10 Years With Brooklyn Tweed
November 1st, 2013 was the day I officially joined Brooklyn Tweed in a professional capacity – this day marks the beginning of what has been for me a deeply rewarding journey. I am filled with gratitude as I write about this personal milestone of 10 years with BT, and I want to take this opportunity to share with you a few memories and observations I have made along the way.
Luigi and Jared, co-owners of Brooklyn Tweed
Some of you may know that I grew up in Italy, but not too many may suspect that I was accidentally born in Wayne, New Jersey (perhaps not so accidentally, given that my mom is a first-generation Italian-American born and raised in the Garden State). She had me shortly after marrying my dad and while finishing school, and my parents moved to Italy when I was six months old to begin building their life there. So, I was born in my mother’s country and raised in my father’s hometown — and this explains why I have a thick Italian accent, I love good pasta, and have a U.S. passport.
In October 2005, at age 25, I left Italy and landed in New York City (actually, Newark). I looked down through the airplane window, admired the silhouette of the Manhattan skyscrapers at sunset and asked myself with a mix of terror and excitement: “Now what, Luigi?” I had absolutely no idea of how my life was going to go from that moment on. I had finished my Master's Degree in Musicology the prior year and, at the urging of a professor from Princeton, I had moved from Cremona, Italy to New York City by myself with the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. somewhere in the States. I spoke no English.
The skyline of my new city, where I landed in 2005
Once I arrived in the Big Apple, however, things took a different trajectory, as they often do. I became involved with the opera-singing world. I have always had a deep passion for singing and for opera, since the time I was a young child. Growing up as an altar boy in the Catholic church, along with having a mother that sang most of her waking hours, may have certainly contributed to my love for sung words. That love and passion brought me to the Juilliard School as a first-year student in the fall of 2006. There, I met and fell in love with Jared, then a staff member in the Admissions Office and a “granola” guy from Tacoma, Washington, who loved knitting and had just started a mysterious blog called "Brooklyn Tweed".
Younger versions of ourselves on the New York subway (Jared always with his camera bag!)
The following years, up until 2013, were packed with a whirlwind of activities and were a kind of bohemian blur. As young artists, Jared and I both wore many hats in order to make ends meet. I trained and performed as a professional opera singer, taught Italian language at a few colleges in Manhattan, worked for music non-profits, lived part-time in Philadelphia as a Resident Artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts and occasionally wrote articles as a freelance contributor on various subjects.
Performing with the Chatham Chorale in Cape Cod, MA
During those very same years, Jared earned a Master’s in Fine Arts from the New York Academy of Art, published his first few patterns as an independent knitwear designer, taught knitting in many stores around the country, published his first book, Made in Brooklyn, and developed and launched Shelter and Loft, Brooklyn Tweed’s first two yarn lines.
We kept ourselves busy while still making time for plenty of adventures throughout the six boroughs (including Jersey City, often referred to as the “sixth borough” and the place where we lived from 2010-2015). Beyond that, we surrounded ourselves with a community of amazing, lifelong friends.
Enjoying time with dear friends
In early 2013, something big happened for me on a personal level. I made the realization that the career path I had embarked upon was going to be neither fulfilling nor sustainable long-term. I love singing, and I kept observing how my way of meeting the demands of an operatic career was making me very critical of myself and harsh on my voice.
Our voice is us. Our voice is our body, and singing is a form of healing.
At that time I felt disconnected from my voice and my body and I started missing that healing. So, I knew it was time for a change.
The months following that decision were very challenging and the decision was hard. My identity and my community had both been so wrapped up with music and singing until the point that it was hard to imagine myself outside of that environment or that profession. At the same time, I had an immense curiosity and eagerness to expand my horizon, challenge myself, learn new things, and explore the world out there. If I was not a professional opera singer, who else could I be? I was ready to find out.
Self-reflection in downtown Chicago
Throughout my soul- and job-searching phase, Jared was a loving and supportive sounding board. One evening, during one of our evening conversations, he opened up about needing serious help at Brooklyn Tweed. He shared that he was hoping to focus more on the creative side of things (design, photography, yarn development) and that he needed someone to help on the business and operations side. As he was describing the job requirements of this hypothetical role, at some point he turned to me and added, “…all things you would be great at and could have fun with. Also, you would help me a ton.”
