My Solo Story: Anne-Marie Kavulla
Name: Anne-Marie Kavulla
Location: Sleepy Hollow, New York
Occupation: Weaver, founder, Pirtti Handwoven
Education: Interlochen Arts Academy, Dance; SUNY Purchase, BFA Dance Composition
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What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a young girl, I dreamed of being a dancer living in New York City in a small apartment with a fire escape filled with flowers. I believed that would be amazing. My dream came true and it was as awesome as I thought it would be.
Give us a little background on your family. Is there a tradition of soloing?
I grew up in a very small town in Michigan. My mother was a homemaker and my father was an electrical engineer. He built three very successful businesses in electrical contracting, snowplow manufacturing and control panel manufacturing.
I would not say there is necessarily a history of soloing in my family, but I definitely grew up breathing the air of entrepreneurship. Everyone in my family enjoys some level of leadership and likes to act on their ideas.
My husband, Brandon, has been a creative director, primarily in magazines and publishing, for the past 20 years. He recently decided to launch his solo career in creative consulting.
What got you started as a soloist?
In my late 20s I could no longer see where my performing career would lead in the future. I had met Brandon and started to see a different life for myself.
With the birth of my first child, I knew I would always be a parent first. At the same time, I didn’t want to stop exploring and doing things for myself. I was afraid I would become less relevant to the workforce later when my children were grown. Not only was I stepping back to raise my children but I was also deciding if I wanted to change careers completely.
At the time, going back to school wasn’t a realistic option. However, I wanted to be doing something that would be educational and help me develop a new skill set while being able to focus on my children. I had just started weaving around the time my oldest daughter was born. I figured that if I started selling my work, my weaving would have purpose and focus and I wouldn’t give it up.
My weaving would provide me with a chance to learn about business with low risk and low pressure. Weaving my scarves really was just a little experiment to stay true to a part of myself that had existed before I had children. Thankfully, it has turned into a successful business.
What was the path that brought you here?
All my life I have had a love of yarn and creating things. Even when my career focus was performing, I had a knitting project in my bag. In a way, I have been studying yarns, colors, and textures for years. It’s been percolating in the background of my daily life.
What keeps you up at night?
The fear of failure at figuring out a game plan for success. A lot of my worries revolve around making more product. I’m always looking for ways to make my process more efficient so I can make more scarves.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’d like to see myself in a sunlit studio creating new designs and products with several weavers in-house to help me with production.
What advice would you give a 22-year old Anne-Marie?
You have a lot more control over your life than you think you do.
Where do you do your best work?
Away from home. It seems like a good idea to work from home, but the realities of the situation are absolute chaos. When I’ve had opportunities to work away from home, I get to focus the majority of my energy on my project and therefore, when I’m home, the majority of my energy goes to my family. I like that very much.
What’s for lunch?
Brandon is usually in charge of lunch. He makes great baked chicken with roasted vegetables that we top with our favorite Salt Lick barbecue sauce.
One of the great things about us both having solo careers is meeting up in the kitchen at noon and spending time together before we get back to work or whatever family task is on the agenda. A lot of our day is “divide and conquer”—I love the time we have over meals and coffee together.
What do you do on your break time?
My break time involves exercise. Having a background in dance, I find that I still need to move regularly. My life doesn’t require the physical intensity and recovery that it used to, but I still enjoy taking it seriously.
It sounds clichéd and corny, but practicing overcoming self doubt and trusting that I am strong enough to push myself of my own free will through physical movement has been extremely beneficial to me creatively and professionally.
Do you have a vacation “strategy”?
My routine involves arriving at said destination with my family of five, exhausted, hopefully with a drink soon in hand and a massage.
Vacationing typically revolves around our children’s school schedule and Brandon’s vacation time from work.
We try to go somewhere to unplug and relax, which doesn’t happen very often. Now that Brandon also has a solo career, it is becoming more apparent to us that our vacation options are changing.
There is more flexibility in our time, no more counting vacation days or PTO days. The conversation about vacation is now changing to, “what kind of experience can we have as a family? Can we work on the road? Can we live somewhere else for a month to enjoy what the area has to offer?”
Who’s on your “team”?
Having mentors has been vital! One of my first mentors is a very dear friend who works in the fashion industry with a focus on product development. She has been instrumental for feedback and advice. I could pick her brain all day. She helped me focus my ideas from the very start and is still who I go to for creative and business advice with each new scarf.
I love going to my father for advice. He’s usually very direct and to the point. I’m so proud and inspired by all he has done in his career. I admire him for his vision and determination. He has been incredibly successful.
There was a pivotal moment where I felt so defeated. I remember thinking “There’s no way I could do what he did.” It was crushing in many ways. But somehow I started asking, “but what if I could?”
My husband has been a part of my solo journey from the very start. He’s never questioned what I’m doing. He has always given me support. He helps me edit my work, clarify my vision, he has even helped me haul my loom from location to location.
Whenever I have doubted myself, Brandon’s been there to tell me “it’s good to be terrified and scared shitless! Go for it!”
What’s the best job you ever had?
I love to collaborate. Using my voice in someone else’s vision is incredibly exciting. It pushes me in ways I can’t push myself. The collaboration provides restrictions and possibilities. It’s a fantastic way to grow, and learn, and evolve.
What “business” aspect of launching your own solo career most excited you?
I enjoy the business side quite a bit. Branding and marketing have shaped my designs and where I feel like I am learning the most.
Creative process is something that I have been practicing since my early days in dancing. It’s part of how I live. Understanding how to put my vision out into the world for people to see is an aspect that I never quite mastered as a performer. It’s so fascinating to me to decide what Pirtti Handwoven is, where it fits, and where I want it to go.
What aspect of running a business have you never warmed up to?
Accounting and bookkeeping! It seems easy enough and I don’t mind it, but whenever I see an email from my accountant, I get nervous. The creative side allows for blurring. There’s more fluidity and number crunching is so black and white. You are either succeeding or failing.
What’s the one thing about your life today that you most treasure that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t soloing?
I want my children to trust who they are and what they feel they can contribute to the world. My solo life is a clear example of living the life I want. I work at it every day. It’s not easy but I feel fulfilled.