This month’s Establish members blog focusses on launching and selling products. Our
Establish consultant Ruth Singer has asked four members to write their own questions to
ask their partner, about their experiences of creating and launching new products from
jewellery to ceramics, knitting patterns to embroideries. The answers give great insights
into creative process, production and sell as what makes creative people excited!
WebinArt is Creative Leicestershire's year-long professional development programme for creative businesses. Our Establish members are experienced in the industry and benefit from supportive peer mentoring alongside a whole host of live online events and resources.
Click here to find out more about the WebinArt Programme. WebinArt 2020/21 is generously + kindly subsidised by our funding partners - Leicestershire County Council, Arts Council England, Derbyshire County Council, Hinckley + Bosworth Borough Council, North West Leicestershire District Council, Blaby District Council + Rutland County Council.
Elle Maxwell interviewed by Kirsty Freeman
Kirsty asks: From the initial spark of a new idea, through to the launch day of a new product, which part of the process do you find the most exciting?
Elle: The most exciting part of the process with a new product is when I have the mould of the new form made, and ready to use. At that point, I can start casting the first prototypes and it's when the idea really starts to come to life. This is the period when I can play around with the colour ways and surfaces of the finished thing. It’s really fun to see your idea become 3D and start to understand how it communicates with the other pieces in your collection, and how it elaborates on your style and ideas.
K: Is creating new products an ongoing process for you, or do you put aside specific creative time to develop new ideas & designs? Why do you think this way of working is successful for you?
E: Creating new products is quite sporadic for me. It’s more instinctual of when I have a feeling of something I need to make. Often it’ll be inline with a show or fair where I would like to launch a new piece or expand my collection. These opportunities can make good deadlines for getting an idea finished by, which suits me quite well as it’s useful to have some guidance and time markers when working by yourself.
K: What would you say has been your favourite product launch so far?
E: I’d say that my drink ware collection has been my favourite launch so far. It was the first time I had ever created a collection of smaller pieces, which were accessible to a wider audience of people. Before these, I had created all lighting pieces, which served a mainly trade customer base. It was lovely to see people enjoy the ware in more personal, everyday ways like their morning coffee, and be able to gift it too!
Kirsty Freeman interview by Nicki Merrall
Nicki asks: What is the biggest challenge have you overcome when taking an idea through to a finished product?
Kirsty: I think so far, creating my modern embroidery kits has been the biggest challenge for me. This was always an area that I wanted to explore, to combine my love of designing with my passion for sharing my skills with other people. I love making and I love teaching, but translating these skills to create a set of materials, written instructions and videos is very different. I had to try to put myself into the shoes of my customers and include every single detail they may need to know. It was such a challenge, but the feedback has been amazing, and I am so proud of what I’ve achieved!
N: How have you modified your product range and marketing in response to lockdown?
K: Before lockdown, my business was very focused around my embroideries and finished products, it wasn’t until March that I actually launched my embroidery kits. Due to events and shows being cancelled, I knew I had to diversify my business, but more importantly, I felt like I needed to do my bit to help support people through the lockdown. I learnt to embroider through completing kits as a teenager, and found it such a great way to relax. This has been a difficult time for many of us, especially in terms of our mental health, and I wanted my kits to be able to offer not only a relaxing activity, but also the opportunity to learn a new skill and provide a purpose for peoples’ days. My marketing has been more focused around this idea & social media has been more important than ever in providing a platform for me to connect with people all over the world.
N: Where is your favourite place to sell your embroideries and kits?
K: Usually, I would say that my favourite place to sell my work is the events that I travel to throughout the year. I took part in some lovely shows around the UK last year, which have obviously not been able to go ahead in 2020 due to the pandemic. I love being able to meet my customers in person to get to know them and it’s lovely to be able to chat about my work and the reasons why I do what I do. I have also met some lovely organisers and makers along the way who have made me feel so welcomed! During the pandemic, many of these shows have moved online and I have loved still feeling a part of this community. A couple of times I’ve transformed my studio worktop into a little pop-up stall, which has been so much fun as I love being able to see everything set out as a big collection
Judith Brown interviewed by Elle Maxwell
Elle asks: Thinking about your collections and the journey to launching each piece, which has been the most challenging product to create or launch, and why?
Judith: I think developing my bridal designs has been the most challenging so far, in that designing these pieces is not only about what I want to make, but is also highly influenced by changing trends and fashions. It’s a different market from the one I’m most familiar with, that is selling through galleries and and events. It’s been a challenge to find the balance between making something that feels original and expresses the aesthetic I seek with the current trends that brides seek. Of course, what I do love is when a bride is inspired by my collections to then commission something bespoke, that’s when I enjoy making one off-pieces that will be treasured.
