Everyday Words

easier to be critical than to be correct

November 21, 2006

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct. – Benjamin Disraeli

When I was perhaps eight or so, my class and I sewed trees together just like the ones pictured here. It’s a very simple, basic sewing project you can do with a machine or by hand (we did it by hand). Our teacher didn’t invent this pattern I’m sure; she’d probably seen it around when she was a child and passed it onto us.

There’s a store I work at every November-January and this year I was fortunate enough to help open one. The theme for the winter holidays, given by the corporate office, was “tree farm.” Every store has a team of full-time visual designers who then interpret how that will play out for their store. Our store chose it very literally by bringing in dozens of trees which we put in brand new silver cans made to look old and by also sewing hundreds of these trees in lots of different colours and patterns.

The idea came about in a very organic way; a group of visual and crafty girls sitting on a couch with coffee, pouring over magazines with a sketch book in hand. Eyes lighting up when an idea really hit or cringing at things that were off. The process was more basement crafters than corporate store and these simple trees, which I discovered many of us had made during our childhood, were all something that people thought would be a great idea.

Lots of things just get made in the store without “reporting” back what we’re doing but for our opening, we had a team from the head office out to help us open. And they loved our ideas, ideas go back, and then other stores and the site incorporate them. People get really giddy over the visuals and love to share. There’s no agenda with that – just designers wanting to create.

Last year, Stephanie of Little Birds made some of these trees and showed them on her site. Stephanie, for me, is a huge inspiration. Not just with what she makes but with her family. So many simple ideas have I taken from reading her blog over the years. Truthfully, none have really ever come to fruition (I’m still wanting to make her TV Coverlet) but they’re in my brain, waiting for the perfect moment.

It was in a recent entry she wrote a charming post about her vintage finds that were cups that Anthropologie is now duplicating and she mentioned that she saw the trees on the site. I believe her intent was just to post about things she loved (thrift finds) and how a store was now selling them – simple and interesting, I thought. So I was taken off guard when the comments (and emails to me from my own comment to the post) seemed to quickly turn against the store and attack. While I can totally understand not wanting to pay $10 for a mug when you could potentially thrift it for $0.69 I had a hard time understanding how it was interpreted that Anthropologie must have read Stephanie’s blog and then “stolen” her tree idea. But the hook for me was when one commenter said in one paragraph that she thought it was bad that the store used Stephanie’s ideas but then followed up by saying, “and I’m going to take your idea and make them, too!”

I should mention that the trees the store made are not for sale. A person cannot buy them now or after the holidays and none of us in the store can take them home. So if it were in fact true that the store “copied” Stephanie’s trees to use as display, what is so different than anyone else who read her blog? For me, I don’t think there is any difference at all. But it’s just so easy to attack something one doesn’t like.

But the truth is, Anthropologie didn’t steal the tree ideas from Stephanie. They’ve always disclosed, however, that they are so often inspired by people, places and things from around the world (and their sister company who runs under the same umbrella, Free People, has a new blog that shares a lot of inspiration, too). The president, Glen and his real-life partner of 32years Keith (who travels the world for finds) love antiques, indie designers, thrift store finds and good living which they incorporate in their home in NY (which is so often written about in magazines and books) and reflect that passion in their stores. They’ll travel to France, fall in-love with a headboard, then reproduce it so others who might not be able to get to France can buy it or they’ll bring back the original and sell in the store. All the visual designers feed off the world in which they see – no different than I do or any other artist I know. It’s why I, like so many others, blog – to share ideas and information that perhaps someone will find useful or interesting. I would hope that if someone does not find this to be true of anything (blogs or stores) that they’d move onto something that does appeal to them rather than wasting their time getting worked up over problems and criticizing things created in their heads. Or in the case of Stephanie’s blog, joining a bandwagon of hate when the basis is just a mass amount of misinformation but it’s cooler to “join the group” then to take a different opinion based on truth.

The visual team and often the girls that work there are just people who really love art, love a certain aesthetic and want to share it with others who feel the same. If you asked a lot of the girls what they’re studying in school or what they want to be outside of the store, so many of them want to design, run business, make things, craft things etc. And the stores are individually run to a large extent by these girls who, just as the commenters on Stephanie’s site, are so enormously in-love with things visual. And in the corporate office, you actually have a lot of the same which is why the stores have a more organic, visual feel than say a Gap.

You can walk into that store and sit on the couch for hours and not buy a thing but be inspired by the design and products alone. You might see something there which you think, “I could make that!” then you do. I assure you the store won’t turn around and say “you stole that from our store!” The store is attacked a lot because people do not understand it or feel they can’t afford it and assume it’s all corporate with products made solely in China (a lot of the home goods and decor is made from small U.S. Artists. The glass ornaments currently in the stores are made from one woman in Pittsburgh and the soft ornaments are made from two Danish girls and Bono’s Edun line is carried in the store along with several other organic cotton t-shirt companies). It’s not perfect – I totally get that and the things I feel there are issues with I assure you I ask questions about.

But the thing is – I ask questions. I try to get the answers. I don’t just assume and hate. I don’t criticise based on how I feel. I criticise based on what I know.

The point of all of this is not to defend the store but to defend the idea to not jump to conclusions so quickly. It is so easy for one to critise and hate what they don’t understand or fear. The truth is often not as glamourous, exciting or as scary as the swirl one can put around it. There is good and bad to everything and everyone. Rather than getting worked up over something you don’t really know the facts of to sound “right” or “smart” – if it’s important enough then take the time to find the truth. If it’s not so important to your life then move onto something else that is.

In April, I wrote something similar to this based on the quote from Abraham Lincoln:

When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.