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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
I love your work, you really make it look easy. I’m trying to expand my Etsy store and was thinking about expanding from Print on Demand to Screen Printing some of my own items. I never dreamed of hand drawing designs I think I’m going to give it a shot, I really like how unique and hand made your products come out.
Hi Doug, thank you for your kind comments. Good luck with your own screen printing endeavours. It really is such a fun medium.
[…] I am good at: design, printmaking, drawing, making in general. I’m great at teaching, no lie. Things I am not so good at: accounting, self promotion, cold […]