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Marbury Meets: Erin Dollar

Here at Marbury, we know that the heart of a brand lies in the people behind it, and their own passions and beliefs. As such, learning about the artist behind a creative business with a strong brand is like uncovering another, deeper layer reflecting those same values.Today, we’re honored to introduce you to Erin Dollar, the artist behind Cotton and Flax. Erin creates modern and minimal textile patterns that are bold yet simple. She embraces those same qualities in the rest of her life.Get to know her below, in her own words.
Author Jessica Comingore

How did you get started in business?

I took the leap into a creative career immediately after graduating from college in 2008. I had trouble finding full-time work where I was living in Portland, Oregon, but I was creating fine art prints from a co-operative printmaking studio in my free time. To help cover my studio expenses, I decided to begin selling some of my artworks on Etsy and caught the entrepreneurial bug! A friend in the print studio suggested I try printing on fabric to make pillows, which planted the seeds for Cotton & Flax, my home decor company.

Six years later, I’ve grown a retail and wholesale business with my textile home goods, and collaborated with all sorts of brands to create beautiful patterned products. That path led me from Portland to Los Angeles, and now to San Diego, where I’m preparing to open my first retail space and studio! It’s been slow and steady growth, and it’s been tricky for me to avoid the comparison trap, but I’ve remained on my path of sustainable growth.

Thinking back on your journey, what is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Something that resonates most for me right now? We’re all learning as we go.

What was difficult in the first year of Cotton & Flax is less difficult now, partially because of the skills I picked up as I faced those early challenges. I’m also lucky to have gleaned some knowledge from other artists and designers who have generously shared their perspectives and let me see behind the curtain of their businesses.

What are some of the most important aspects of your daily routine?

Life as a screenprinter has done a number on my back, so I’ve had to make some adjustments to my routine to stay healthy. I spend the first 10-15 minutes of every day stretching to reduce lingering back pain and center my thoughts before diving into my day. Then it’s time for iced coffee, because I can’t seem to get through my to-do list without it.  

I lie down for 10-15 minutes around noon, which helps reset my back and gives me a boost of energy for the rest of the day. In the evening, I like to take a 10-20 minute walk around my neighborhood with my fiancé, which gives us a chance to get some fresh air and talk about our days.

The glorification of the hustle in our society causes many people to push themselves past their limit. What do you do to intentionally add rest into your business/life?

I made one big change in the last year to add space for rest: I stopped working on holidays and weekends. It’s definitely controversial among business owners. I used to tell people with pride that I rarely took weekends or holidays off, thinking that my hustle was admirable, but I’ve definitely had a change of heart.

I took a hard look at this recently — I’m the boss, so why did I create such an inhumane schedule for myself? Why would I create a working environment that will lead to inevitable cycles of burnout? Setting healthy boundaries in my business is the name of the game for me right now. Now if I could just break the habit of checking my email past 8pm…

We often hear that our surroundings greatly influence the type of work we do. How does where you live impact your creativity?

This is so true for me. I recently moved from a 4th floor walk-up studio in an industrial building with no windows, into a small, but light-filled studio in a vibrant, walkable neighborhood. The change in my mood is like night and day. Plus, becoming more integrated into my community and meeting more of my neighbors has led to fun collaborations and fresh ideas.

Was there a point, in life or in your career, when you decided to take a big risk to move forward?

Approaching Robert Kaufman fabrics with my first fabric collection comes to mind. I feel most vulnerable in my business when I pitch projects to potential collaborators. I never feel quite ready, so it takes me out of my comfort zone every time I pitch a big client.

I’d be embarrassed to tell you the number of times I obsessively refreshed my inbox hoping to get a reply after I sent that pitch. The reality is that it’s just part of my job now, something I need to do to work on big, exciting projects where I don’t manage every moving part. But I still feel a lot of anxiety with that process.

Anxiety, overwhelm, perfectionism, burnout — the struggle is all too common, especially among creative entrepreneurs. Do you have any strategies on coping with these uncertainties?

I think everyone experiences this struggle, but I think creatives have it especially hard because our egos are tied to our work in a special way. The thought that provides me comfort when I’m overwhelmed and feeling anxious about the future is: “I am more than my work.” Cultivating friendships, hobbies, and strengths outside of my work has also helped me to keep things in better balance.

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Right now I’m practicing listening to my body, to let it guide me in my creative pursuits. My creativity is inextricably linked to my health, so it’s important for me to be able to stay attuned to feelings of stress or fatigue in order to avoid burnout. My goal is to wake up feeling excited and optimistic about my day.

As creative entrepreneurs, we dream of the trifecta—time freedom, financial freedom, and creative freedom. However, it’s rarely talked about that scaling up a business can actually limit these freedoms. What shifts have you made to your business model over time in an effort to develop work-life balance?

This year I’m trying to make strategic shifts in my business to allow me to spend less of my time on repetitive manual labor. I’m obsessed with quality control, and it’s a struggle for me to let go of control of the production process for Cotton & Flax products.

But as I take on more licensing projects, I’ve realized that the physical side of my job has become a drain, and I need to hand that work off to partners to make sure I have the energy to tackle the big picture planning and design work. The time and financial freedom parts of that trifecta you mentioned are still elusive for me, but I’m hoping that’s a temporary part of this transition time in my business.

What are three recent discoveries (people, places, or things) that are inspiring you currently?

Have you seen Laure Joliet’s notecard-sized photo collection for Goodwin, called All of a Sudden? Every image in that series is filled with beautiful energy. Laure shoots so much amazing work for her clients, but her personal work just floors me. I dream of cultivating her skill for noticing beautiful details.

I’ve been listening to the Hurry Slowly podcast, which is such a great examination of modern creativity and work/life balance. Jocelyn K. Glei really digs into so much of what’s toxic in work culture right now, and I love hearing other creatives’ perspectives on how to slow down and enjoy the process.

This is silly and simple, but I’ve been feeling revived every time I enjoy summer stone fruit. Coming home after a long day in the studio to eat fresh peach slices just makes me so happy. I’m trying to slow down a bit and just enjoy this season.

If you’re inspired by Erin, you can learn more about her by visiting her website or following her on Instagram.

Personally, I love her commitment to her physical health and listening to her body. Which part of her story resonated most with you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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