The second book from Design*Sponge, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, isn’t what you’d expect—and it’s not exactly what Grace Bonney’s publishers were initially thinking either.
After Design*Sponge at Home, the site founder set out to create a massive craft encyclopedia for her second tome. But as time passed, the crafts didn’t come. Bonney, who began her beloved site in 2004, increasingly felt like a book wasn’t the right place to organize myriad projects that were so readily available online.
At the breaking point and ready to return her advance, something else did seem to fit. Instead of writing a book about crafts, she’d write about the women behind the craft business (and many other businesses). The goal: to pull back the curtain behind their successes so other women could feel confident enough to create their own.
“Two months before my DIY book was due, I wrote an email to my editor and I said ‘I haven’t written the book. This is the book I’d rather write. What do you think?’” Bonney said. “To my total delight, she said ‘I love it. I think this is great. I think this is something people need—but you still have the same deadline, so if you can write the book in two months you can do it.’”
Challenge accepted. For two months, Bonney and co. trekked across the country to chat in the personal workspaces of over 100 potters, artists, poets, and so on. With a diverse roster of skills and stories, from illustrators like Maira Kalman to journalists like Melissa-Harris Perry to musicians like original riot grrl Kathleen Hanna, Bonney hoped to reflect the diverse array of both businesses and the women running them.
For Bonney, creating the book reflected one of its biggest lessons: in order to make it all happen, you have to ask for help.
“The book is a huge testament to the power of a village, basically,” Bonney explains. “I would say half the women featured in the book are women that I had some connection to in some way, and the other half were women I admired that were way beyond my scope of contact. I would go on my personal Facebook
page and say, ‘Does anybody know Nikki Giovanni or Carrie Brownstein?’ and inevitably someone in my network would know someone who knew them. It worked because of this incredible community of other women who said ‘Hey I think this process sounds awesome. How can I help you make this happen?’”
That spirit was one of the greatest lessons of the book. As Bonney met with women, she noticed many trends (many creative ladies have very large dogs, most work from home or as close-by as possible), but the biggest was that everyone could use a support network of like-minded ladies.
“I hope the book inspires more people to reach out to people they see as colleagues or compatriots in their niche or at their level,” Bonney said. “Rather than seeing other women as a threat, it’s a huge asset that, if handled well, can be such a valuable tool; push yourself harder and learn more to make your business and your life a little bit happier.”
By talking to other women about their challenges, Bonney believes everyone can realize that the process is just part of running a business.
“The biggest lesson for me is that the mistakes and the lessons don’t ever stop,” Bonney said. “They just hit a new plateau and the challenges reappear or might be a different level of challenge than they were in the beginning.”
Bonney cites fashion magnate Eileen Fisher as an example. In the book she admits that, despite being decades into running an empire, she still struggles to keep it all in check. Coming face-to-face with those issues was a relief to Bonney, and she mentions the nearly thwarted interview with trans activist and Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace as another example of moving beyond the stress of being settled. The most difficult get in the book, Bonney and her team traveled 16 hours (plagued by myriad delays) to Grace’s studio in rural Michigan for what boiled down to a brief 20-minute interview.
“I’m so glad her interview is in the book, because she brings such a different perspective,” Bonney said. “To see how many different people had different types of hurdles, whether it was Laura Jane coming out as a transwoman and totally changing her public identity, or other people who overcame language barriers, or nancial barriers, or having to work three jobs at a time—everybody’s got something, and hearing more about that something and the vulnerability that comes with it was so, so uplifting. The more that we’re open about what that thing is that’s difficult to navigate, the calmer I felt about the fact that we’re all in this together. Nobody was just handed a perfect business and a perfect life. It’s really all about how do you find balance and what’s the support system you have to keep checking in with it.”
In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs is out October 4 from Artisan. Checkdesignsponge.com for details about talks and podcasts released surrounding the book’s release.