Not too long ago, Mike and I discovered a fantastic word — luftmensch. Literally translated, it means “air person”. And in a more practical sense, it refers to a creative person who has no practical business sense.
I was reminded of this word recently, when dealing with a particular vendor. This is somebody who had, two years ago, made me a garment which I LOVE, and which I get compliments on all the time. I had written to them to custom order a new one — different fabrics, same exact style. And they replied that, in fact, they’d never been able to get that style to work, and really, I’d be happier if I ordered something else. I replied that they had already made me one, and it worked fantastically. I even sent them pictures of me wearing it, so they could see how well it worked. And — despite having already made it (and one would assume still having the pattern lying about somewhere) they flat-out refused to make me another. They even had the gall to tell me that I’d “just have to buy something else”.
The whole thing was very frustrating, and struck me as incredibly poor business sense — if it works, and if you’ve already figured it out, and if the customer is happy and is handing you their credit card, why on earth would you turn them away? In the end, I did not “just have to buy something else” — I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t about to compromise my vision. Instead I just made myself something not identical, but very similar to what I would have ordered from them. All this vendor accomplished was to lose a sale — and, frankly, any future sales. The whole thing left such a bad taste in my mouth that I have no plans to ever buy from them again.
It made me think, though, about my own business — a luftmensch is something I never want to be. I won’t say I never turn down commissions, but when I do, it’s for incredibly well thought-out reasons. For instance, I once had somebody ask me about making a Superman outfit. I started doing the research into design and materials, and eventually realized that it was unfeasible — it was fabric I was unaccustomed to, a design like nothing I had done before, and with the amount of time I’d have to spend to get it right, it would have cost him far more than it was realistically worth. In this instance, I recommended the customer look into the cosplay community, where I was sure there’d be somebody who already makes superhero costumes who could help him out a lot more affordably than I could.
It also made me think about other people I know who, while great creatively, maybe aren’t so hot at the practical side of running a business. People who use social media not just poorly, but in ways that are actively annoying, thus having the opposite effect than they intend. Or who start a business mere weeks before a show, and then have to scramble to actually get all the things they need to run it, begging and borrowing from other people. People who don’t verify the rules of a venue before a show opens, throwing vendors and performers into turmoil when they arrive.
So, look. I don’t want to be those people. So if you ever see me acting like a luftmensch, just let me know, okay?