Freedom Comes From Letting Go January 09, 2016 12:00

Dynamite Starfish Tanks ASCA Packaging

Before launching Dynamite Starfish and growing it into what it is today (let’s be honest here, it’s still small), I wondered how I could create a business model where I wouldn’t be bound by profit and acquisition.

Why? People inherently love money, right? Yeah… well, here’s the thing about me: I’ve always hated selling, marketing and advertising. It’s just my luck that I ended up becoming a graphic designer, which I define as a master of aesthetics whose skills are used to sell things. However, through my experience as such, I’ve learned that a certain level of polish is necessary when giving, whether it is for the exchange of money or not. The presentation is worth something, and that presentation takes time. This realization did not come without some level of kicking and screaming, but when I started working full-time, I really began to value my time. I was punched with the fact that time cannot always be free. If I stayed true to my younger, selfish ways, I would continue to give away my art, my labor and my time for free. I did this a lot. I am hugely grateful to one of my printmaking professors who reacted in an uproar when I gave away prints for free when I could have sold them at a reasonable price in order to buy more paper and ink. If I continued to live like this, my endeavors would be short-lived. I’d starve, I wouldn’t have a place to live, and I wouldn’t be able to offer anything of value to anyone. So how does a person like this start a business? Isn’t the very purpose of business to make loads and loads of money?

Sure. My goals are pretty clear, though. This business is for me to make money. Some money. Enough for the business to sustain itself. Enough to buy more ink and paper, if you will. One day, if it pays my rent, I’ll be jumping out of my chair in excitement. Until then, I design things. Packages, brochures, logos, tools for other people to sell their goods. That, I get paid for. This, Dynamite Starfish, is a labor of love. I’ve structured the business so that as my profits grow, so does the love. Right now, our profit margins are pretty low. I spend a lot of my own time screen-printing, driving around to pick up shirts from suppliers, going to the post office, making packages by hand, getting my screens burned, and making the art. However, the thing I have in my back pocket is the knowledge that if the shirts go into higher levels of production, I’ll outsource my printing, get better prices on blank shirts and free up lots of my time spent doing manual labor. Although this may initially seem like a jump driven by greed or the acquisition of money, that’s not the bigger picture. As my profit margins go up, so do the donations I make to the organizations that actively conserve our climbing crags. In other words, if my production cost goes down, the amount that gets donated goes up (because the donations are based on a percentage of profits). I’m also then able to offer more of myself by thinking about next steps, finding the right partners, and searching for what’s going to make my readers and followers truly happy.

What I’m really searching for are these very particular types of moments. For as long as I can remember, I always searched for moments when I saw something so relatable I thought, “Oh… Someone gets it. Someone sees it the same way that I do. Why didn’t I think to do that?” At those times I was able to fully appreciate the work someone did and aspired to one day offer the same feeling. So my goal with Dynamite Starfish is to give people who are also looking for those moments, that fulfillment...and I believe that comes from within the business structure and eventually becomes part of what’s on the outside of the tee or tank someone wears.

Having the freedom to look for and provide those moments is all I need to have real happiness and feel success. That freedom could not have come about unless I let go of any preconceived notions I had about sales in the past. I also had to let go of my stupid, young artists’ pride. Letting go of the idea that I should keep all my profits for myself was honestly the easiest step, but not without some struggle. (A lot of people convincingly tell me that I should get paid for every second of work I do. I believe this with many grains of salt.) I consider success to be a group effort. If I experience some success, I want everyone around me to feel that joy too — always and in every endeavor. This post is largely me rambling about why I’ve done what I’ve done, which is inherently not very useful, but I hope it gives some insight into what’s behind the scenes to anyone who is looking.