Sister’s Supporting Sisters is dedicated to women of color living out their entrepreneurial dreams. Sister’s Supporting Sisters was started due to a lack of outlets to feature the immense talent and creativity of women of color. It is important for women of color to be more supportive of one another in business and life in general. A strong network of relationships amongst minority women would definitely help make the climb to the top a little bit easier – especially if they just happen to be going after the same dreams. Honestly there is enough money for everyone to do their thing and still be supportive at the same time. This month’s installment of Sister’s Supporting Sisters highlights Evolyn Brooks the founder of In My Solitude.
The Sister to Support: Evolyn Brooks
Name of Business, Website, or Service: www.inmysolitudeboutique.com
Clutch: Tell us about In My Solitude?
In My Solitude began in January 2004, in a Brooklyn, New York loft on one of the biggest snow days of the year. I had a serious case of cabin fever and felt like I needed to do something creative with my hands to take my mind off the weather.
I found myself thinking about the “Gee’s Bend” quilt exhibit I saw the previous week. I was so moved by the “survival art” of these women that I decided to make a quilt.
I learned how to sew from my mom as a child and took periodic classes. I dreamed of a career in fashion, but decided to pursue a career in television instead.
Still, for years I bought beautiful textiles and pieces of fabric that inspired me to “make something,” So, as the snow buried the borough of Brooklyn, I rummaged through my unused box of fabric and went to work.
Before I knew it, I was so caught up in the rhythm of sewing together little pieces of fabric that time seemed to stand still. Where was this desire to “quilt” coming from and why did it feel so natural to me? It wasn’t until I spoke with my father and aunt did I learn that my grandmother was a fierce seamstress and my great grandmother was an amazing quilter.
Who knew that the act of making a quilt would reconnect me to my past and the craft of my ancestors? I realized that my teenage dream of becoming a designer wasn’t “dead” it was just dormant and ready to be reawakened and re-envisioned.
Today, the creation of one quilt has led to a home dÃ©cor company called www.inmysolitudeboutique.com. My work is inspired by the improvisational abilities of African-American quilters. I design and make each item on the site by hand or on the sewing machine. It is my way of paying homage to my mother, great grandmother and the generations of female artists who created art to survive and prosper.
Clutch: What’s the story behind the name?
When I’m in a deep creative space, I’m usually alone so the name “In My Solitude” is reflective of how I work. The name also brings back beautiful memories of my childhood. My father played the song, In My Solitude, a lot in the house when I was growing up. It’s like I can smell my mothers cooking and hear the sound of grownups laughing and philosophizing and listening to jazz. It was a fun, colorful time in my life and I try to bring that feeling to my work.
Clutch: What made you decide to start In My Solitude?
Soooo many reasons… I needed to have something of my own that was a complete reflection of my vision… good or bad. I wanted to continue a tradition in my family that connected me to my ancestors and African-American culture overall. I needed to create a second income stream so I could say “no” to jobs in TV that paid my bills, but chipped away at my soul. Now, It feels good knowing that I can survive and have a sense of controlling my destiny by selling something that I made with my hands.
Clutch: What has been your biggest challenge in starting In My Solitude? When you start a business, you have to be everything until you can hire someone to help you. Sometimes I felt in over my head or rejected when people told me “no.” I was forced to step out of my comfort zone and wear many hats in order to make things happen. As a result, my confidence grew along with my skills as a businesswoman.
Clutch: Your story is so beautiful! Tell us about Comfort for a Cause?
My mother died of breast cancer at the young age of 56. I took a leave of absence from my job in TV to help take care of her. We spent so much time together as she battled the disease. I have many loving memories, but there were also some tough times.
Sometimes, what she could physically accomplish one day, like walking to the bathroom, was simply unachievable the next day. She had to constantly refocus her hopes and dreams by exercising the power of possibility.
My mom often wrote her thoughts, quotes, addresses and even phone numbers on little scraps of paper. I would always find them when they fell out of one of her books or magazines around the house. When she became ill, most of the notes I discovered were inspirational quotes that she used as “pick me ups” when her body let her down.
One day, I was washing her bed linens and found a list of her hopes for our family. I was moved and encouraged by her determination to continue to dream even though she had very little time left on this planet.
I took the idea of my mom’s notes and created the “Possibility Pillow™” to honor her memory. Each pillow is pink and I design it with a pocket that can hold an encouraging note, prayer, affirmation, goal or dream for the future. My mom was really big on giving back, so ten percent of the proceeds from the Possibility Pillow™ go to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Clutch: What do you think the biggest mistake or misconception women make when starting a business?
1. I think as women, sometimes we’re afraid to ask for what we want or say “no” to what we don’t want. It’s important to be know what your needs are when negotiating or you’ll be run over.
2. You can’t have one toe in the water. I had to decide that I was really serious about starting a business… then I had to put my entire being into what I was doing. I thought about how much time and energy I put into my job and making other people successful at work… I realized that it’s important to put that same level of intensity into your own work.
3. A lot of women are afraid to walk away from situations that don’t feel right because they want to be liked. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping your self- respect and integrity in tact. Sometimes people will think you’re a bitch for making “good” decisions on your own behalf. I find that the people who end up thinking bad about you are upset because they couldn’t “use” you.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
5. Don’t hire unhappy people, even if they have a great skill set. Eventually they will start to drain your energy and the next thing you know you’re money’s dried up and you’re burning sage in the office.
Clutch: Do you have any advice to women contemplating or who has just started a business?
Do I ever…. Keep your plans to yourself and only share them with people who have your back. So many people are afraid to pursue their dreams, but don’t mind squashing yours. Be prepared to use your “shoe” or “bag” money on your business… your shopping days are over for a while.
Read everything you can get your hands and meet people who have successful achieved what you’re trying to do. It’s okay to be afraid… practice your poker face in the mirror… walk up to the thing you fear with your knees knocking and your teeth chattering… but keep it moving!
Clutch: As African Americans, most of us can recall and still have a quilt our Grandmother or Mom made for us. We have such a rich history as quilters, why do you think this tradition has left our communities and families?
Quilting is a time consuming process and a lot of people don’t have the patience for it. We live in a technological age and quilting is a throwback to a time that was quite painful for black people. In many cases, we were making quilts from other people’s scraps to keep our families warm.
But, I love what a handmade quilt represents. It’s a living tapestry that holds the energy of the person who created it. You can certainly buy a quilt in the store, but there’s no love in it. Owning a quilt that was made by one of your ancestors is a testimony to their endurance. I often wondered how women had the peace of mind to quilt in the middle of such harsh circumstances like slavery. But, once I started quilting, I understood how a needle and thread could create a safe space for your thoughts to wander. I’m sure many uprisings were planned under the guise of a quilting bee.
So, if you have a quilt that was passed down to you from another generation… don’t ever throw it away… instead draw on its power. Wrap your self in it and listen with your spirit. It’s like you can hear your ancestors say…. “ “I was here. I lived. I loved. I survived… and so can you.”
Clutch: If your Mom was alive today what do you think she would say to you about “In My Solitude”?
(LOL) I think in public she would say, “that’s my daughter.” In private she would say, “I’m so proud of the woman you have become… but you’re not finished yet.”
Clutch: Do you have any upcoming plans or projects for In My Solitude? Where can we purchase this beautiful collection!?
Right now, I’m working on my Fall/Winter collection for In My Solitude…. My work is available on my website at www.inmysolitudeboutique.com. You can also find my work at The Pasadena Museum of California Art and at avita coop on the ever fabulous and trendy 3rd street in Los Angeles.