Growing a business without business skills. Apparently it can be done.

Wowza, has it been a busy month…

and it is just going to get busier and busier up until Christmas. This year is looking to be a landmark year for Noctiluna kidswear. We are doing more and bigger shows, and I have been printing non-stop, so that we will (hopefully) have enough inventory for them. Word is, that we may also be in a local gift shop or two by the holidays. Fingers crossed for that.

While this is all great, really great news, it’s also got me feeling a little sick in the stomach. There I was just happily coasting along with my teeny tiny business, sticking to the stuff I know best and avoiding the rest. All of a sudden I have the opportunity to grow a little, which means stepping out of my comfort zone – it’s downright intimidating!

Growth means getting better at stuff that I have been dreading for years. Growth means doing inventory, keeping accounts, analyzing statistics successfully, communicating on time with other humans, and of course, screenprinting a whole lot more! I’ve got the last part covered, there’s steam coming off my squeegee, but I’m facing a very steep and very terrifying learning curve with all the other stuff! I mean, the thought of interviewing a prospective employee makes me shiver with horror, and my eyes go blurry after looking at numbers for longer than half an hour. Art school never taught me any of these skills. Quite frankly, I’m a little taken aback:

“You mean I have to actually do business stuff? I thought designing and selling kids’ clothing would be all ice cream, hopscotch, and watercolors – not a crash course at Wharton!”

Yup. It’s time to grow up (just a little) and grow a pair. Fear is a large part of who I am professionally, I let my brain blow things out of proportion, and little stumbling blocks can paralyse me indefinitely. I have been forcing myself to let go of some of that fear.

With the help of my very practical and relatively fearless husband, I have started to teach myself new skills that involve more than just printing cool stuff.

I have been working weekends and nights to get things done for the upcoming shows, and I have been dipping into the Halloween candy more often than I should, but I can literally feel myself becoming more methodical, productive, and proactive. It’s a slow road, but that’s okay. I think slow progress is the best kind of progress for me, new skills and work methods need time to sink in and make sense to me, and the more they do, the less intimidating this is.
Oh, and British Art schools – you rock, but if you haven’t started adding a business skills component to your courses yet, DO IT!


The Insider Scoop on being a Craft Vendor

Art on the Avenue happened last week, and I am a very happy crafter. The show was really well attended, like sardines-in-a-tin well attended. I was constantly busy, and selling fast. I unexpectedly sold out of some of my designs, and it looks like It’s back to the printing table for me next week. A pretty nice start to the season.

Being a small scale designer, and vendor at craft shows has it’s ups and downs, and I’m actually beginning to get used to them. In fact, I feel ever so slightly more… together this season, I’m beginning to feel like less of a newcomer. Not quite the Craft Show Consigliere yet, but I kind of know how things work.  When me and my crew hit the streets during set up time, we have that grizzled look that says “I have extra bungee cords and a tarp, so watch out!” – a little vendor humor for you. By the way, the crew includes a whiny seven year old, and an eleven year old who’s only really there for lunch and the freebies.

But seriously, I do have a snazzy red mini-apron for small change that I wear around my waist at fairs. It totally doesn’t make me look like a dork. I can go for practically a whole day without using the bathroom, and I even recognize a few of the other vendors nowadays. I think that qualifies me as a potential advice giver to newbies. Right?

Six things to know about craft markets:

  1. You will always be surprised by what sells well. Each venue is so different, and I’m constantly kept guessing about what will be the flavor of the day. All of my dragon prints sold out at Art on the Avenue, and hardly anyone bought a panda shirt, after all the social media clamour over the pandas. What!?
  2. Always take WAY more bags and business cards than you think you will need. I ran out of both around 4pm at Art on the Avenue, and still had two hours to go!! I was seriously close to  writing my contacts down on people’s arms! Luckily, my customers tend to be understanding people with large strollers and diaper bags to store shirts in.
  3. Someone will ask you for a discount. Be proud of what you make, stand your ground and don’t under price yourself. Easier said than done for some of us. I put a lot of hard work and time into my onesies, and it has taken a lot of practice to be able to look a person in the eye and flatly refuse to discount an item. Repeat after me: hand made, small batch, precious….. not available in Walmart.
  4. You will feel that terrible, silent feeling of panic when a potential customer leans over your work while drinking a giant soda fountain drink. You will see the condensation waiting to drip onto your carefully handmade products in slow motion. Torture!!! Even worse, is when the customer actually puts the cup down next to your products, and you have to  work up the nerve to ask them to move it.
  5.  Other vendors are your friends. Be nice to them, help them out, and discover some lifelong buddies; you can even break your no discount rule with them. What you mustn’t do, however, is hover around them and talk constantly, when they are swamped with customers. Just….don’t.
  6. Wear sensible shoes and no Fitbit. Trust me on this one, being a vendor is hard on the feet, and makes you feel as though you have walked a million steps, but in reality you have walked…just twenty five. So frustrating. Not much room for movement in that tent.

Hope this has helped, whether you are planning to sell at shows, or just curious about the experience. I’m sure there is more, and much better advice I should be sharing, but nothing really comes to mind right now, because I’m hungry.

Stay posted for more pearls of Noctiluna wisdom. 😉

Design to Print. My process Revealed

Social media can be a tricky little temptress, showing you the shimmery side of everyone else’s business, and putting rosy filters on every dull moment. I’m as guilty as the next person of this, I’ve been shamelessly self-promoting since I started my little design venture, and am hopelessly hooked on Instagram now.

