APIECE APART WOMAN
Inspiring a life that “fuses daily work, art, nature, and culture” is one of the underlying concepts of Pilgrim, the New York surf shop and line Erin Norfleet Gentile owns with her husband Chris…and it’s fair to say she lives true to her own manifesto. Originally from Virginia, Erin moved to New York 13 years ago to work in nonprofits, never thinking that a decade later she’d actually be the co-owner of a small business with two locations. Today, her life is split between Brooklyn and Amagansett, and Erin’s life and outlook are an inspiring example of self-made success, tailored to meet the needs of her own family and community.
Erin wears SAMARA SHIRT DRESS in white
Can you share more about your background? Where you are from, your upbringing, and what led you to what you’re doing now?
I grew up in Virginia in the Tidewater area with my parents and my younger brother. My parents have always supported me in most every decision I’ve made for myself. Even the ones they didn’t agree with or when I didn’t use my best judgment, they offered me the space and independence to learn this on my own. My parents still live in the house I spent most of my childhood in on the James River, not far from where it opens up to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Going to the beach, swimming, being outdoors, and being on the water have always been parts of my life.When I was in my early 20s, I remember writing down my life goal on a small piece of paper to carry in my wallet. I wrote ‘to live on the water.’ Thinking back on this now, it strikes me what a naive and earnest life goal I set for myself. But even still all these years later it resonates, and I’d like to think I’m getting closer to reaching it.
"When I was in my early 20s, I remember writing down my life goal on a small piece of paper to carry in my wallet. I wrote ‘to live on the water.’ Thinking back on this now, it strikes me what a naive and earnest life goal I set for myself. But even still all these years later it resonates"
Surfing and New York City is an unexpected pairing: can you share the story of what led to you and your husband opening Pilgrim?
Pilgrim really grew out of a confluence of timing and circumstance. When my husband Chris and I moved to New York 13 years ago, we didn’t have an ambition to open a surf shop. He is a visual artist, and I have spent my professional career in the not-for-profit and public sectors. We came here to pursue our respective professions, and did so for about a decade. During that period, Chris opened a small surf shop in our neighborhood because there were a lot of surfers like him who needed a place to go to get hard goods, but there wasn’t a convenient place to get them in the city at that time. The shop was about 300 square feet on the back side of a building down by the East River; he used to show surf films projected on the oil tanks. A real community of surfers and friends formed around that magical place…but once the time came that we had to move out, we started getting serious about what we could do with more space if we had it. I had never not worked a 9 to 5 job with a commute into Manhattan, and the idea of a change was alluring. I was also pregnant with our second child. It honestly didn’t take long before we decided to take the leap. In 2012, we opened Pilgrim as our family business. It's been the best decision we could have made.
Erin wears FANDANGO PONCHO in white
Art, design, and culture also play a role in Pilgrim’s curation — can you share a bit about how you see these influences weaving into the Pilgrim concept?
We aim to introduce objects and elements of culture that outside of our shops may not touch each other, but all of which are relevant to us and to Pilgrim. We aim to carry this over into our men’s and women’s collections as well. They are meant for a life that fuses daily work, art, nature, and culture. We are continuously learning and doing our best to contribute to the culture we're a part of, so how these influences play a part in our business is always changing and evolving.
What’s it like owning a business with your husband? How do your roles differ?
One might think that working together means we spend all of our waking and sleeping hours together, but we really don’t. Our professional roles differ tremendously. At the risk of over simplifying things, I would say that Chris is the creative director, and I am the business director. But Chris has an unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit about him that makes this whole thing work. I gladly work behind the scenes on the operational side of things. It brings me genuine happiness during those rare times when things are organized and running smoothly.
There are obviously both scary, unpredictable aspects and wonderful, independent benefits of owning your own business…but what have been some unexpected things about it?
The best unexpected thing to happen since we opened Pilgrim was learning that our second child, our son, would be even more special than we could have imagined. Even though my husband and I still struggle with balancing work and home, and keeping work at work — for our own sanity and for our children — my schedule has afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with both of our kids. I have more control over when my work gets done, which is often at night after the kids have gone to bed.
You divide your time between Brooklyn and Amagansett — can you share a little about how you make this work (logistically) of living between two places?
Logistically speaking, because we have an office in both locations, making it work from a work standpoint is pretty straightforward. But from a personal and family perspective, I often feel like we live out of an unpacked bag! There are a few things we do to make the most of our time:
- We try to beat the traffic on Fridays so that we can get to Amagansett in time to pick up fresh seafood for dinner and to catch the sunset at the house.
- To keep it easy, we pack light and have doubles of necessities like toothbrushes and other basics that can be left behind.
- I had my weekend New York Times delivery moved to Amagansett.
- And we usually don’t make many plans ahead of time for the weekend. I do my best to ease into our Saturday and Sunday mornings and take each day as it comes.
What creatively (or perhaps, personally) is gained from having these two different perspectives? Do you work differently or better in one place over the other?
Having both perspectives is a true luxury, which affords me the opportunity to appreciate each one that much more. In Amagansett, even when I’m working, it’s at a different pace. It is good to take a break from the hustle that the city demands. We’ve started having design meetings out here because there are fewer distractions and the outdoors provides a rich, inspiring environment that that nurtures the creative process. There’s no wondering why so many artists have lived and worked here. In Brooklyn, I get the satisfaction of feeling more productive from a workload standpoint. But really these two perspectives overlap and energize one another in a very natural way.
How do your daily routines vary? What stays the same?
In the city my daily routine starts like most working parents, with dropping off one or both kids to school, then heading to work. By mid-afternoon, whether I’m at a good breaking point or not, I’m back to picking up the kids and on to their various commitments, then my daughter’s homework, making dinner, and getting ready for bedtime. Out here, because it’s usually over a weekend, our routine is less structured. But I start the day with a cup of coffee and reading the paper. We fill the bird feeder and wait to see which new birds might visit us. We go to the farm stand to pick out our bounty for the weekend, and we usually end each day by cooking dinner in, often with friends over. The two constants are that we always check in with the shops, and that we play records thanks to my husband’s love for collecting. My 9-year-old daughter has the bug now…she started her own record collection, too.
Between your family and your business, you have a very very full schedule…what do you do to make space for yourself (even if just mentally)?
I find that space when I sit out back here enjoying a glass of wine and taking in the smells, the sounds, and the light.
What are you passionate about?
Making opportunities so that both of my kids are happy in this life. Being inspired by my friends.
What could you care less about?
- Jaded pessimism.
- That two of my favorite things, cheese and bread, are not necessarily healthy when eaten in liberal portions.
- The brands that someone is wearing.
What are some of your daily essentials?
A pair of jeans and a basic button up. A cup of coffee and a savory treat to start the day. I have what I call my ‘good luck song,’ but I can’t say what it is. For as far back as I can remember, if I hear this song it is my sign that things are going to be all right.
What are your go-to spots in Amagansett?
Square Balsam, Farm Louse, Point Beach.
What are your go-to spots in Williamsburg?
Bakeri East River Park, Hotel Delmano.
What’s the last great thing you:
Read — I’m enjoying Angelica Houston’s memoir Watch Me right now
Saw — kids with unique and special needs catching their first waves in Montauk last weekend, thanks to the organization A Walk On Water
Listened to — my daughter singing “One of These Days” by Paul McCartney, with no music, just her sweet, sweet voice.
Photography by MICHAEL A. MULLER | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview LEIGH PATTERSON