For a few years now I've had a whole load of half written blog posts sat in my drafts, posts where I want to write about how I go about work and design and business, and why our circumstances affect those decisions. On why I self-publish and on why I use POD, amongst other things. Yet I still can't get the words right, and some of these things are difficult subjects to write about and I seem to spend a daft amount of time living in fear of the spotlight.

Then last week I did this, because I've had enough of the lack of transparency, and the lack of straight talking.

 

 

It's that last line that I added.

The response has been much more positive than I was expecting; there hasn't been a backlash but there has been that telling silence from some quarters. I get that, it's a difficult subject to embrace, but it is what it is and it needs to be said directly.

I've always hinted at this - I've been honest about being far from affluent. Whenever I've been interviewed and the subject of supporting my family comes up, I always also mention that we live a very frugal lifestyle on the outskirts of society, one that sees a great deal of prejudice. There were some kind suggestions of alternatives to the language I chose in this statement, yet I can say from experience that the message doesn't get understand if it's dressed differently.

The poverty line is a measurable, objective thing. Self sufficiency and affluence, affordability and success (or lack of) are all subjective terms. I (we) have lived below the poverty line as it's recorded in the UK for the best part of 10 years, since I was medically retired from teaching. The statement is factual, and it's reality is harsh.

We get by, we're not what most people would call 'comfortable' (an outside bathroom and a lack of running hot water puts paid to that sentiment. But at least we have our own bathroom now). And we get by because we live as we do. Clearly we live on very little, and maybe going forward I'll start to feel more confident to talk about how most of our clothes are donated or from charity shops, that shopping for well made clothes built to last and creating a slow wardrobe seems to happen in a parallel universe. 

You could argue that we made the choice to live as we do, and yes, yes we did. I ran away from a life on sickness benefits in a council flat in a tower block to join Tom in the metaphorical circus - we didn't exactly have a great deal of options and we took the one that serves us best, with no regrets whatsoever. We are far better off like this than we would ever be in a more settled life. 

You'll know that everything about this business I have has been built from the bottom up - I've never had a penny of investment or sponsorship (beyond the occasional free skein of yarn) or even a loan (I'm still paying off the debts that my education cost me - I'd never get a loan, even if I wanted one) - it's all mine. And of that I'm very proud. But it does hinder my ability to grow the business and in turn earn more, because putting food on the table trumps buying supplies each and every time. I don't have the luxury of an earning partner or the safety net of a relative whenever the business (or life) needs something. Fighting an eviction order over the last few years has forced some very hard decisions on the cash front because we needed to build a financial safety net, should the worst ever happen. We managed it; it's not much, and it has to stay where it is, as this lifestyle will never offer the security of a bricks and mortar one.

For much of the last 10 years I've felt out of my depth in this industry, like someone who doesn't belong... simply because I don't have any money. When the average print run for a book costs more than we paid for the bus we call home (the double decker cost £2,000), well meaning suggestions from industry folk telling me to stop using POD if I want my business to grow only adds to that ill feeling. 

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this - my feelings are still very tangled - but I do need to work through it and that means talking out loud. Letting the industry know that designers who are considered as successful as I am are still struggling only has to be a good thing, right? We need to have this dialogue, about privilege and income and circumstance. And we need to be more supportive of each other. I don't want a life in a big house with a big salary and all the materialistic trimmings, and neither do I want sympathy - I just want enough to live on, to be comfortable and to not be kept awake at night by the worry of not earning enough this month.

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AuthorWoolly Wormhead