Archives for the month of: May, 2010

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  I hardly know where to start so I will jump right in. We got into nearly every high end craft show you can think of last year and this year – nothing.  I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.  The work was better, the photographs were better, the booth was perfect, but so far, the only high end show we’ve been accepted to is the Sausalito Art Festival. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve gotten into some really good mid level shows like the Western Design Conference in Jackson Hole in September, and the Artscape show in Baltimore, but really? No Smithsonian Craft Show, no Philadelphia Craft Show, no Washington Craft show, no NOTHING?

So, I got pissed….these handbags are off the richter scale amazing, but we are STARVING to death out here, so the concept of “if you build it, they will come” acted as the major guidepost of my career, I would wind up being the best undiscovered handbag designer of my generation.  NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  Not by a long shot. So, I went back to the studio and started work on a series of new handbags I will be debuting on this site over the next few days.  I am also starting my marketing campaign and have a stack of snail mail letters I am sending out today, in the belief that the dying art of snail mail campaigns may actually work in my favor.  After all, when is the last time anyone sent YOU something in the mail?  A facebook posting, a twitter update – those are all fine, but a piece of mail you can  hold in your hands?  Priceless….

But here’s the thing.  After sitting around the studio wondering what in the I was doing with myself, and beating myself up because I feel like I have lost the ability to make things happen the way I used to, I realized that the difference between now and then is that I was too naive when I first started out all those years ago to know that I wasn’t “supposed” to be succeeding at what I was succeeding at.  It didn’t phase me one bit to knock on doors or send inquiry letters and once, I even wrote the Metropolitan Museum of Art to ask them to give me a show of my own after I read that some crappy ceramic artist had a retrospective of his work and I figured, MY work ISN’T crappy, and I, too, was an “innovator” so why not?  The worst they could say was no.

My dance card is filled to the brim with upcoming events.  The American Crafts Festival at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts at the end of June.  Artscape, in Baltimore.  Bele Chere in Asheville.  Our first wholesale show at Accessories; the Show, in New York the first weekend in August. Sausalito, Jackson Hole, Charlotte, North Carolina in October…..Its overwhelming, but its fun and it all started because I got pissed.   Its like Marilyn Monroe once said…”if I’d have observed all the rules, I’d have never gotten anywhere”. Its time for me to get where I want to go….

So I just got back from a “free class” on social media that cost $12.00 (the organizers held it at a local cafe I hadn’t been to before, so naturally I just had to try the food).  I wrote down every pearl of wisdom offered in the interests of promoting my business, and now my head is about to explode.

I am fifty, for godssakes….I am the master of the postcard mailer and the PRINTED newsletter, and yes, I sent them via snail mail.  I had a list of fax numbers for art magazines and I wasn’t afraid to use them, and printed my press releases in nice bold type with groovy fonts which I would like to think is the reason I got into the Wall Street Journal a few years back, bearing in mind that the article that was written on me was brief , snide, AND condescending.

But like the saying goes, bad press is better than no press at all.  Now I have not one but three websites, not one of which I know how to maintain, so the information on all three is generally old and out of date. I learned in my advanced internet marketing class that the only way to remain relevant in the age of social media, is to update your website once a week.  I don’t even know how to ACCESS my website, much less update the damned thing.  I have two blogs but no idea how to get anyone to read them, and now I am trying to educate myself on things like keywords and coding and search engines and hash tags, and why I haven’t blown a gasket yet is beyond me.

So the woman in this class says, write what you know about, be generous with your information, use the 22/2 rule (22 posts about yourself, two about your business) and relinquish control.  Results will ensue.  Life rewards action.  If you build it, they will come.  Well, obviously this woman has never been an artist, because relinquishing control is step one of the artists manifesto (well, if artists could organize themselves enough to HAVE a manifesto, although thank God I am not a philosopher, a poet or a procrastinator. I can imagine how that meeting would go).  Last year I got into practically every show I applied to.  This year I could show up at the jurying session naked, with a purse clamped in my teeth,  and STILL not get anywhere. She also told a story about a man who is an expert in chain link fences.  He writes a blog for the sheer love of the chain link fence, and as a result, has generated more business than he knows what to do with because everyone who needs a chain link fence references this man’s blog.

I don’t know anything about the fashion industry, other than the fact that I wear black cotton drawstring pants with long sleeves shirts from the Gap.  Until I started MAKING handbags, I carried a backpack.  So I wondered what I could write about that might be even remotely interesting to anyone reading this. But you know what? I LOVE creating handbags. I came up with some ideas recently that would make Elsa Schiaparelli proud as hell, and if you don’t know who she is, look her up. I love working on the bags, selecting the right shape for the design I have in mind, finding the right beads for the handle, or the right fabric for the lining.  Recently, I started work on a whole new line of bags in offbeat shapes that incorporate vintage items from ebay, and I have been having a ball hunting through listings trying to find just what I want.

I was the top gourd artist in the nation for many years, and I got there because I spent hours and hours and hours making sure every detail was perfect.  THAT is my passion. I collect old books, love riding Harleys with my sweetie,  I have a talent for finding off the beaten path adventures that don’t cost much, if they cost at all, and I have a nose for great housing at an amazing price, but I love what I do in this studio.   I just can’t quite figure out how to translate that into cash.  But trust me.  I WILL find a way…..

So we are back from the Accessories trade show in New York. We took two passes through the show; first to see if anyone was buying and what the price points were, then to see where vendors and buyers were from.  The show had just opened that morning, and there seemed to be plenty of people placing orders, but on closer inspection, it seemed some orders were not very big, and most buyers were from mom and pop boutiques in towns I’d never heard of. I think what shocked us the most though,was that the most expensive wholesale item we saw was $35o. Handbags and jewelry seemed to fare the best, but with booths starting at $5300 for a ten by ten space, you’d have to place a LOT of orders just to break even.  By our best estimate there was exactly ONE designer who created the pieces herself, which also puts us at a disadvantage because we manufacture every piece one at a time, so even if  we wholesaled our canvas totes at $27.50, we would have to sell 300 just to break even, and with some bags selling for as low as $6.00 each, it would hard to compete.   Even so, the overall quality of the show and the booth displays were exceptional,  but it puts us back at square one with respect to how we proceed.

On that note, we took a cab into the city and did a walking your of Bergdorfs, Barneys, Bendels and Saks, and decided that our best fit was Bergdorfs, in part, because they have an incredible Judith Leiber boutique (and, having been favorably compared to Judith Leiber over the past few months, it was nice to see the work in person), and in part, because the store seems highly conducive  to exceptional and unusual work.  What surprised us as well, was seeing some of the bags featured in the top fashion magazines we have been studying to get a grasp on how to compete with top designers and mass produced merchandise. We decided, of course, the we can’t, at least not in the traditional sense.   Our bags aren’t meant for everyone, which is part of their appeal. We make each bag by hand, one at a time, with an attention to detail unlike anything we have ever seen.  And this past weekend, we came up with some new ideas for another line of handbags we can’t WAIT to get started on….