Thursday, May 27, 2010

Impulses, influences and losses - nose diving into sourcing of materials

I am a leatherworker. Up until now I haven’t been giving myself major grief about my choices while purchasing supplies for my production.

As many starting designers, I have had a few not so successful ones. I have sourced materials that did not prove to meet my expectations of final product appearance, or its appeal to customers. Often, these buys were quite spontaneous, or based largely on impulse, someone else’s opinion and taste, who did not necessarily have a great deal of knowledge of the products I have been trying to develop.

Then styling, fell short in the end, as it did not co-inside with my aesthetics, working equipment or craftsmanship levels. Some of these great raw materials, that ended up being mis-used in some of my work, would have simply been better with someone else. Sadly, even my surplus, liquidation and otherwise found hides and bits do not come cheap...

Luckily, when creations had gone awry, I had my day-job income to back me up. I was quite comfortable having ‘sales’ in my shop, or selling my products ‘at cost’ to friends, simply due to the lack of confidence in my work. And often - taking a loss, just to cover costs of materials I shouldn’t have bought, or styles I shouldn’t have made....

Now, that I am slowly transitioning into self employment, I realize, that this old back-up plan will no longer be viable. Nor should it be. I am writing my old ways off to ‘learning mistakes’ and sticking to my guns this year – curbing the impulses, the influences and other outside signals when it comes to selecting materials or drafting looks.

If you’re like me, and have been taking your ‘mistakes’ to market, you probably noticed how public responds to different creations you’ve made. Some get buyers really hyped up, and some don’t. Same way, some successes are really short lived, and some are quite lasting.

That is the most valuable observation while you’re in the stage of defining your niche. This kind of definition does not come overnight – in fact it may take a while to come up to some sort of shortlist of products that will stick around in your production, and those that will vanish along with some fast trend. Observing your customer is far better than asking friends for opinion on your products (as if they’ll tell the truth anyways) – or browsing store shelves and copying the most popular products in the mall.

Observing your customer will lead to understanding which materials work with your aesthetics and which direction your product development will take. Tuning out the ‘noise’ from the environment will help you focus on proven facts, such as numbers from your sales, customer reaction, feedback and changes as they occur.

Even though it is great to browse and see what other products are out there, it is not a great source of, what I call – Direct Inspiration – or copying. Fashion is Created in the Indie world, and then copied by mainstream, and doing it the other way around, you are hurting your brand.

Also, tune out ideas that are foreign for what would be your niche – or focus - of the moment. Write them down and archive them, for they may be useful ... one day, but not now. Like, if you’re making hard shell wallets with stamp detail and belts, you do not need to pounce into gathered scrunchies, just because someone thought you could make anything in the world perfect. (Remember those unsolvable custom orders, based on requests of the buyer, that got fouled up in the end?)

You will simply end up with a stack of materials that will not work with your original style, and people will end up not liking the products. Observe, and draw from within – if you do it honestly, there’ll be smaller chance you end up making selections people will not like. And you will end up wasting less money or wrong purchases.

Oh - and – do not overstock successful product.... that’s next...

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