Welcome to Small Business Saturday, a new feature here on CreativeIncome. This Saturday, we are featuring Realm, a handmade textile brand created by Vanessa Crook. I chatted with Vanessa about her design process, what it’s like to run an online shop, and her love for textile arts.
Q: What’s the first item you ever designed?
A: I think the first item I designed for Realm was the hand embroidered eyeball pillow, approximately one year ago. I still make that item, but I quit making it by hand when I got my embroidery machine. Cha-ching. But the first thing I EVER designed? I just recently found a sketch of the junior year prom dress I made. Stuff like that makes you want to pat your younger self on the head while simultaneously hiding all evidence from anyone else who might stumble upon it/remember you then.
Q: Where do you get inspiration from for your designs?
A: I get the lion’s share of my inspiration from the internet and text messages (usually about the internet) with a core group of friends. I don’t think that the imagery of my work necessarily reflects it, but I feel the most engaged and creatively in tune when I am in conversation with others about media/art/pop culture. We consume images and talk about trends and it all works toward fine tuning what I want to contribute aesthetically with my work. I’ll go for a run or try to fall asleep and all of a sudden an image will come to the surface and materialize and I’ll know what I’m working on next.
Q: What are the steps you go through when making a design?
A: When I finally have a good idea for what I want to construct, I usually start in my sketch book either lettering or drawing in graphite or markers. I go through several versions until I get something just so, and then I move to my computer where I clean up my designs in a digital design program. Once I have something I love I will export it to my embroidery software, which is equal parts pain in the neck and wonderful. I manipulate needle placement and color breaks, fill type and outlining and try to anticipate what the machine will have trouble with, and then I digitize my files and run through them on my embroidery machine, testing color combos and fabrication. At this point I usually show my boyfriend the product and ask “is this cool?” (one of the issues with being a one person show is that you can feel a bit insulated from outside perspective) then I might tweak the design based on the conversation and response I get, perfect the scale and hardware choices, take pictures and put it in my store. I love being in control from start to finish, but my process is tedious and not without faults.
Q: What made you decide to create your own online store?
A: It’s kind of a natural progression from being a person who makes things, to people asking you if you have an online store, to eventually opening your own online store. At the beginning I sold a lot of my stuff just immediately through Instagram, without people actually visiting my online store (though I had one). Eventually my online store caught up, as well as my sales through brick and mortar stockists.
Q: What is your top-selling item? Why do you think it is so popular?
A: I sell a pretty equal number of Toothy Lips and Rude Bitch bags- they are very different from one another but are both eye catching and sassy in their own ways. People love the snark of the Rude Bitch bag, and the Toothy Lips is embroidered on really beautiful Guinean fabric- that I am almost completely out of by the way- so if you’ve had your eye on it buy it now before I run out :).
Q: Any tips for artists to get into stores?
A: Don’t be afraid of rejection, you have to advertise yourself and cold call/email stores you think your stuff would fit in well with. Don’t waste your time or theirs by not doing your homework on their aesthetic, price points, and general target market. That being said, don’t be shy and never be afraid to reach for dream stores. Write thoroughly and thoughtfully, anticipate questions people might have about your work and be concise and direct with your information. When appropriate, ask for feedback. Take care of yourself and your relationships with businesses. Get agreements about payment and money in writing and up front.
I’m not an expert- I still have a long way to go before I am selling as much as I dream to and cover as much territory as I eventually want to. But I also know that I am evolving my business and my products. I’m slowly getting there. I’m making things I’m truly proud of, I have to give myself time and patience to allow my skills to match up with my visions, and I am collecting supporters and increasing sales along the way.
Q: What has been your biggest struggle as a small business owner?
A: Taking my own advice about money, being patient about my progress, and doing everything myself. Also a struggle: keeping concise records (not my #1 strength), and not feeling let down when people don’t “like” things as much as I hoped they would.
Q: What social media do you like to use to promote your business?
A: I like Instagram. I’ve met other makers, gotten collaboration opportunities, get direct feedback, and even sold things just through posting pictures.
Q: What do you love most about what you do?
A: I love the actual doing of it. I love making things, I love honing my skills, and I love getting to be creative.
Q: What success tips can you give to someone wanting to start their own online store?
A: Take good quality photos of your work or pay someone to do it. People can’t pick up and look at the product when it is online, so the photos have to do that for them. I’m still learning how to edit to keep my photos consistent, thorough, and beautiful. Another of the many joys of deciding to do absolutely everything yourself.