January 16, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: May Shek & Her Collaborators Take A Stand

What are you working on—on the side?

Immediately after the election that surprised practically everybody, it became apparent to me that we had to take action of some sort, as quickly as possible. I asked myself what skills, and which people and resources, I could get together and mobilize.

The Take A Stand Project was born swiftly after a few emails, phone calls and brainstorming with some badass women over coffee. Working collectively, four designers each selected a cause that was likely to be under increasing pressure over the next four years and that we wanted to take a stand for, and designed a silk scarf bearing a supportive message; the profits from each sale would go to a non-profit organization working for that cause.

We launched the project exactly a month after the election. 100% of the profit from each sale will be donated to Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project, National Organization for Women and International Refugee Assistance Project. We want this initiative to continuously celebrate and promote diversity in the ways we create, connect and live.

As writer Rebecca Solnit reminds us, “The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” We are designers and we have stories to tell. Creating is our small way to contribute to a revolt.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

I have to say, it has been an exhausting few months to pull together a project with a full-time job. I can only get it done because:

I didn’t do it alone
I couldn’t have done this in isolation. The moment I started putting the initial idea out there, I was greeted by enthusiasm and generous help from friends and members of the design community. Karla Mickens (bottom right), Raquel Martinez (bottom left), Jenny Christian (upper right) and I each designed a scarf; and while I was putting together the website and sending designs into production, Tara Gupta was helping us craft the right message to get the word out.

I let the side project have a life of its own
A project doesn’t have to be perfect from the start. After launch, it will evolve, and giving it room to surprise you allows it to gain its own momentum. (And it did! Design Feast was curious to feature and promote it!)

Remind myself that I’m never too busy for something I care deeply about
This is a motto that the chair of my graduate program, Debbie Millman, taught me. It helps me carve out time and brain space for The Take A Stand Project.

Why have a side project?

Side projects reveal who we are, what we stand for and who we care about. Because it is the thing that’s worth losing hours of sleep over, squeezing time between conference calls to ship products, and lugging boxes of packaging supplies across town. They are projects that wouldn’t have happened, if you didn’t really want them to—they always give you back more than you gave them.

At a time when marginalized communities and organizations who support them are threatened, side projects matter more than ever. We can’t even begin to fix everything with the scarves we design, but we can show up, lift each other up and give it a darn good fight.

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Diptych courtesy of May Shek and The Take A Stand Project team.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

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