It was one year ago today that my girl and I sat down, completely unaware of the journey we were about to embark on.
We pulled some construction paper from the closet, a roll of masking tape from the “junk drawer”, sat down on the floor and got to work. Once the masterpiece was on her and securely in place, SHE clipped a handful of colored pens to the neckline and declared it was now perfect. I, of course, snapped a photograph with my phone and posted it to Instagram. As we parents do these days 😉
To be honest, I’m not even sure what to say about the past year, or especially the past three months. We began making paper dresses for fun. We continued making paper dresses for fun. And as long as it’s fun, we’ll continue to make paper dresses.
There was never any intention to gain attention. And when friends suggested, then suggested some more that I start a little blog so I could maybe show a little bit more about how we make our dresses, I went ahead and secured the fashionbymayhem.com URL. And then it sat for months. I didn’t even put the site “up” until four months after purchasing the name. Mostly because I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. Each time a friend would ask “how did you make that?”, I’d kind of laugh thinking they were kidding. Because the truth is, there is never a plan when we sit down to make a dress and there isn’t an exact formula we follow. At the risk of going artsy fartsy on you, we sit down and take Mayhem’s (and my) preferred method of learning: trial and error. We start taping paper together, then hold it up to see if it: fits around her, is the length she wants, is “puffy”enough, etc. We don’t use tape measures or rulers and we actually didn’t use scissors until about four months into this project. We’d simply fold and tear the paper when we needed to.
In the beginning it was incredibly easy. And then as Mayhem continued to request dresses, I found myself being challenged in the best ways possible. Having spent the thirteen years prior to Mayhem’s birth creating photographs of other people’s families and children as well as designing and building sets in our studio, I was missing that creativity. And I didn’t even know it. I knew that I currently had the very best job in the world but I didn’t know how to make it my own. I read books and blogs and magazines and articles of every kind about “parenting”. I watched friends share their lives, journeys and ridiculous “Pinterest worthy” crafts. And I wondered what I “should be doing” with my kid.
I tried cooking. And crafts. And I’ve had more Pinterest fails than should be allowed by law.
I’ve wondered how other moms do it all. And then subsequently realized they probably don’t. Or at least they don’t do it ALL well.
When friends started reaching out via private messages and emails late last summer to let me know how much they were enjoying the photographs of our paper dress creations, I was genuinely surprised. But I was appreciative none the less. I was encouraged that maybe I was doing something in this parenting gig a little bit right and I was watching my girl flourish.
Little by little our audience on Instagram began to grow. Moms were sharing our feed with other moms and I found a community who I had a lot in common with. And we were each doing our own thing.
But more importantly, Mayhem and I had found something that we could do each and every day. Something that was fun for us both. Something that was new and different every day. Something that we each learned something new from each and every day. And it was the one thing we did each day that for as long as we were doing it, I knew there would be no tantrums …. 😉 Truth.
When the first story/interview about our dresses was published online in December of 2013, the result was that the number of followers we had doubled. From around 500 to around 1000. And I was genuinely surprised. But again, they were mostly moms, just like me, doing their best each day to raise kids who will hopefully be great adults.
When the next online story/interview was published in late February of this year it was a bit of a different story. What started out as virtually the same interview I had done previously, morphed into our story being shared around the globe. Multiple times. I wasn’t surprised. I was dumbfounded and speechless.
All the while, I’ve kept saying to my husband “But we’re just sitting on the floor taping paper together …. do you think they know that?!?!”. For the record, he thinks you do.
Which brings us to now. And a whole lotta questions that a whole lotta people ask on a regular basis. So on this first anniversary of our first paper dress, we’d like to share a little more about the current state of Fashion By Mayhem.
On Media Appearances:
There’s a reason we haven’t done many interviews or appearances. Actually there are a few more than one reason, but here are the top few:
1. We don’t watch a lot of TV. And the Voice didn’t call … probably because they’ve seen those videos of Mayhem singing. I kid 😉
2. The immediate response from the TV media when our story went viral was EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE and that was a MAJOR turn off for us. I won’t go into all of the details but having our cell phone numbers “leaked” among networks/shows along with our extended family being just shy of harassed to get in contact with us was not cool. Not cool at all. And you know what they say about first impressions ….
3. Nearly everyone who reached out wanted Mayhem to create a dress “on the air” for them. And I believe the quickest way to destroy her creativity or desire to continue to make dresses is to force her to do it. I don’t force her to do it at home and I won’t force her to make one because it’s good TV. There have been many times over the past year when I’ve suggested we make a dress and she’s said “not right now” or “I don’t really want to” and that’s completely OK with me.
I’m NOT saying we won’t ever do any appearances, but what I AM saying is that they have to be the right fit and sharing the right message for us to participate. I’ll continue to trust my gut on these things. And possibly start doing our own interviews right here 😉
Yes we will. We HAVE to. When our story went viral, I discovered very quickly that our only decision was to either find credible (because of my moral/ethical beliefs) ways to monetize or to shut things down completely. Why? Again, there are lots of reasons, but to start with, we incurred lots of expenses right off the bat. The first was that this blog shut down due to traffic overload. The solution? … We had to move this site to a new server. What that meant was that hosting this site used to cost me about $6/month and all of the sudden it was going to cost about $80/month to handle the traffic. I can think of lots of things I’d rather spend $888 dollars on this year than additional web hosting costs, so this thing has got to pay for itself! Second, we had to get attorneys involved right away. They cost more than $888 …. Third, trademark and copyright costs. I’ll spare you many of the details we’ve had to go through to protect our work, but let’s just say, the government is making lots of money on us. Did you know that it costs $35 per image to register your work with the US Copyright Office? PER IMAGE. I’d like to tell you that I have a sizable tab running with them at this point, but they don’t let you run a tab. I might just earn enough points on my AMEX to take that trip though…
So how do we do it?
Well, that’s something we’re still in the process of figuring out. But what I can tell you is that I’m finding lots of ways we don’t want to. I’ve turned down $250, $500 and $1000 offers to post images to my Instagram feed. Because it feels like a conflict of conscience. I’m doing my best to keep my IG feed as true as possible. Have I mentioned some things I like in my feed? You bet! Because I get emails every single day from people wanting to know more about stuff we have/like and where to find those things. And I think sharing an affiliate link to some of those things on this site is fair.
But for all of the stuff I sift through each day, it becomes worth it when you find the few things that completely resonate with who we are and what we do. We’re welcoming the right creative opportunities that allow us to work with fantastic people. The Vogue collaboration was truly beyond a thrill. Why? We got to keep doing what we do. Make dresses, photograph our creations, and then allow them to be shared with a bigger audience. That is called win-win, friends. We’ve had the opportunity to speak in front of and consult with some pretty fantastic companies/brands about photography, storytelling and simply “how we do what we do”. And that is something that we truly enjoy. We’ve been working on a creative collaboration with a company that will allow Mayhem to continue to “do her thing” as well as opening her eyes to experiences so far beyond what we can do here at home. And I’m beyond ecstatic! Because all of these collaborations fit within our goals as a family. And allow us to stick together – which is important to us.
So what else will we be up to?
We’ll see. I’ve been told lots of times that I need to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible right now. But here’s the thing – I will NEVER get this time back with Mayhem. And I like being a mom. So I’m not ready to give up spending my days with her. I do, however, enjoy that we get to be creative on our terms and if that opens up opportunities that are a good fit for our family, we will absolutely take advantage of some of those.
If you’ve stuck around to read all of this, thank you. THANK YOU. Thanks for sharing in this crazy journey with us. We’re looking forward to whatever year 2 of paper dresses brings!