize. There are the battles with construction dust and trying to focus as concrete is cut on the other side of an uninsulated wall and new lag screws driven deep (and loudly) into the new header beam we installed to open up a doorway in our old back wall. There's the low of falling through the ceiling during a walkthrough with the engineer and the subsequent high of realizing I'd caught myself by some stroke of luck instead of falling to the concrete floor 14 feet below me. There's the high of seeing the RSVP numbers grow in our party invite. The low of sleeplessness and the low of sleep deprivation. The high of finally knocking down the old back wall with the rest of the b&i team, screaming and cheering together as we beat down drywall with hammers and crow bars. That was a moment--one where a shared joy of actually having permission to destroy a wall powered a collective catharsis from the stress of working on top of each other for way too long--sometimes as many as 12 of us (plus customers) all sharing a cozy 800 square feet. There's the low of feeling so overwhelmed by all the decisions that deciding whether to feed the dogs on our way out the door or to wait until we come back home seemed completely vexing--momentarily unanswerable. And just last night, there was the high of standing in a dusty room in sweaty clothes, paint-streaked jeans, and saw-dusted hair, with my arm around Betsy, drinking Trader Joe's champagne out of a plastic cup at 3am. Will gets his turn at the wall! Photo by Micah Fischer
The buildout is about gratitude. Our team here at b&i has been incredible. I could go on for another paragraph or two about their flexibility, positivity, teamwork, and buoyant devotion to the b&i ethos. Unstoppable. I'm grateful for our amazing network of wholesale customers--shop owners across the country who welcomed Betsy and me into their shops on one of our cross-country road trips or found us among rows and rows and rows and rows of jewelry vendors at a New York trade show or stumbled across us online and took a chance on that first order. We wouldn't be here without them. There's an extra special bit of gratitude reserved for our Portland-based stockists--some of our first and longest-standing wholesale customers. There's my gratitude for our incredible party sponsors and raffle donors (get in on that if you haven't yet!). And at the base of this big gratitude tree is my deep, deep appreciation for all of you--the folks who love wearing betsy & iya, who follow us online, and who choose to spend their hard-earned dollars with us. Thank you. The buildout is about partnership. It is about what happens when two people support each other, challenge each other, divide and conquer, unite and conquer. Betsy and I are a good team from the genes up, but we've also worked hard to work well together. We've learned how to tease ideas out of each other, how to take the lead when the other needs it, how to sit back and let the other take something across the finish line, how to give each other feedback, praise, criticism. This buildout is about all of that. Photos by Micah Fischer
But foremost--way out in front of it all--this buildout is about Betsy. It's about a brave decision she made one day in a coffee shop. It's about her fervent devotion to this thing she started. It's about her fierce individualism. It's about her stubbornness and quiet perfectionism. It's about her deeply held belief in hard-work, kindness, and laughter. It's about her hands, her smile, her eyes, and private dance parties with her in our living room. I know of no other business owner who works as hard and with as much joy and love. I know of no other business owner I respect as much. It's because of her that I'm writing this post, that you're reading it, and that any of this is possible, or happening at all. A sweet moment in our old "office" space.
In 2008, I'd walk from my job at the title insurance company and peel Betsy away from the workbench. She worked so tirelessly, with such singular focus, that I had to literally pull her out of the studio to propose to her. And 6 years later, she still works that hard and with that much passion. When I stand in our entry hallway in a few days, there will be a sign on the wall that says betsy & iya / Established 2008 and that hallway will be bigger than Betsy's first studio was. She is this buildout. -Will ***Song of the Moment: Getting Better by Gomez***