For anyone who was an avid reader of DIY design magazines Ready Made or Domino during the early to mid-2000’s, or even their digital equivalent, Apartment Therapy, the name Design*Sponge will be as familiar as household words. In 2004, author Grace Bonney founded the daily website, which is dedicated to the creative community. Swiftly, it proved to be popular, and more than a decade later it is still thriving, unlike the defunct magazine counterparts mentioned.
Since launching Design*Sponge, Bonney has created a meetup series titled Biz Ladies that serves as a community resource for women entrepreneurs and maintains a digital presence as a column on the Design*Sponge website. It was during Biz Ladies events that Bonney realized there was a need to communicate a holistic and diverse representation for professional women. “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist,” says Bonney, and this is where the touchstone lies in the heart of her new book, In the Company of Women.
This collection of inspiration and advice from over 100 creatives accomplishes this feat admirably. Not only is it an informative and inclusive representation of a vital demographic, but it is conveyed with amazing casualness and is simultaneously entertaining. Bonney personally sat down with each woman and asked a series of questions; this type of intimate detail lends each meeting an air of comfort akin to that of sitting down with a friend. The title of the book states that it regards makers, artists, and entrepreneurs, yet there are a fair amount of bookish folks too! The contributors range from Style Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson, to transgender rights activist Janet Mock to eminent poet Nikki Giovanni, to YouTube rising star Issa Rae, to lauded feminist Roxane Gay, to food stylist Diana Yen, and even Bonney’s spouse, Julia Turshen, has a turn in the interview seat.
The questions that Bonney poses are not static, but interpersonal. Some favorites include: “What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?”, “What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?”, and “What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?”
The answers given by these women not only display their personalities, however, but they also lend sound advice that even those not a part of a creative occupation can regard. And these questions are not limited to only those with a cheerful response. By including queries about more difficult times, such as: “What is the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?”, “Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?”, “Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?”, only helps strengthen Bonney’s insistence for a book like this in the first place.
For a member of the creative community, no doubt, the information gleaned from In the Company of Women proves invaluable. However, I have always felt that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources. Grace Bonney encapsulates her intention best by stating: “While each woman’s story is unique, their messages are universal. They’ve overcome adversity, gone great distances on their own, and learned the power of working together to achieve their goals. In many cases, they have inspired one another, and they are role models for the generation to come. Any one of these women would inspire someone to pursue their passion, but together, they are an undeniable force.”
-Ilka Iwanczuk is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.