My creative career was born during my last year in college. I was studying and working my tail off, with thoughts of changing the social sector + becoming a social worker. After a few internships and subsequent chats with professors and professionals alike, I came to realize I wasn’t built with the essential emotional capacity needed to keep these two opposing worlds separate and healthy.
Wired with a heightened sense of empathy for those around me, a career dedicated to people and those in need seemed like an obvious choice. When I finally made the decision to no longer pursue the path of social work, I felt the biggest sense of relief. I knew that I could become so entangled in my cases, and then lose myself in the sorrow of it all. Somehow, I’d always felt indebted to take this concern for humanity and make it my life’s calling. It was a heavy burden I unknowingly carried, but once I realized I had the choice to choose another path that might be healthier for me in the long run, the burden lifted.
Alongside people, my greatest love has always been design. My mom is one of the most innately creative people I know. Growing up surrounded by her creative flare and influence left an impression, and I was introduced to a world that fostered a love of beautiful things + people who create. It ignited a spark in me that I’d never felt permission to let flourish as a career. It was completely captivating, and gave way t0 a new outlook on the world and my future. If one had a “calling,” I knew this was mine… to create.
When I began designing stationery my last year in college, it happened on a whim. I designed every piece painstakingly in Word. Yes, Microsoft Word. Every graphic designer I know laughs when I tell them how I got my start. Transitioning from those late nights churning out stationery orders from home, to a full-time business, took a ton of planning and a proper dose of naivete. I continued growing my local client base, spent a year writing a business plan, and sought out private investors to launch my dream of opening a shoppe. Everywhere I turned, patrons were encouraging me to open a shoppe. They made me feel as though I couldn’t ever fail, nor would my business. I was 24 years old, and couldn’t dream of anything sweeter.
Figuring out how to turn a hobby into a business was something I knew very little about, and yet, I couldn’t imagine pursuing anything different at the time. It was 2007, the economy was booming, and the stars just seemed to align. And so that spring, I quit my full-time job at an advertising firm, secured a retail studio space, and had enough funding from investors to launch a little shoppe called Cotton Idea Studio.
In the thoughtful pursuit of a fresh, simplistic line of social stationery, Mindy Gayer sought out fellow aficionados of sophisticated correspondence.
At last, she found the charming seaside community of Laguna Beach to serve as the perfect home for her budding business, Cotton Idea Studio. Her darling note sets found immediate success among friends, and in time, her designs were spotted in post boxes all along the coastline…
I was so unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by design friends oozing with talent, and with hearts of generosity to match. I still think back on the hours upon hours they gave to my tiny budding business – developing my logo and brand collateral, website, photographing every inch of every product, and helping to create a wholesale line that never launched. I still can never repay them for how they helped me launch my brand, and build my dream. Friends bought dozens upon dozens of cards they probably really didn’t need, vendors and clients trusted me despite my age, investors believed in my dream. It was a completely magical time.
I haven’t talked much about my journey with Cotton beyond my closest circle of family and friends. I closed its doors in 2010, and have been pursuing other happy things since then, but won’t ever forget the impact of saying goodbye to something so near and dear to my heart. The highs and lows that came with running a business, and even greater, living out my dream, couldn’t prepare me for the loss that came after deciding to close the shoppe and put my proprietress hat on the shelf.
As so many entrepreneurs can attest to, it’s the “failures” that shine the brightest light on our lives. Truthfully, closing my shop was half tragedy and half total and utter relief. The economy was the biggest factor in closing, paired with a myriad of other reasons. Some details are simply too personal and private to share, but the thing I miss most about my shoppe days are the relationships I gained with people I met near and far. It was one of the most unique creative communities that spurred me on, praised and challenged my growth, but above all, supported me beyond measure. Even though I had to say goodbye, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. It’s some of my proudest moments and memories, and I will forever be grateful to all of you who stood by my side. So much so, I would do it all over again.
Like so many, the road to where I am today has been sprinkled with equal parts hiccups and delights. That’s what I love about being a creative – it’s such a loose, evolving thing that has meant different things to me each and every year since I first sought it out. I love where it has taken me, and I feel so much peace knowing I got to try my hand at being a shoppe owner, despite and because of what it taught me and how it grew me into exactly where I am today. I am in a new realm of design now, and it’s so amazing. I feel like I hit the jackpot, and I just pinch myself thankful that I get to be creative and pay my bills doing exactly what I was made to do. It’s not everybody’s dreamboat, but it will always be mine.
My hope for all of you is that if you are in the throes of dreaming up a dream, are in full pursuit of it, or are on the other side wondering what’s next…just keep on going. I have learned so much from when I first started out, and I know I’ll always be on this road, evolving my lens as to what it means to be a creative. It’s what we’re all meant to do in one way or another – delighting in creation.