In celebration of Valentines Day we've curated a 3-part blog series, for a continuous exploration of the different ways that LOVE & WORK can co-exist. Entrepreneurial blogger Amy Swift Crosby interviews interviews romantic/work partners on their unique relationships, and finds out how three couples define happiness and success both in and out of the office.
PART 1 FEATURING:
DOGEARED'S MARCIA AND MERLIN MARCIA CLARKE
Happily Ever Before and After
In 1991, Marcia and Merlin Clarke had no intention of starting a globally recognized line of inspirational jewelry. Marcia was content to make her soul-centered pieces as a hobby – a means to spread a simple message of belief through affirmation. However, after a few surprisingly successful flea markets, too many testimonials to count, and a deep desire make the world a better place through creative expression, the idea of Dogeared was born. Merlin, at the time running a graphic design business, and Marcia, a women’s fashion buyer, brought not only critical business talent to the table – but a shared vision of building a company dedicated to creating wearable symbols of love, hope, healing and connection. Today, 27 years later, Dogeared pieces are sold worldwide in almost every country in the world, with 55 employees in their Culver City offices, and an additional 15 partners that support the product, message and operation. With a diverse mix of major department stores, specialty and online retailers, and within arms reach of some of Hollywood and televisions most visible stylists, Dogeared is proof that nice guys actually do finish first. Marcia and Merlin remain happily partnered at work, and at home – thanks to a shared sense of priority and purpose. Here’s what they said about their life in love – and work.
Tell us how your idea came to be – was it one of you or both – or did one recruit the other for the idea that you are now building together?
Marcia Maizel Clarke: We had always done jewels with meaning – rosary beads, word pebble necklaces and more. The start of the conversation – jewels with messaging attached with cards – happened in 2003, right before a trade show. I had made a necklace on a string with a charm and wanted Merlin to make me a card that said to put the necklace on, believe in the power of believing, and that when the wish was ready to come true, the necklace would break. It was about 1 a.m. and we were leaving the next day for New York. The birth of the make a wish line of jewels happened. We have sold thousands and thousands and this was the launch of jewels with cards and messaging.
How do you divide / define your roles? Is there clear lane or title you each try to stay in?
Merlin Clarke: We have our lanes, however the lines may get blurred and we end up having discussions and making decisions together quite a bit. We have the same vision and intention, so typically it’s more of supporting one another.
MMC: We have worked hard at defining what we each do and honoring the daily decisions that need to be made in those lanes. Most nights, we download with each other to make sure that we at least know what is going on in our business roles. I also love his perspective as it is typically very different from mine. Always the same guiding principles – doing good, being integral, and sharing experience through our jewelry.
And…how does that work? Are you both at every meeting or do you divide and conquer?
MC: We are at very few meetings together. The way that works is we have our meetings and then just share the highlights and important information.
MMC: I get to grab a kiss every now and again, but as Merlin said, not too many meetings together. Lot’s of time we will leave a car at the office and drive home together just to connect after a busy day.
What are your priorities as a couple – and in what order?
MC: Number one is family. We made a conscious decision early on in our careers that we would not sacrifice family for business opportunities and we stayed true to that. There were many occasions to grow our business financially that we passed on because it would’ve compromised our time with family. Our health and happiness are also at the top and I would include being purposeful in our business. It’s never been just about making money, we want to make a difference in people’s lives and we do.
MMC: As Merlin said, first is our family – a very cliché answer, but very true and honest for us. We were given the opportunity to be together in all aspects of life and that takes care and time. Our kids rock our world in all aspects. Being parents has taught us more than anything.
How do you separate life from work – are you able to draw lines for “off” time or is the shared brain trust always churning? How do you manage this?
MC: We truly enjoy what we do and how we do it. Our work does overlap with our life constantly, but it’s never felt like a burden. Marcia knows me well enough to see that after 9pm, I need to turn off somewhat, and I know her rhythms and let her sleep later, since I’m the morning person. So after so many years, we really can read one another without having to put any rigid boundaries in place.
How much physical space do you think supports a healthy love/work partnership (when people are together all the time it can either be fine or confining)?
MC: We both enjoy our alone time and we enjoy being together. We know when one of us needs a wider birth, and we give each other that space. Often we’re together, but doing our own thing... that seems to work pretty well for us.
MMC: We are both very independent. It works for us. We love being together, but we are very good at recognizing the opportunity for alone time, or friend time, or let’s go away for the weekend time!
Sometimes employees or other partners have resistance to husband/wife teams because one is inevitably biased toward the other – so feedback is difficult to share. Has this ever been an issue and if so, how do you help people feel comfortable with you both as individuals who aren’t linked at the hip?
MC: We’re pretty open and transparent about our life with our team. We work hard to lead with a common voice and vision. This comes from experience, because when our team is lead in separate direction, s it just creates swirl. This is something we have gotten much better at over the years, but it’s not perfect. Just last week in a meeting, one of our managers said, “You guys are fighting aren’t you?”... So I guess we still have some room for improvement.
MMC: We have unique relationships within the world of Dogeared. Merlin may connect with someone differently than I do. We work towards a common voice of what the company stands for. I believe people see us as sort of the mom and dad of the business. We love when someone has a voice and is not afraid to share it. This has been a work in progress for us, and we are fostering that big time.
Where do you think one of you complements the other, and vice versa?
MC: We definitely balance each other, but truth be told, things get done because Marcia is pushing it. I’m more adventurous and riskier, Marcia could get comfortable in the safe zone.
MMC: I am on team get shit done! I like the team to be accountable and purposeful. Merlin is a big picture thinker and sometimes needs the support to make it happen. I like to activate the ideas and make good things happen! We are both creative, and it's fun to bounce ideas off each other. I am old school when it comes to tech so I rely on Merlin for all things I.T. Merlin is also super handy, like can figure out how to make anything, or make anything happen. It’s a gift!
How do you approach disagreements?
MC: What disagreements?! ...The best way usually is to say “yes, dear, let’s do it your way.” This gives me leverage for the things I really care about.
MMC: Ha! Happy wife, happy life? We are pretty good at disagreeing. Most of the time it’s dispelled after some conversation. Every now and again we hold onto it for a bit, but all in all we don’t like to use our energy to put toward anything that is not about something positive. He is super stubborn and so am I, so I usually like to be able to know what is creating the issue, so I can have the opportunity to apologize.
How do you celebrate wins?
MC: Truthfully? We celebrate life. Sure we have challenges and obstacles, but as quick as we can, we turn them into lessons and opportunities... and then get back to celebrating life... with family, friends and each other.
MMC: Celebrating is in our DNA. We love to celebrate everything. Usually good food, lots of friends, great music, dancing, and maybe a little wine.
Dogeared Parting Truths:
It’s never a bad decision to do good.
Leave this world a little better than the way you found it, and you’re square with God.
“No problem” works for all problems. This is something we learned from the Balinese culture. They approach all things big and small with this attitude and it really works. Don’t see the obstacles; see the opportunities.
Dogeared believes good things happen and lives by their philosophy that what goes around comes around by handcrafting everything locally, respecting the planet, and partnering with non-profit organizations that share their vision of a better world. As a certified B-Corporation, Dogeared is proud to be part of a community of companies developing better business practices, creating new ways to measure success, working with dignity and purpose, and using business as a force for good.
Dogeared is a long time supporter of the Conscious Capitalism movement and an actively involved Corporate Member of CCLA.
Amy Swift Crosby is a brand strategist and copy writer, and the voice behind SMARTY, a blog about the human side of creativity and business.
To read more on humanity at work, find Amy’s work and learn more about her at www.smartypeople.com