Before I started The Ink Bureau I was freelance copywriting, but not full time. I was working for clients on weekends and after work. One of the people I did some writing for was Jess Cameron Wootten, who had just opened his own shoemaking and leathercrafting shop, Wootten. He needed some website copy.
I went and visited Jess at his workshop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran to have a chat, get an idea of what he needed and see how he plied his craft.
The word “inspiring” is grossly overused these days – I avoid it like I avoid the startlingly white-teethed attractive people holding clipboards who stand on street corners and lure people into their monthly charitable donation lairs. But I have no hesitation in using it here.
I’ll get to that in a moment, though.
At that time I’d been in office work for several years. I considered myself creative, which is to say that I thought that I had my professional engine powered by mostly creative fuels. Jess showed me that I was living in not-so-blissful ignorance. What I saw in that studio brought me into direct contact with what real creative endeavour – and talent – looks like.
Now don’t get me wrong – some of it was purely romantic. (And there was a little bit of politics in there, as well.)
I loved the aesthetics of the workshop: it seemed to be bathed in a sepia warmth, almost as if a filmmaker had put a gentle brown colour grade over the top, and there was a wonderful disorderliness about it all, a long way from the strict, anodyne functionality of modern factories.
The machinery, too, invoked a different time. They were both solid and shapely. Thought had gone into their form and their function.
I don’t want this post to be accommodate a simplistic “things were so much better forty years ago” opinion. But it’s hard to look at what Jess is doing and think that what happened in the 1980s and 1990s, when tariffs were drastically cut so that Australians could more easily access, for example, extremely cheap shoes made in Asia, was an unambiguously good thing. (And certainly not when we now know the vast majority of the people making these shoes weren’t then and aren’t now being paid a living wage, and some are children.)
But even if you put style, trade policy and labour rights aside, it’s impossible to miss the difference between a mass produced shoe (or satchel or apron) and one that comes out of the Wootten workshop. One is produced as quickly as possible to be worn a few times, to (probably) break or wear down and to be thrown away; the other is created with care and thought and attention to detail because it’s not for six months – it’s for six years. Or sixteen. Or sixty.
Both have their place, of course.
Some buyers just prefer the idea of purchasing 10 or 15 mass produced shoes over the space of 10 years at $150 or $200 per shoe… or more. Others would prefer to buy three or four pairs of beautifully-made handcrafted $500 shoes over the same period.
Jess refers to it as a preference between the fast and the slow, and says that while a kind of McFashion was popular for decades after the (near) death of the Australian footwear and clothing industry, “we’ve [now] gone through, more or less, a full cycle of consumer ideology.” People in large numbers, he says, are starting to push back against poorly made products with no story behind them. They are looking for something less derivative, less throwaway, more personal.
That’s exactly what Jess is giving them.
So, yes, Jess was inspiring.
But what I saw was also a little bit depressing. I went away yearning to do what Jess did but understanding I didn’t have the skills to be the true slow creator that he was.
One of the reasons I don’t like the word inspiring – apart from the fact it’s become a cliche of monumental proportions – is because it’s badly used. A lot of people employ it like they employ “integrated” or “relevant”, flinging it into sentences without realising it needs to be qualified. Just as you need to integrate something into something else, and something has to be relevant with regard to a subject or within a context, you have to be inspired to do something. Inspiring isn’t quite the same as “uplifting” or “encouraging”.
Jess did inspire me. It’s just that the to do bit came years later when it occurred to me I didn’t need to be making something physically magnificent to be following his lead. His lesson wasn’t only in the shoes themselves, but in the idea behind them: that people were growing tired of Fast. They could see the downsides of something hastily put together. They were returning to the unconventional and the unhurried.
They wanted something put together with consideration – and not consideration of a formula, but of something more like a craft.
This, I realised, I could do.
So I created The Ink Bureau as a kind of ‘Slow’ copywriting and editing studio. Which, I should hasten to add, doesn’t mean I’ll take four weeks to write three paragraphs of website copy. But it does mean I won’t “mass produce” copy. I won’t churn through jobs using a rigid prescription that all my clients will get, no matter whether they’re a sole trader selling kids’ clothes, a medium-sized accounting firm or the one-time San Francisco startup that now rules the world.
I won’t write what everyone else writes…
… unless that’s what you really want.
But then, as I always say:
Your organisation isn’t the same as all the others. Why should your words be?
For more about The Ink Bureau, head over to our About the Bureau section.