Driving through Huntington, Indiana, my mom spotted signs that said “Going Out of Business Sale – All fixtures must go!” on the windows of a Target. She made my dad pull into the parking lot. We walked through the automatic doors into a store stripped to its bare metal bones.
It was a fortunate find for us. My parents had recently rented a storefront in the small town we lived in. My mom was working on transforming it into a consignment clothing store.
That day we bought shelves and freestanding racks that we had to make multiple trips in our van to transport to our store. On one of the trips, my dad stopped by our house to grab his tools. When we returned, we took apart their dressing rooms to take with us too. For $400, we had all the fixtures we needed for my mom to open Sarah’s Ship-Shape Shop.
She’d never run a store before but within a year we had out grown that small space. She moved her business into a larger location, in a larger town. When my dad’s job forced us to leave three years later, her business was beginning to really boom. Besides us three girls, she now had a couple of part-time women working for her. She had expanded into selling housewares along with men, women and children’s clothing.
Closing up her stop may have been the hardest part of leaving Indiana for her.
I was going into the ninth grade by this time. Though those years went by quickly, and I was young, they left a large impression on me.
Starting when I was sixteen, I began my own creative/entrepreneurial ventures. Having received my first sewing machine for my birthday, I began designing and sewing made-to-order purses for classmates. Truth be told, I never made much of a profit. I hated to charge very much because I assumed that everyone has as little spending money as me. When I did the math once I discovered I was only earning about 10 ¢ an hour. I practically just made enough to cover my few costs. It was lucky that I was using cloth I’d inherited from my grandmother because I couldn’t have afforded to by fabric along with notions, thread, and needles (I broke a lot of needles at first).
Eventually, horrified that I was charging so little, Christa took over my pricing system. I still wasn’t making even minimum wage off of my purses but I finally had a little spending money from my basement business. Since then, I’ve sold purses and wallets, along with commissioned pieces of artwork, on and off. Throughout grad school, I even dreamed up a clothing and accessories business that I tried to get off the ground last year but discovered I neither had the driving passion nor business sense to bring it properly to fruition.
These adventures in business are among the reasons that I’ve had a preoccupation with economic/business theory which is what I did my master’s thesis on. They are among the reasons that I’ve never seen eye-to-eye with my philosophical fellows who lean more towards communism and socialism than I do. They hint at why Ayn Rand’s understanding of capitalism resonates with me more than Karl Marx’s estimation of it.* They illustrate another reason why Atlas Shrugged moves me.** Though I’m neither ignorant nor blind to the destructive aspects and tendencies in capitalism and business, I do not think they are necessary.
The purpose of my master’s thesis was to illustrate that capitalism can and needs to be rethought. That business needs to be reshaped and restructured to be about mutual gain and mutual benefit instead of pure self-interest or pure philanthropy. That consumerism needs to be challenged by a genuine materialism in which we actually value what we have instead of the status it gives us or the thrill we get in acquiring more. Most importantly, that we must reclaim a sense of vocation and pursue our vocations. When we allow our work to be or seem meaningless and worthless than everything else, from the things that we buy to the relationships that we have, seems meaningless.
What continues to inspire me is that I keep finding people and businesses who are passionate about doing just this. Who believe that capitalism, business and consumerism can be different and, therefore, they have different practices. From this point forward, I’m going to begin sharing their stories with you. Not every day, don’t worry I’ll still be sharing with you other thoughts on life and faith and relationships. But, when I stumble across these inspirational people and businesses, I’m going to include you.
*My biggest pet-peeve with Marx is that he confused industrialism and the embodiment of Modern ethics and their affects with capitalism itself. Though it’s an understandable conflation, because they’ve both have had a huge impact on the shape and character of capitalism, it’s still a big fault. What this means is that what he assumed to be necessary and defining features of capitalism aren’t.
**I also appreciate how Rand’s novel demonstrates the absolute horror of communism/socialism. Not simply the horror of the historical manifestations of it, but the appalling nature of its motto “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Even before reading her, I used to argue with my classmates that even as a pure theory communism/socialism is ugly and deadening. I have never been able to articulate as perfectly or concretely why this is true as Rand has.