Thursday, 30 April 2009

You Don't Even Know My Name - New Designers and Self Promotion

Regis McKenna once said, “Advertising can reinforce positions in the market, but it can’t create positions.” The large-scale ad campaigns and the catwalk shows of London Milan, Paris, and New York, are not the only outlets with which designers can publicize themselves. In fact, the cost of holding such a massive event, complete with models, lighting, music, seating, space rental, and the requisite goody bags for the press and the after parties, isn’t the most cost effective way of advertising yourself if, as McKenna implies, you’re not already well established. However my brief wasn’t really concerned with established designers. I was expected to find out how new designers were making their names known. What I discovered was that none of the designers I researched used any paid advertising. Most of their business had snowballed because of seemingly insignificant things like word of mouth and online social networking pages. Sites like Facebook, Myspace, Etsy, Twitter, and personal websites and blogs, coupled with the ease and near expectation that users will constantly have access to the internet via cell phones have created a formidable force of free advertising.

Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter in particular have grown beyond their modest roots as networking sites geared to American high school and college students. Today, politicians, celebrities, charitable organizations, magazines, retail stores, and of course, new and well-known designers have pages to support them. All but one of the designers that I will discuss in this post use social networking websites as a way to expose and endear themselves to the general public.

However the internet isn’t the only thing designers use to get amongst the public. Many collaborate with other designers and artists, some participate in design competitions, and others find industry related work as costume designers, stylists, or artists. A perfect example of this is the miniature knitter, Althea Crome. Crome was enlisted to create the knitted garments for the puppets in 2009 film Coraline. For three years Crome knitted garments at 1/12 scale; she claims to be the only knitter in the world that makes garments that small. Still other designers instead of working outside their labels use showrooms, industry connections, consign their garments to local stores, or participate in craft fairs to raise awareness of their brands. 

Sandra Backlund

Sandra Backlund started her label in 2004 after graduating from a design course in Sweden. Since then she has marketed herself well; her Facebook page has over a thousand fans, and other supporters have started a separate Sandra Backlund Facebook group. She has participated in museum exhibitions on design and has either been nominated for and/or won a design award nearly every year since 2005. She has collaborated with other designers including Louis Vuittion and she is even a proud feature on the Swedish tourism site. 

Love it, hate it, or completely don’t understand it, Backlund has found a demand for her knits. They may not be the most practical, functional designs, but her style excites and mesmerizes nonetheless. No matter how much other designers change and reinvent their labels season after season, one knows what to expect from Sandra Backlund. That’s not to say that her work has become utterly predictable, it’s more that buyers will know who to go to when they want sculptured large-scale knits. Though dependability may seem a bit conventional, it itself works as advertising and will keep your customers coming back for more.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Moire Conroy

Type “Moire Conroy” into Google search and you’ll get some pretty impressive results. She is on the websites of the Oscars, NBC, an American television network, Wikipedia, Chicago Magazine, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the 2nd highest ranked art school in the US, and Robin Richman, a well known Chicago fashion boutique. So how did this designer who only started her label in 2006, get to this point?

I called her to find out.

Conroy’s marketing begins with a lot of legwork and networking. Unlike Yokoo and Sandra Backlund, Conroy promotes her line by styling gallerists, artists, and art collectors in New York City for various gallery openings, parties, and other events. When she is invited to these events, she models her own range, further advertising her work while meeting potential new clients, effectively snowballing her clientele. Conroy is not meek; she contacts many of the people she meets at these events to see if she can dress them for future openings.

This relentless persistence is what helped Moire nail one of the covetable Oscar Design Challenge finalist spots. When approached by the head of the fashion council in Chicago to design a dress for the Oscar Challenge, she eagerly complied, sending tons of sketches.  Her work caught the eye of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who then contacted her for more designs. Moire sent copious amounts of drawings, but didn’t let the correspondence stop there. “I think part of it [winning a finalist spot] was that I emailed them constantly and they saw how eager I was.” Though Moire was not the overall winner of the challenge, a decision made by public vote, the Oscars Fashion Coordinator chose to wear her dress to the awards show, drawing in even more attention.

This is a busy week for Moire. This Friday, May 1st, she is auctioning off THE Oscars dress at a gallery opening in Chicago. The money raised by the auction will go to a graduating senior at her alter mater, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Not only is Conroy giving back to her school and community, she is encouraging fresh talent, generating more buzz about her line, and getting major network coverage of it all. Besides having NBC and ABC at the event, she is all styling many of the attendees. Oh, it’s a good time to be Moire. 


Yokoo is basically one of the coolest, if not THE end all, be all, COOLEST mo-fo out there. Please forgive it you’re reading this Yokoo, I mean it as only a loving admirer can. Yokoo makes chunky knit accessories like enveloping scarves, giant boa constrictor necklaces, and lush and voluminous pom-pom headbands (I really want one!). To sum up: everything is just thrilling and massively scaled. There really should be more accessories in the world that make you feel like they are wearing you, but wearing you in a good way. Like you look good on them. But until that happens, Yokoo is our salvation.

