Creative Entrepreneurs Deliver a Boss Talk for International Women’s Day
I’ve lived in New York City for eight months now. Truly, it is the city that never sleeps, because sleeping means losing out on money you could be making and dreams you could be manifesting. Nowhere was that more apparent than when I went to an International Women’s Day panel featuring painter Cindy Press and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley at Lumas Gallery in the Meatpacking district.
Several female-led businesses set up tables around the space selling skincare, chocolate, essential oils, and teas, among other things. Press worked on a painting larger than she was in a corner, not ignoring people praising her and talking to her but also not letting them distract her from her work. There were a few men in attendance, but they mostly stood against the walls looking lost, or politely listened to women who were talking.
The attendees were mostly women in the fashion industry who were there to network and “netwerk,” dressed in things I didn’t even know were cool yet. The eyebrows? On fleek, as I’m sure the kids still say. The lipstick? As crisp as the Moscow mules they were serving. One woman glided around the gallery space in a shimmering gold African-print dress and headwrap. I may have bowed to her and said I’m not worthy.
After some mingling, everyone gathered for the panel featuring Rowley and Press. Rowley’s daughter Kit Clementine Keenan, also a fashion designer, moderated the panel.
Keenan started off the panel by asking, “How do you incorporate feminine energy into your work?” Press said that her journey in art started when her oldest daughter went off to college. Prior to that, she was a stay-at-home mom. She took up art again to find purpose and found that her work was very polarizing.
“My work captures the mood of the fashion photography references I use,” said Press. “My work celebrates the woman and sexuality because in every other aspect of our lives, we have to repress it. I think it should be honored.”
“I go deep down into a woman’s mind and touch on her insecurities. Some women look at my work and love it immediately, but I’ve watched as others walk by with their husbands and say, ‘There’s no way you’re putting that in my house,’” said Press. “But the beauty of that is even if she didn’t like it, it made her think about it.”
Rowley said that the female energy in her work comes from surrounding herself with women. “My staff is 80, maybe 90 percent women,” she said. “Some men snuck in there . . . but it was important to me to have that female energy, that girl power energy as I work.”
Keenan then asked what advice each woman would give to a young woman breaking into art or fashion. “I always say don’t take no for an answer. It’s my mantra,” said Rowley.
She pulled out some notes with more mantras. “Girls with dreams become women with visions. Dream as big as you’re willing to work. Don’t rely on anyone but yourself. Don’t get caught up in the problem, keep the big picture in mind at all times. If you fail, fail fast and move on. Write down your goals and manifest them.”
“I have a little system that everyone teases me about,” said Rowley. “I have a bunch of little Post-It notes over my desk, completely covering this big table. It’s sort of my to-do list.”
“I can actually speak to the Post-Its,” said Keenan. “Something she does, that I inherited from her, is that I keep a journal right next to my bed so if I wake up at 4 a.m., I can jot down an idea or a sketch.”
Keenan also said that Rowley’s description of her “To-Do” list is also slightly inaccurate. “She always tells me to never have a to-do list. She tells me to just have a ‘do’ list.”
Press said, “I got to where I am by networking. I’ve found collectors on the other side of the world by going to events like this.”
Keenan then opened up the panel for audience questions. One young woman hoping to break into fashion asked how do the three women deal with negativity. Rowley said, “Your work is not going to be ‘for’ everyone, and sometimes people won’t ‘get’ it. That’s okay. Rejection is part of the process. Just don’t change yourself, your style, or your vision for anyone.”
Another young woman asked what to do if your art or design is stolen. “Make another one. And then make several more,” said Press. “The fraud won’t have your talent.”
The rest of the night was more mingling and networking. I’ve lived in New York City for eight months now, chasing, I suppose, a dream that Sex and the City sold to me. (I am, after all, a plucky journalist with curly hair and great, if inexpensive, shoes.) Truly, it is the city that never sleeps because you’re out on a Friday night talking to other young women about who you are and who you want to become. Sleeping means losing out on the female connections that make your dreams come true.