Many people have been asking, “What is Sisu?” after my previous post, so I thought it be appropriate to share the meaning of this word, my history with it, and how it fits into this collection. So, time for the tale…
“Sisu” (pronounced “si-soo”) is a Finnish word for which there is no true English translation, but which roughly means “guts” or “enduring perseverance.” It is to act rationally and with strength in the face of adversity, and is more than a moment of courage; it is the ability to sustain and endure against the odds. For more great history of the word, check out Wiki’s page!
It is a word that I grew up with as a quarter Finnish Midwesterner; my Grandmother on my dad’s side was full Finnish. Finnish phrases often were kicked around in my dad’s household growing up, and Grandma made sure to pass some of the best onto her grandkids as well (“buska houso” was another great Fin phrase my Grandma taught me that means “shit pants” but that didn’t seem very fashionable.)
Grandma was the living definition of Sisu. She had a tough upbringing, born right at the beginning of the Great Depression, living on an isolated farm in rural Michigan , and her mother passed away when she was only two, leaving her and nine siblings behind. Their father abandoned them she was nine, and with her older sisters all married, she was left in the guardianship of her elder brother, and as the woman of the house for the remaining children. Despite all of this, she learned English when she went to kindergarten for the first time, and graduated at only 16. She went on be a tough-love mom to six kids of her own, and was known statewide for her amazing baking skills. She also was a fantastic seamstress, and I attribute much of my own talent to her.
Grandma passed a few years ago after a hell of a battle with dementia, and I’ll never stop missing her. The last few years of my life were pretty tough and chaotic, and I think of her strength often. There is a story about her that always strengthens my own Sisu; one time, one of the town drunks came to the house looking for my Grandpa (Grandpa is a well known guy- he was a chief of police, politician, and owned an insurance company). The guy got nasty with Grandma when she told him he was drunk and to come back later, and he tried to force his way into the house. So my Grandma, 8 months pregnant, grabbed an iron skillet that was hanging on the mudroom wall, and when he came through that door, she knocked him out cold with the pan. I am so proud to come from that kind of grit and strength.
Right now, Sisu is a great way to describe the spirit of the Millennial Generation. We are a tough bunch, facing the worst economy since our grandparents’ Great Depression in our own Great Recession. Despite this, there are more entrepreneurs amongst us than many generations before. Rather than rolling over and crying in our beer, we are a generation that will not stop. We are making new businesses, insisting that change come to both our nation and our local communities, and are standing tall to challenge the status quo and insist upon equal rights for all humans- generations before us started this work, but we are determined to see it through, and carry on with Sisu.
Within the microcosm of my Grand Rapids community, I see even more demonstration of Sisu. Two years ago, Newsweek had the nerve to call Grand Rapids a “dying city.” We came back swinging and fighting with everything we had and now, we’re one of the best cities to raise a family, have some of the happiest employees in the nation, have a sustainability movement that is garnering critical acclaim, a democratic arts competition that’s one of the best spectacles to see in the world, and you can’t find a better beer on either side of the Mississippi than you can in West Michigan (BEER CITY USA 2012!). We are a city full of Sisu, and those that dare suggest otherwise have been met with the full force of our collective strength. I am proud to be part of these modern pioneers, and bring a type of art that is usually reserved for NYC to my community.
This collection is designed with that spirit in mind. It is for the woman that can’t stop and won’t stop, that will not accept inequality for themselves or their fellow man, and will continue with pride and Sisu no matter what is thrown at her. We will fight, we will persevere, and we will prove that with Sisu, we will endure like the pioneers that came so many years before us and make a living from honest, handcrafted labor.
We will not stop, we will not bend. We will fight the good fight, with dignity and Sisu.
Bring it on world. “Sisu Collection” is about to make some waves, and I couldn’t be more excited, supported, or ready to face the storm.