Identity is a funny thing. It’s true that we live in a world of labels - some attributed by society and some by ourselves. I find the very current debates around gender and sexuality labels fascinating, and although how I choose to identify in those respects is less contentious, for lack of a better word, I do find the changing identity landscape equally as liberating and encouraging for our society and our futures.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I have struggled with my own sense of identity. Besides the run-of-the-mill coming of age stuff that we all go through, I found my sense of self particularly under fire when I took the decision to work for myself and try and become a career creative. Granted, I went about it in a slightly gung-ho fashion, but all of a sudden you’re not under the protection of a company with existing customers or reputation. You’re not a part of a team, no longer a cog in a well-oiled machine, you’re alone and unheard of. Any judgement is not just of your business, or your work, but it is of you, personally. Gulp!
Within conversations of identity and labels you will often hear the debate over pronouns, which I find particularly interesting. A few years after becoming a freelance graphic designer, I wanted to realise my dream of starting a clothing brand. Whenever speaking as Twenty Pegs I have always referred to the brand as “we” instead of “I”, even at the very beginning. I was so adamant that it was not me, that I was just a part of it, a part of something bigger than myself. You would always be able to tell though when it was more ‘I’ than ‘we’, and when I could see that happening I’d slam the breaks on, take some time aside, and then release plans for some kind of relaunch - a big push that took the brand back to its roots and reaffirm its mission. My girlfriend of the time would always joke when I threatened yet another “relaunch” of the brand, as it did happen a number of times, I must confess.
The truth is that since I started Twenty Pegs, I have felt incomplete. More than that, in fact, Twenty Pegs has been like a symbiont to me. Where in the beginning I was strong and my vision was that it would be mutualistic, in some ways it has sadly been parasitic. To say the least, it’s been an unhealthy relationship, and arguably an extension of my relationship with myself these past years.
I built the brand around me, to give me a sense of belonging which at the time I craved. As a big advocate for collaboration myself, I wanted it to also be a hub where others could feel they belonged - other creatives like me who struggle to find their place or their sense of self in this crazy world. The danger, of course, is that it becomes an ideology rather than a sustainable reality. I can see now how damaging it is to put something on a pedestal like that, especially when in a lot of ways you’ve locked some of the best parts of yourself within it. You virulently protect it, safeguard its foundations, its inner workings and its appearance. But in doing so you disallow yourself access to the qualities that you’ve contained within it. You find yourself saying “No, you can’t do that because Twenty Pegs is where you do your this and that, not where you do your other!” and before you realise it’s happening, the safe place that you had built to find your sense of belonging is ironically no longer somewhere you completely belong.
It’s fair to say that a therapist would have a field day with this shit. It’s true, and they have. Last year I suffered a few bouts of depression and after recognising and admitting that it wasn’t something I could overcome by myself, I sought the help of a professional. I knew they wouldn’t be but my issues were not just the result of one thing, and they were manifesting themselves in a number of ways, emotions and habits. Among them, my relationship with Twenty Pegs was both a cause and effect - an indicator and a self-perpetuating dilemma. Alongside working on my relationship with myself and all that that entails, over the last year or so I have been quietly doing other creative projects, building my confidence as an artist. It’s only really been in the last couple of months that I’ve been comfortable calling myself an artist, a title which previously I had felt unqualified for and unworthy. As all of these efforts come to fruition and an inner peace and happiness return, I look once again at the walls that I had built around Twenty Pegs and watch as the chains and locks fall off. The box in which I had put it for safekeeping is now just a mirror and I see that it had, in fact, been me all along.
You’d have heard me reference them before, but brands like Johnny Cupcakes and Abandon Ship are true role models for me. In this modern world of fluid pronouns and identity, there is so much freedom and solace to be found, both personally and professionally. In the case of Johnny and Rich (Abandon Ship), the distinction between the business and the man is basically non-existent, they’re one and the same. This is Twenty Pegs. Turns out that’s what it’s always been, I just didn’t realise.
We’re living in the future, people. Whether you’re a he, a she, a they, an I or a we - it doesn’t matter. You can be all of them concurrently, it’s all fluid. What matters is that we are free to be ourselves, and live our passions.