Equally flattered and surprised by Jared’s remarks, I immediately had a few reservations: Jared and I had never worked together, I had never run a business before, and I was not yet a knitter. Though these reservations were all valid, I could also see a positive flip-side to each of them: working together with your significant other can deepen the knowledge of and connection with each other; lacking any prior business experience can be an advantage in terms of figuring out custom solutions to your unique problems; not being a knitter or a natural fiber expert can give you a chance to look at things with fresh eyes.
Additionally, there were some very seductive points to Jared’s overture: a huge respect for him as a person was one of them. I watched Jared build Brooklyn Tweed, guided by his passion and a clear vision, from a knitting blog to a knitwear design and yarn company, piece-by-piece like a methodical Swiss clock master. I was impressed by the amount of planning and detail that went into those early plans. I admired the patience, discipline and, at times, restraint that Jared demonstrated in laying strong foundations for the company (while avoiding shortcuts). I watched him put in many long hours to hone his skills and was deeply inspired by how intentional he was (and is) with balancing his talents and values in support of a broader vision. (You can tell I am fond of this guy!)
More fun on public transit in NYC
Excitement about the amount of learning ahead of me was another enticing point. Although I had followed Jared’s journey very closely from the beginning and supported him in all the ways I could, my knowledge of knitters, knitting, yarns, sheep breeds, and domestic manufacturing – not to mention business matters — was so superficial that I knew I had years of learning ahead of me before I could grasp half of it. That felt incredibly energizing. Finally, the fact that Jared was so encouraging and had no question whatsoever in his mind that I could be helpful to the cause infused me with such confidence that I could not wait to throw myself into this new adventure. Encouragement can work wonders.
It took me a few years of earnest focus to start feeling oriented both in the business and in the knitting landscape. The first three years proved to be an invaluable crash course: we launched a new website (which crashed the day of the launch thanks to our amazing supporters :hearts:); moved ourselves, two French bulldogs, and all of our yarn inventory across the country; rebuilt our team in Portland, Oregon; pieced together a brand-new domestic supply chain for worsted spun yarns; and, because of that, were able to start making beautiful new yarns like Arbor.
Moving the business from New York to Portland, beginning in earnest
The "School of Hard Knocks" may not grant you credits or a diploma, but it teaches you many things: resilience to knocks is one of them. Through the wonderful learning opportunities that have presented themselves over the years, I have observed how running a business is a mix of dreaming, doing, and praying — there is no autopilot, and no certain outcome. At some point in this adventure, I also realized that I had somehow proven Jared right: I actually love this type of work and, while doing it, I keep learning so much about myself, people, and the world we live in. For that, I have a vast sense of gratitude.
CONNECTIONS ACROSS TIME
And yet, there are still days when I ask myself: how did I get here? How did my journey go from musicology and singing to finding meaning and fulfillment in co-running a knitwear design and yarn company? Life is, indeed, the most original screenwriter, but these are good questions and I have been intrigued to give them answers.
I was at my desk one day when I felt an unexpected sense of familiarity with a work situation. I had never found myself in this situation prior to that moment, but that feeling caught my attention. I had experienced it before. It’s the feeling you have when you see a face that looks familiar but can’t quite recall when and where you have seen that face prior to that moment. A work scenario was suddenly bringing me all the way back to my childhood.
Growing up during the eighties, I spent a lot of time watching my dad run his small business, a cut & sew lab in the leather-manufacturing industry in Southern Italy. I had watched him interact with a diverse group of people in a variety of settings, and as a kid does, I inadvertently absorbed and stored an abundant volume of information. A few decades later, in another land and in a different field, I realized that my line of work is very similar to what my dad used to do and that the scenarios I am presented with remind me of those that my dad dealt with. Sometimes all I have to do is replace the word “leather” with “wool”, or “giubbino” (Italian for "leather jacket") with “skein” to feel a sudden familiarity with the situation and appreciate the bonus manufacturing knowledge I vicariously gained through watching my father.