But I don’t want to hide all my imperfections. I want to share all the downsides of my business as well as the upsides. It can get gnarly both running a small business, and working from home, and there have been many moments when I have wondered ‘what the hell am I doing?’ and I’m sure I’m not alone there. Not everyone admits it though.

Why on earth do I want to share everything with you?

I remember clearly, asking a tutor at college about my career options, and what to expect as a new textile designer. It was the late 1990’s, I was a clueless, yet cheerfully optimistic twenty-something wearing overalls (and looking fabulous in them), and I will never forget her response…

“That’s for you to discover yourself, dear. I didn’t get this far to just give away all my secrets.”

I was appalled, and ever so slightly worried about my prospects. Rightly so, the textile/fashion design community turned out to be very guarded, difficult to crack, and not a little antagonistic to newcomers.
Today, as a visual arts teacher, I will happily go out of my way to give away ‘all my secrets’ to students who need guidance. There is enough room for everyone in this industry, and in that spirit, I give you full disclosure, warts and all, of my kidswear production process. Read these pearls of wisdom and weep.
You are welcome.

The Eight Stages of production:

  1. Researching trends

    Everything starts with ravenously consuming as much information as possible from color and trend prediction websites, and putting together a moodboard for the coming season. I do this earlier and earlier each year, and will collect ideas for the next Spring/Summer before the leaves turn for Fall. I don’t follow trends slavishly, and like to inject my own quirkiness into the mix as well, Hence a general leaning towards stripes, polka dots and dessert in my collections. You can’t go wrong with dessert.

  2. Coming up with designs

    The fun part! This actually takes up a relatively small part of my schedule. I like big, graphic, inky prints, so basically, I sit with a brush and some ink and just paint until I have images that I want to use. I want to work with more patterns and repeats in the future, so this will probably get more complex and digital in the future. This is also the time to order all the shirts, onesies and other products I need to print on. A nail biting decision making process that makes my credit card stress-smoke.

  3. Prepping Screens

    I normally scan my artwork, size it, and clean it up on my computer (pssst – learn to use Photoshop now!), and then print it out onto transparent film. During this time, my printer will probably break down about three times, and I will cry as many times. Then comes the technical part my job, coating screens, exposing screens, and taping screens, all of which is more nerve-wracking than it should be. Because, I am a klutz, and my set up is so basic (exposing lamp precariously looped around an IKEA railing, and wobbling over my screen, which is balanced on a cardboard box).  Around this time, someone in my family will complain about one of the following things: a) I washed out a screen in a bathtub, b) there is a bottle of screen emulsion in the fridge (“but it’s wrapped in a plastic bag!” I protest), c) we need an extra fridge RIGHT NOW!

  4. Printing!!

    This is my favorite time. This normally takes up to two weeks, and during those two weeks I will be in the sweetest flow state, I will post the most pretty pictures on Instagram, and look at my most productive and impressive to outsiders’ eyes. I will also probably forget to pick my kids up from the bus stop more than twice.


  5. Ironing and Sewing

    Uggggggh. No glossy instagram gram posts this week – just misery. A week of just ironing things to heatset ink (there is a reason why most of my own clothes are either jersey or wrinkled – I DON’T IRON…unless it is for work). I’m going to invest in a heat press, so that I don’t ever have to go through this again.
    Then a week of sewing labels and appliqueing shirts . This is normally the week you want to stop by if you want to hear my most colorful curse words. I have a love-hate relationship with my sewing machine, and am looking to make friends with somebody who loves to sew. Could it be you?

  6. Bits and Bobs

    Ordering enough business cards, tags, stickers, bags etc. Late night runs to Michaels to buy safety pins in bulk, to attach tags to shirts. Bribing kids to attach said labels to shirts. Screen printing paper bags to make them extra pretty. This is all important stuff, are you taking notes?

  7. Inventory and packing

    I do not have a brain for numbers, and do not enjoy stocktaking. Inventory makes me want to cry, and spreadsheets are just mean, but unfortunately necessary.
    Luckily, Square makes inventory a little easier to do, and I drink a lot of tea, and eat stuff I shouldn’t, to help me get through this trauma. Etsy is a whole other deal though. Whoever designed their site is just…pure…evil. Entering each item on there takes up more time than a trip to the grocery store and back.

  8. Last minute panic

    Of course, after finishing my stocktake, I realize that oops, I’m missing something in a size (What? I told you I’m no good with numbers!). So I do a last minute print run (or not – screen prints need time to sit after they are done. If it’s too late, then it’s too late).  It’s hard trying to gauge how many shirts to order for a season, and I’m still working on getting better at that. I work by myself, and have kids, so things can fall by the wayside sometimes.

I repeat this every season, and print between fairs sometimes, as well. I don’t produce a huge amount of products, but I’m happy with the quality of what I do produce. And here is the main thing: you have to genuinely like your product, and want to use it yourself. If you feel ambivalent about any of your products, then there is something wrong.  Do… your… best… work, and remember, in a year’s time it will not be your best work any more because you will have evolved. And then one day, you will be the bestest in the universe (this has not happened to me yet). So glad to have shared my pearls of wisdom with you. If you need any advice, I’m here for you.