Monday, June 28, 2010

Small news

Even though my heart and mind are set on the upcoming trip to my home country, life, however, still goes on. 

Latest updates include me being accepted for so far the biggest art show for me to take place in the end of the year; added a challenging retailer to the family, arranged a trip home - and planning to cut back my time at the day-job this fall, just in time for the busy holidays...
To follow up on my previous post about feeling all guilty overpricing my handmade bags, I have recently been called out on the very opposite - undercharging....

I joined a group of designers, carried by a successful high end retailer. During my meeting with the retailer, I received advise on how to add value to your products - and why you should do it.

For the first time since I started my bag sewing adventures, I feel like I have been challenged by someone and forced to step outside of my comfort zone. Even thugh I am willing to create a range of high end purses, based on the store's feedback and expectations, it all still must co - inside with my own philosophy, original ideas and aesthetics.

With their advise in mind, I started making some changes to how I did things up till now. I have located and ordered additional leatherworking tools, which will save time neede to work on certain styles of bags, and will improve detail finishings. I have worked out some new additional styles, that could be dedicated to the exclusive collection. I have even did some basic tuning on my sewing machine, and now it works like a champ! Most importantly, I did not need to resort to different leather or fabric stock to meet their expectations, which I feared the most and was quite ready to protest earlier - I simply went back to the liquidated materials I loved all along, but ruled out in the past, due to my lack of skills or equipment. Its like I've finally come a full circle!

I am only in the infant stages of this new endeavor for me - but I have learned so far, that challenges can be good to help you see your craft in a different light. Also that's a great time to revisit work methods or sourcing options you have ruled out before. And, challenges like this one will force you to re-evaluate your craftsmanship - and take it to even a higher level.

My limited "high end" collection, featuring several re-worked current styles, and three brand new styles will make its debut between early July to early August.

It will also be available for purchase at my booth at the One Of A Kind Show in Vancouver, Dec 9-12.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Silly Guilt

I have been at it (making my leather bags, that is) for a year. Still, when it comes to putting prices on my work, and calling them out to buyers, I still experience surprisingly weightily discomfort....

I am very critical of what I do and tend to second-guess my time, effort and cost calculations; I also question if my work is actually WORTH the amount I am asking for it.  And, of course, then it all escalates into questioning the appeal of my design work and quality of craftsmanship.

It doesn't take much longer till I am feeling unsure and apologetic about my prices.

Sure, we all have heard customers saying things, like "That's so expensive!", or " I love it, but can't afford it!" Some of us will then step in to "help" these customers by cutting deals, giving discounts and specials for mere appreciation of our work.

But that means we're voluntarily under-estimating ourselves and everything it takes to make our products, let alone diminishing our proceeds - and setting up our fellow crafters for unequal competition.

Nowadays I have been exploring deeper into the emotions, which the changing status of my Design Company brings to me. What once was a tiny free time project, fuelled by compliments, has now grown into an Indie Brand, carried by several retailers and featured in the independent press - just one year later.

Pleased, but surprised, I found myself not quite ready for it. I realize that I am yet to learn to detach from the "tiny free time project" past , and start treating my Brand as a business.

I teach myself to accept the changes:

My craftsmanship has improved - and so have my designs. I am more aware of characteristics of the materials and challenges beyond various styles. I design and make my stuff all on my own. The bag styles, that have received so much response this spring, have all started with me. And they ARE worth everything I am asking for them.

If you, as the person behind your product are sure of yourself, others will believe it....

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vancouver Car Free Day

Several neighbourhoods of Vancouver are joining together for a Car Free Day, this coming Sunday!

June 20, 2010
Main Street, Lower Lonsdale, Denman street, Commercial Drive and over 25 blocks in Kitsilano
will be closed to traffic other than pedestrian between
10 am and 8 pm.

Come out and play -

The lovely Two Of Hearts Boutique on Main street (at 22nd Ave) is going to have an outdoor booth with lots of goodies, including my fabulous Jaki (right), Hollie, Sarah (left), some of the very last Kerrys (bottom), and Katie, the bag!

All info here: Car Free Vancouver

Suppliers or Cottages - dilema of growth and identity

We begin very small. We take our tireless small steps up each hill, and then down and up again, on the way to our 'destinations'. We improve ourselves and our work; and inevitably seek recognition and pay-back for those small steps that got us here - hopefully closer to where we want to be eventually.... Some of us will find that recognition, although not necessarily in the form we were hoping for.

Many of my friends, who are running their small businesses, as well as crafters in the on-line forums frequently discuss cautions and downsides of different growth models, which impact their time, dedicated for work and family, or quality of their product, even identity of their indie brand.

You need to choose carefully which route to take to expand your business and what role to play while doing it. Different products require different skills not only in the making, but researching and selling them too. It is when a third party gets involved in your sales, the dilemma of your role and identity arises…

Craft markets or retail are good ways to introduce your product to the public. Your goods will be displayed, seen, touched and tried by real customers, and those advantages are inevitably lost if shopping on-line. But with that come higher costs, risk of loss and obligation to share your proceeds.

Some believe, that being a true Artisan, or a true Cottage industry, means you must be manufacturing, packaging, promoting and selling your products yourself – be it in your own brick-and-mortar “Cottage” storefront, or a web-page, whilst also seeing your customers at home. Third party involvement is very minimal, as these brands refuse to be just another item on a retailer’s shelf and take great care in keeping their quality superior. The biggest advantage of this model is that you sustain nearly all your proceeds, and while PR and feedback is doing most of the work. This model is great for businesses, that make products, commonly reviewed by gurus of their craft, recommended by web-critics, specializing in that category or lifestyle. Think of organic skin care, natural perfumery, pet products. BUT – the catch is, if there is no established network of industry gurus, web-advise and reviewers, dedicating their attention to Indie artists, this model may not be possible for your category of products.

Some other Indie artists thrive by selling their wares through retail. They are quite happy wholesaling, focused purely on their craft and often not comfortable selling their stuff themselves. This model allows you to limit your efforts to what you like to do best – creating.

But, there are several cracks one can fall into while choosing to work this way. You will have to share your proceeds with retailer, and since they are doing all the selling, you inevitably take the role of a “Supplier” – your retailer will be in charge of what they want to carry in their store, what sells the fastest, what costs the least, and will let you know which products they’re not interested in, which could be subjective in the end. Some of your products may remain under-represented, due to the choice of a buyer; you may exhaust the market for your best –seller item all at once, and you will not be able to meet your customer, instead will have to rely on a third party feedback only.

Wholesale, even though paid upfront gives you the least control as an artist. The person behind the brand is just a supplier, providing quantities of a product, often at the cost of innovation, even quality, in order to meet deadlines and repetitive requests. In consignment, you sustain some of your freedom, as in most cases you will call the shots, as in which items you want to sell with this particular retailer. But that is sustained at cost of taking all the risk of investing in your products upfront, with no obligation from the retailer.

Perhaps, the best way is to do it all. Manufacture, promote, sell, consign and vend at the markets. The identity of your brand is the single most important thing, that will outlast your relationships with retailers, event organizers and even clients.

If you back your identity with continuously improving quality of your product, the relationships will only expand. Ultimately, markets – and retailers – want your business, and there is no need to compromise any part of your overall goal for anything less.

You can extend momentum for you best selling item, by not over-stocking it, and you can ensure your quality by taking caution during faster than usual growth. Be selective. There’s only one of YOU.