Time with my dad (and our dog Dante)
This unexpected familiarity extends beyond my childhood memories. In my daily dealings at Brooklyn Tweed, I often think of something I am doing as a direct learning from my opera-singing days or at least as something benefiting from it. There are situations where the amount of quick learning that is required reminds me of music-memory-cramming sessions, where I would have to learn how to sing and memorize a role in a foreign language in a short amount of time.
At times I feel the weight of expectations of myself and of others, and yet I still need to be able to handle that pressure so that I can “perform under it…” as a human in this world. Having experienced a lot of performance-related pressure, especially in my singing days, I have become interested in the root cause of that pressure and have come to the conclusion that the source of it can be many things for me. This includes, but is not limited to, comparing myself to my own previous performances or to the performances of others. When it comes to handling pressure, I try to apply to my everyday work at Brooklyn Tweed a lesson that I learned back in my singing days: comparison is the thief of joy. If I focus on what others do, I will find myself feeling inadequate or “not enough” pretty quickly.
Singing at the Wexford opera festival in Ireland
If I stay focused on myself and my guiding principles, and if I give the best I can on any given day, the honesty of that effort alone takes most of the pressure away and turns whatever pressure is left into something that can help lead to a good outcome. In my thinking or decision-making process, I have often benefited from dealing with pressure, fear, uncertainty, frustration, or risk as elements I want to be able to perform well “in the presence of” rather than “in spite of” or “in the absence of” (the latter being pure wishful thinking). I can’t take full credit for it, but I see this concept enacted at Brooklyn Tweed through the mindset of staying focused on the work that we do and why we do it and not spending too much time looking around at what others are doing. The joy of staying committed to a journey that is authentic and unique to us is too special to give up.
Running a business is a type of live performance. Things can and will go in unexpected ways. Whether it’s a wig getting detached from your head in the middle of your solo piece or losing a dye house overnight to a hurricane (both real occurrences), it’s important to “breathe, support & project.” In other words, find a way to remain calm, pivot while staying grounded on your feet, and project confidence so that the show can go on. Things are constantly evolving in life, and adaptability in the face of uncertainty is, more than anything else, what ensures flow.
The squirrelly wig I almost lost during a performance
Whether you want to be a good artist or a good business owner, one of your main goals is to meet or exceed the expectations of your audience. In order to do so, we need to get to know our audience really well; understand their needs; and demonstrate desire, commitment, and the ability to cater to them. The relationship with an audience or a customer base benefits from being a two-way conversation. You listen to your audience as they listen to you. Singing taught me how to listen to myself and to others, and more importantly, that when we listen, we learn.
More hair than I have ever had in reality!
When I hear the expression “the buck stops with you,” an accountability reminder for every aspiring good leader, I think of my experience with solo recitals. A solo recital is usually just you and an accompanist. No costumes are involved, and no acting or makeup is required. The audience is there because they are interested in you, your voice, the 12-15 pieces you selected to sing, and what you will make of the next 90 minutes or so of their time and consideration. You are responsible for curating that entire experience and for deciding what the focus of that experience is going to be. Whatever decisions you make, they are your decisions to own. There is no way to avoid feeling vulnerable or, for lack of better words, naked in front of your audience, since your decisions will inevitably say something about you and your priorities whether you are an artist, a business owner, or a human being.
Performing in La Traviata in Dublin, Ireland
Solo recitals are also an opportunity to learn about the power of human connection with the audience in the room. I can’t say how connection works, as I am sure everyone would come up with a different explanation, but one thing I have observed is that vulnerability, authenticity, humility, and gratitude are staple ingredients in every variation on the theme of connection that I have observed. The best feedback after a recital was someone saying that they felt as if they “had gotten to know me” or “had just made a new friend through my singing.” Both music and knitting are powerful connectors, no doubt, but music or knitting alone can’t do it. To allow people to get to know us, we have to learn how to bring ourselves out through the medium while keeping an open hand throughout the process. It’s a scary practice, because there is room for both acceptance and rejection, for a caress and a slap. But the good news is that we can learn from both.
