TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Affecting Change in Your Corner of the World

"Gandhi" by Diana Bracy

You must be the change 
you want to see in the world.
-Mahatma Gandhi

I just watched an inspiring video by Jeff Skoll, one of the founders of eBay, at a TED conference.  The video is several years old, yet still current in its message:

Jeff's path is one example of one person who succeeded in harnessing his talents and ideas into successful businesses that could then allow him to give back to society.  We have several leaders today, who like him, are working on the big issues that threaten our world's future: the environment, economic inequality, human rights, war, etc.  Any one of those issues seems daunting enough on its own.  Together, the state of world affairs seems depressing indeed.  How do we move forward and hope for a future in the face of this mess?

My answer is that we have to believe that each person can truly make a difference.  Diana's quilt above is made by tiny pieces of fabric, each a different shade.  On its own, the piece might not seem significant.  As a part of the whole, it is essential.

Many pieces make the whole.

Two years ago, at right about this time, I had an idea and put it out there:  I felt that those of us who have an online presence and are trying to get an audience for our work as fiber artists or textile businesses needed a better way of getting the word out.  Most of my peers were starting to use social media sites, opening shops on Etsy and spending a lot of time networking and doing what we thought we needed to do get business to come to us.  Swimming alone in an ocean of information.....  We needed to band together and be so beautiful that the right people would come to us.  TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List was born.  Two years later, we are almost ready with our state of the art new website.  You can preview it here.  We are now at 402 members from over 30 countries.

Yes, I have worked hard to make this happen, but it could not have happened on my own.  Many of TAFA's members have stepped forward with their time and money to help this dream come true.  I've had to learn a lot along the way and have some tips on what has worked for me:

  1. Be passionate.  Love what you do with your whole heart and be willing to take risks for it.  Expect that it will take time and endless hours of unrewarded effort.
  2. Define your Vision.  Don't replicate what is already being done out there.  Most of the textile and fiber art organizations that are out there serve their specific niche.  TAFA embraces all of the textile and fiber art traditions, but members are vetted in based on the maturity of both their product and their presentation.  Members came together in a think tank to help write the mission:   TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List is a membership organization of fiber artists and textile businesses on the web.  TAFA showcases member portfolios through its website, provides access to larger markets, offers business resources and fosters community.
  3. Establish a Home Base on the web.  I used Blogger as it is easy to set up, free, and integrates with other platforms.  
  4. Set up your social media hubs.  TAFA now has active hubs on facebook, google+, flickr, LinkedIn and a team on Etsy.  
  5. Build your community.  I started with my peers and several signed on.  Then, I visited thousands of websites over the past two years, inviting the cream of the crop to join.  Of every 100 that I visited, 10 were invited and of those, 1 accepted.  It took persistence, but as the list of members grew, it became more legitimate and interesting as a group.
  6. Make the financial risk minimal:  For the first year, membership in TAFA was $25.  This was an affordable amount to risk in a new enterprise.  In the second year, the membership fee went up to $48.  Now, in the beginning of the 3rd year, it is up to $75.  Members have also supported TAFA financially with inexpensive ads.
  7. Reward your supporters:  As TAFA grows and establishes itself, my main priority is, "How will this benefit the whole membership?"  I have tried to build systems that benefit everyone equally.  
  8. Ask for help.  There have been times where I was stuck or against the wall.  The members stepped up to the plate and helped me center my energies in a productive way.  (Don't do this too often as it can get annoying....  )
  9. Build your financial support.  Once you have your project seasoned and can show something for what you have done, take it to the next level and get the financial support you need to fund your tools.  We identified the need for a "real" website with a robust search engine and estimated that it would cost $5,000.  We raised exactly that through the members in a fundraiser using Indiegogo.  By the time the site is finished and does everything I want it to do, it will end up costing closer to $10,000 (Spring 2012).  But, I expect the site to raise the rest of the money on its own through new memberships and advertising.
  10. Set it free.  Let your dream take root and become bigger than yourself.
After two years of hard work, TAFA has established a name and identity within the textile and fiber art community.  The next steps will include separating it from my personal business and making it an S-Corporation, getting it to become financially stable so that it can hire staff, and ultimately selling shares back to the members so that it can become member owned.  I predict that it will take another two years before we get to that point, but when it happens, TAFA will be something beyond my own vision.

Jeff Skoll's speech confirmed much of my own process.  Some of us, creative entrepreneurs, have a gift at seeing a need and of imagining a way in which that need can be addressed.  When TAFA can fly on its own, I will probably start something else as I have always been an idea person.  Change does not have to happen by creating a new project like eBay, or on a much smaller scale, TAFA.  It happens by each of us being conscious about everything we do.  If you are an artist, think about the materials that you use.  Are they toxic?  Can you recycle garbage into your work?  Can you involve your local community into an activity that helps them understand art in a new way?  Are there local organizations that need your time or financial support?  Each person's talents, resources and visions all contribute to change the world, a bit at a time, to make it a better place.

FACES of EARTH - 1972 NASA Blue Marble image of Earth as a Twitter Mosaic.



  1. It is amazing just how far that we have come, with you leading us all the way. I am a proud member. Thank you, Rachel.

    Thanks for using my mosaic of Gandhi. It was donated to Maria Shell of Alaska, to be included in a larger quilt of donated blocks.

  2. Wow, I just looked up Maria's site: http://www.mariashell.com/index.htm Great work! We should do a post here about the quilt your Gandhi ends up in.

  3. Thanks for all the work you have put into TAFA, Rachel. I'm proud to be a part of the group and looking forward to how it evolves over the next few years!

  4. Thanks so much, Lisa! I think the hardest part is over. I'm also excited to see where we go next!


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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