In just under two years she has become a famous fixture on handmade indie site She’s so famous that there are artists on the site that actually use her as a subject in the work they sell. She has been interviewed by Etsy, Nylon, and Vice Magazines, and has been featured on countless blogs, including Urban Outfitters’, and just recently, I believe she made her first celebrity sale to Gwen Stefani. This is a pretty impressive list coming from someone who when asked, “How do you promote your work?” responded with, “ I haven’t done too much promotion. I post to Flickr every so often…” Not to contradict Miss Yokoo or detract from her intoxicatingly hip creations, I do believe that her best marketing tactic is that she in fact does promote herself through the quirky, cool, ad like photographs of her work. She is her own model and photographer and the images she uses on her Etsy site, are just as desirable as art pieces as her knits are as fashion accessories. You go Yokoo, I love the multi-tasking quality of your work; it sells itself. Her images are becoming so iconic that the Atlanta native has become somewhat of a celebrity. Recently on a trip to New York City, a fan in the APC boutique spotted her. Yokoo is definitely moving on up to the East Side. 

Creatures of the Wind

Chris Peters and Shane Gabier of Creatures of the Wind met at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005, but they didn’t become a unified unstoppable force until 2007. Their line is sold in high-end exclusive boutiques known for their knack of unearthing and nurturing unusual creative talent. The pair has successfully marketed their label to a very select collection of retail stores and press publications, and has purposely limited their visibility in local fashion events that most ambitious designers would be thrilled to be a part of. As Gabier has said, “If you really want to make it interesting, it maybe has to be a little more limited or selective.” Eschewing the local platform of Chicago fashion has not been to their disadvantage. The label has been featured in WWD and W Magazine, garnered the entire front page of the popular Chicago weekly The Reader, and has been featured in innumerable blogs, including Urban Outfitter’s. They have shown their collection to buyers and the fashion press in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Paris.

Clearly these boys are doing something right. What is defined as “right” in this context may bring a shudder to any other new designer. Limiting your product could be seen as a cheeky and risky move, but an admirable one nonetheless. The boys have kept a tight reign on their image, carefully avoiding runway shows, big parties, and the other typical tired methods of promotion. Instead, Gabier wanted the label to associate itself with “the kind of designers that we feel are our peers and colleagues” and with “lines at a certain kind of price level.” They create desire for their structured collaborative pieces by hosting intimate gatherings, treating potential buyers like old friends, showing the collection in the homes and studios old friends and fellow creatives.

And it doesn’t hurt when all your college friends are as equally talented and as fabulous as you. The label has collaborated with many accomplished designers and artists to achieve the exact looks they wanted. Though the benefit of attending a ritzy party here and there should not be dismissed. Doing just that is what captured the attention of an editor of Women’s Wear Daily, which in turn got them coverage in the affiliated publication, W Magazine. Gabier has admitted that publicity “is the only reason I would go to a party like that. ”

Currently the label is represented in three boutiques in the US. While Creatures of the Wind is slowly growing, Peters and Gabier are keen on keeping their day jobs. Both hold positions that could do much to assist their line. Gabier is an instructor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the perfect place for finding potential talent and Peters is the assistant buyer at Hejfina, one of Chicago’s most visionary and progressive boutiques. 

Isobel and Cleo

Isobel and Cleo was started in December 2008, in a miniscule college dormitory room, with a few knitted accessories, a 12in PowerBook, a digital point and shoot camera, a Paypal account, and a strong desire to procrastinate from doing end of semester final projects. I contacted the team to talk about how this young line has gone about promoting themselves. Run part-time while the invisible designers (Isobel? Cleo? Both? Neither?) complete their masters, they have garnered a fair amount of attention in five short months. They’ve been approached by eight boutiques interested in carrying the line. Of those, six were stores who were either former employers or business owners they had met at gallery or art related parties. Some say it’s who you know, and in the case of Isobel and Cleo, it is partly true. They’ve sold merchandise at several indie craft fairs and were featured on the Heart Handmade blog after being open on Etsy just over a month. Before appearing on the blog, the most page views for any one item was just over 100. After Heart Handmade wrote about the label’s “Bubba Scarf” the page views jumped to over 600 visitors in twenty-four hours. Heart Handmade is exactly the type of press a young designer would want to get. It is an established blog with a dedicated readership, a group of people who will regularly check the site because they know they’re going to receive insider information about interesting designers. It beats searching the internet for hours and coming up empty handed.

Even more entertaining is the attitude of the duo, who claim, “we didn’t really intend to start a business, we just had some space filled with yarn and we need to clear it out.”  They just needed space? So, sounding a lot like a bad ex-boyfriend, they broke up with part of their immense yarn collection, whipped up some sweet accessories and sold it off on Etsy. Now the problem the girls face is keeping up with the Jones. They’ve started something on a whim, but now they can’t let it go. The longer they go without adding new merchandise on the shop, the harder it is to generate and hold interest, so they’ve decided to make more of an effort to introduce more items every week. Pretty ambitious, but the girls feel the need to keep a good thing going.

Just this week the team created a Facebook page for the label. Considering how addictive Facebook can be, it’s not a bad idea to let the site do some promoting for you. The internet never sleeps (usually), constantly bringing Isobel and Cleo to people all over the world 24/7.  Right now the pair is working on a logo as they believe that it will validate the label and consequently create more interest. They’ve enlisted an old friend from school to design it, and of course this old friend has some pretty, uh… shall we say conspicuous clients and projects under his belt. Never burn bridges. When Isobel and Cleo graduate, they may be lucky enough to already have something that looks a bit like a following.