The mood started off decidedly somber. The AIGA Philadelphia-sponsored discussion of Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney’s new book, In the Company of Women, had been scheduled for Nov. 9 for quite some time — way before anyone knew how the election would turn out.
“This is an event that I thought would be very momentous, and it is — but for a very different reason than I thought it would be,” said Bonney, as she opened the evening with a few poorly held-back tears.
“While I don’t presume to know anyone’s political affiliation here, or your feelings, I want you to know that above all, this space is a safe one,” she continued, setting the tone for the conversation to follow. “We are going to discuss our fears, our hopes, our dreams…and ask questions, to learn from each other.”
The event was the last stop on Bonney’s five-week, 12-city book tour, each of which showcased a panel of local makers/artists/entrepreneurs.
In Philly, the author was joined by Cuban-American artist Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, cookbook author and pastry chef Klancy Miller, floral designer Sullivan Owen and Kimberly Glyder, an illustrator who focuses on book covers. Corzo-Duchardt and Miller are both featured in the book, and Owen’s floral arrangements — and studio makeover — have appeared on Design*Sponge.
The sold-out event brought nearly 400 women (and a handful of men) together in the auditorium at Moore College of Art and Design to hear about the challenges and joys of being a woman entrepreneur in the creative sphere.
“The timing of this event could not have been more perfect,” said AIGA Philadelphia’s Aimee Cicero. “If this election cycle taught us anything, it’s that we still have a lot of work to do in the battle for gender equality, and spending an evening with these five amazing women was just the inspiration we needed to keep on fighting.”
Here are top takeaways from the three local participants.
Writer, pastry chef, author
Miller divides her time between Philadelphia (she lives in the Art Museum area) and New York, where she works full-time as a writer for her alma mater, Columbia University. She contributes to several magazines and newspapers, and her cookbook, Cooking Solo, hit shelves last spring. She was also part of the recipe development team for renowned culinary arts institute Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and has appeared on the Food Network’s “Recipe for Success” and the Cooking Channel’s “Unique Sweets.”
On ‘five-year plans’
I don’t believe in plans. I believe you articulate what you want to do — for example, write a cookbook — and the active pursuit of the goal creates the plan. Ultimately I think life is what happens while you’re making plans, just like the cliche says.
On weaning off exclamation points
Something I’ve learned recently: It’s not personal, it’s business. In terms of communicating, I happen to be a friendly, warm, enthusiastic person, so I’ve had to find a way to edge back from the whole “exclamation point, exclamation point!” [Instead], just to be clear: “this is what my needs are.” Period, not exclamation point.
On the upside of being both a boss and an employee
I have a job-job, and I like it, it provides me security. When I first came back from culinary school in Paris, I was living in NYC and I was working freelance, and I was destitute. I could not make it work. I needed a stable income job. I’m really lucky that I have flexibility and am able to [also] have my other work writing and cooking.
Artist, designer and printmaker
A Cuban-American artist who wanted to be Indiana Jones as a kid, Corzo-Duchardt’s affinity for archaeology is put to good use in her work, which incorporates found objects and plenty of excavation — albeit mostly through layers of paint and pixels. She lives in Allentown, and prints at Second State Press in Kensington.
On keeping tech out of the bedroom
In our house we have rules. My wife is an academic so she’s also constantly working. So we have a shut-off time, and there are no phones in the bedroom, TV is not allowed. No work-related books are allowed in the bedroom either — if you want to do something that is going to make you want to take notes, go to the couch. I think that’s how we keep balance.
On deciding to fly solo
When I first started out, I thought I would have a proper design studio, and have maybe two or three people working with me. I quickly realized I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to stay small and nimble. I think that came from hiring others to come work with me and realizing how much work it is to actually set it up in a way that flows. I spent a lot of time setting up things for them to do, and they were getting to do more of the fun stuff. I wanna do that stuff! I can say no to things because I don’t have employees to worry about.
On just saying no to “just”
Something I always told my students, when they were presenting their work and they would start by saying, “I just did this…” No. Stop. You had a reason for doing it — make one up — but don’t say “I just did this.” Stand behind it.
Florist and event designer
With two armfuls of flower tattoos, Owen is clearly very passionate about floral design. She held top positions at Under Armor and Destination Maternity Corp before going rogue and starting her own floral design firm. Now she works out of a private studio in Northern Liberties, heading up a small team of employees. She teaches a few times a year in New York City at the Flower School, and occasionally suffers 3 a.m. wake-up calls to go on buying trips at the NYC wholesale flower markets.
On delegating — or not
There have been times in my work where I have not wanted to manage staff, where I wanted to do whatever I could by myself, on my own, for different reasons. But in order to grow — not necessarily as an artist but to grow in the amount of work that one can do — employees are necessary. A lot of traditional business models [are] all about growth, but now it’s really a choice. It’s more about what kind of lifestyle you want than about following a business plan.
On competition in the Philly wedding scene
The industry is pretty evenly split between men and women, but in my niche — bespoke floral design — there are more women. Among the group of female floral designers, it’s pretty competitive. That’s the nature of any type of business where there’s a limited number of clients, a limited number of press opportunities. But I found my own support system through people that I’ve worked with that aren’t doing the same thing — wedding planners, caterers, stationery and paper designers. I have a pretty strong network.