E: What is usually your process for coming up with a new design?
J: When designing something new I tend to spend time looking at details in things. For my Nostalgic Opulence Collection I looked at grand Elizabethan portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, studying the jewelled and embroidered dresses depicted in these to get ideas. Then I usually play with materials to make samples and get the effect I’m looking for, this can be a real process of trial and error with the coloured beads not quite being right shade, or the balance of wire to bead not coming out as I’d imagined. There is a lot of time spent searching for the ideal beads! Once I have some elements I’m happy with I then very roughly sketched out how I want to put them together. For my Geometric collection I looked at pictures of art deco patterns and architecture to get the ideas for the shapes I wanted to work with, I then looked at 1920s and 30s fashion illustrations to identify appealing but less obvious colour combinations.
E: When designing new work, do you design in collections, or do you prefer to design stand-alone pieces? Why do you think this is the best way for you to work?
J: I tend to design in collections rather than stand alone pieces. This is because the pieces always need to sit well together in a display, in a glass cabinet in a gallery, for example, or on my stand at an event. My pieces are small and detailed, so I need to draw the eye in to get people to look properly and engage, so the overall look and style of a collection with statement pieces and smaller designs is important to do this. The balance of price points within the collection is an influencing factor too, thinking about those who are looking for a birthday gift for a friend, to those looking for jewellery to wear for a special occasion, perhaps to complement an outfit for a wedding or christening.
Nicki Merrall interviewed by Judith Brown
Judith asks: How do you go about deciding which designs to develop into patterns to sell?
Nicki: The main customers for my knitting patterns are knitting magazines and knitters themselves. The magazine editors will choose a theme for each issue of their magazine. This could be a style of architecture or the work of an artist. Then the commissioning editor produces a mood board for each theme. Designers use stitch patterns, colour and garment shape to interpret these themes. The commissioning team at each magazine will commission designs according to how well each meets the brief and what their readers like to make. They also think about the balance of accessories and garments for each issue. Over time, I have become more successful at having designs commissioned.
In normal times, I teach knitting and crochet most weeks. So, I think with my teacher's hat on when I develop designs into patterns to self-publish. I am developing a range of hand-knit patterns with something suitable for knitters having different levels of experience. For example, when I designed the projects for my Fair Isle knitting book, I chose designs so that each project increased in difficulty on the last by using more advanced techniques or more colours.
I want knitters to enjoy making projects from my patterns. I aim to develop some designs that are easy and relaxing to make. Most of my designs have simple-to-learn stitch patterns to keep knitters interested. A few are more challenging for adventurous knitters. I also want knitters to feel that their finished projects look good. So, I include small design features that will make finishing a project easy. For example, I use fully-fashioned shaping to make neat seams.
J: How do new workshops or courses come about? Is it driven by what you are interested in or more by demand?
N: first, I taught workshops based on knitting and crochet techniques or projects that were requested by friends. Then I approached yarn shops: many of the owners had their ideas for workshops, so I developed these as well. After several yarn shops that I worked with closed, I started running workshops and courses from home.
Now, I run short evening courses for beginners and improvers, as well as a variety of day workshops for more experienced or adventurous knitters and crocheters. When there is demand, I'll run the same workshop run two or three times a year.
I try to develop a new workshop each year. I enjoy most techniques, so I tend to think about what people may enjoy, what might work well as a workshop, and what I do not teach yet.
J: When launching a new product (a book, a pattern, a workshop) what steps do you follow? Is it the same process for all 3 types of product or does it differ?
N: Mostly I teach workshops and courses and sell patterns and kits. Ideally, I start marketing a new product two to three weeks before the launch date. I write a blog post and several social media posts about it. At this point, my call to action is to ask people to sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know when it launches. On launch day, I email my newsletter subscribers to let them know that they can now buy the new product. About a week later I write a new blog post and a few social media posts to let other people know where they can buy the new pattern or kit or book places on a course or workshop.
The publication date for my book was early April. Events took over, first the book distributors, then the publishers furloughed their staff. So initially, I had to say that you should sign up to my newsletter to the first to hear when you could pre-order signed copies. Finally, the book was published at the beginning of June. However, the books I ordered had not arrived and the packaging I wanted was out of stock. I launched pre-orders once the books had arrived and the packaging was on its way. This worked well so that when the packaging arrived, many people had already ordered their books.
I think it is better to launch a group of workshops, classes, or patterns. If you do many product launches close together, it becomes confusing for you and your customers. And, it is boring for everyone if all you write about are new products. I like to inspire people by writing about exhibitions and museums relevant to textile crafts. I help knitters and crocheters by writing photo tutorials for particular techniques. And occasionally, I write about projects that I am making from other designers' patterns.