It was with an open hand that I decided to share this bit about myself and my story in this ten-year recap, because I am hopeful that this will give us a chance to establish a more human connection, to “get to know” or “to make a new friend with” the person behind the song or behind the skein. On a company level, I am proud that we choose to be transparent with our successes, failures, and setbacks and that we choose to be real with our incredibly supportive community, specifically with the goal of connecting on a human level.
Very few jobs entail the amount and pace of change that the life of a performing artist requires. I remember being constantly on the road, living out of a suitcase, traveling from one place to another, performing different music in different venues with different conductors, pianists, directors, cast members, or production crews every few months. At the beginning, I found this change overwhelming, and I tried to resist it. Eventually, the day arrived when I realized that in order to have a melody, the notes need to keep changing. Life is change, and we remember the moments of life because they are all different from each other. I started welcoming change when I started looking at it as a way to have a life rich with many moments and the learning opportunity they each bring.
Getting ready for the stage
Living is like dating change: you can’t wait to see what’s next and hope for the best. And that’s exactly how I have looked at my days at Brooklyn Tweed these past ten years. They are all different. They each bring change and learning — I can’t wait to see what’s next and I hope for the best.
The biggest joy in most endeavors is to be in great company. Being surrounded by other human beings who share the same goal is very uplifting. Never like during a full opera production have I come to understand more the meaning of, “it takes a village.” The number of people and moving parts involved is quite astounding and so is the amount of talent. From costume designers to hair and makeup artists, musicians, stage crew, and to all the other unsung heroes, it’s so empowering to be surrounded by people who have a serious passion for their craft. This feeling of empowerment is one that I have felt every day at Brooklyn Tweed in the last ten years, where I am surrounded by talented and creative human beings who are seriously passionate about their craft and have the desire to constantly elevate it. These folks are the reason why I say, “It takes a team.”
Our wonderful team at Brooklyn Tweed in 2023
Sharing how my singing journey has helped to shape my entrepreneurial endeavors is a way for me to observe how every experience in life provides transferable skills that can help shape other experiences, as long as we find a way to integrate them going forward. We are the sum of all of our experiences, and the total of that operation gets updated on a daily basis.
We are so many things at once, regardless of what we choose to give our main focus to at any given moment in our journey. I am a son, brother, friend, student, singer, husband (to Jared, as of 2018), entrepreneur, altar boy, and marathon runner, and each of these experiences is woven together with the rest to make up the fabric of my being day in and day out.
I realize I am constantly growing, and I am excited to find out what else I become next.
Joining in marriage on the Oregon Coast in 2018
For so long, I looked at my life experiences as a succession of standalone, independent things, not connecting the dots. For so long, I have missed the forest for the trees and overlooked the whole root system underground that connects the trees to one another. Every tree receives and gives something, and contributes to making the whole root network stronger and bigger than the single parts. The trees are the experiences and the forest is life. One of these days, I would like to share the role that other experiences are playing in my self-actualization journey, whether it’s running a small business or a marathon, knitting or being a "guncle" (gay uncle), and until then I will continue to work on expanding my self-awareness.
With our niece Francesca at her christening in NYC, 2022
They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. This past summer, Jared and I decided to spend our birthdays in Amsterdam with dear friends. One of our most favorite things to do when we visit a new place is to walk around, to feel our way through a place. In one of our explorations, we ran into a private residence that had a sign over the entrance door that caught our curiosity. We discovered it was in old Dutch: “Door den Tyd wordt de Spryyt een Boom” (“Over time the sprout becomes a tree”). Serendipity aside, we were both struck by that profound truth and the simplicity with which it encapsulates the evolution of all life trajectories: like every sprout, I hope to become a tree with deep, wide roots and to connect with other trees.
I wish to continue to learn from you, grow with you, contribute to each other’s growth and connection and, in the process, express my gratitude to each of you for being such invaluable companions on this journey.
BT Co-Owner and Business Development Director