Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hiring a Sales Rep: A Big Decision

So, Pixyworld is taking the plunge. In a certain way it feels like we're signing away our freedom. But, all things considered, I think signing on with Lace and Denim for the Southeast US region is the best next step for us in building our line.

When we first considered a different showroom in 2008, we were scared off big-time. In fact, it was that experience that inspired us to start selling to the retail customer through our own website! It was my husband Jon who spoke with the first showroom, and he came away feeling belittled, bullied, and thoroughly discouraged.

But now that we have our line manufactured, photographed, and selling, we are in much stronger position. We began selling wholesale ourselves in early 2009, and were contacted recently by Lace and Denim. We were leery at first: Would they complain about our online retail sales? Would they exercise too much price control? Would we be paying high sales commissions and showroom fees? Would we have to furnish expensive look books and brochures?

Well, to work with Lace and Denim, we do have to have our retail prices at a certain level in all of our online sales venues. Retail stores can't be put in the position of feeling undercut by an online outlet. But we found Terrie to be a very reasonable person, who understood the financial pressure we are under at this stage in growing our line. Or production volumes are barely high enough to break even on wholesale pricing, and we don't have much extra room for sales commissions.

But to increase production, we need to increase sales. And to increase sales, a good sales rep will certainly be a help. She gave us an introductory discount on her fees, so that we can have a little extra room the first year, to get our volumes up and our production prices down.

It will be an interesting year. We'd be glad to have it lead to showrooms or reps in other regions, but for now it's nice to be starting down this road gradually, with our own sales venue well established.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Princess and the Pea

How could I have understood, before giving birth to a Princess, the humor of The Princess and the Pea?

It can get to you, if you lose your sense of humor about it. Some little girls are simply born with an acute sensitivity to anything -- ANYTHING -- that rubs them the wrong way.

I suppose I was this way myself as a girl; perhaps that is why I find myself designing little girls' clothing.

My little princess had issues with jeans. She simply would not wear them. Denim was just not soft enough to be in contact with Her Royal Person. Then I started meeting other moms with the exact same problem!

My Pixyworld jeans are one attempt at pleasing the exacting little mistress. They worked for mine. The baby-rib-covered elastic waist was what she needed. Now she wears them almost daily.

I think I will also buy her this book. Perhaps she will have a flash of self-recognition?? In living with a Princess, that can make all the difference.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flattering Lines for Little Girls

My favorite fashion & style book has to be Does This Make Me Look Fat? by Leah Feldon. The title is perhaps somewhat misleading, in that it is not a strictly thinness-oriented book. It gives some very helpful tips on looking chic and having an artistically well-proportioned ensemble.

This, more than any other style handbook, has helped me in designing toddler girls' clothing. For a toddler, looking "fat" is not the issue. The shape and proportions of a toddler's body are so unlike an adult woman's, that many of the principles for adults simply cannot be applied here.

But principles of style and proportion are still important to understand. They must either be adapted for the very young girl, or deliberately ignored because the desired effect is something distinctly toddleresque!

My favorite example is the 1/3, 2/3 rule. An ensemble gains beauty and harmony by dividing the figure vertically into thirds, rather than chopping it in half. A shrug that ends mid-torso can accomplish this; so can as a dress/jeans combination.

Dressing primarily in dark neutrals is an example of a rule that I deliberately ignore for little girls. A healthy baby girl has a distinctive comeliness of form, whether she's rounded or slender. And, baby girl, you know you've got it, so flaunt it!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are We Tired of Pink?

Accessorize Me! Set: Tee, Jeans, ShrugNot too long ago, we were hearing from the fashion world that Pink Is the New Black. But the faddish popularity of the color seems to be fading. The best-selling collection in my toddler girls' boutique line this season has been Flower Power, my only collection without even a hint of pink.

Maybe we are sick of pink because, in this economy, Pink Slips are the New Black! Maybe moms shopping little girls' boutiques are looking for something very unique, and they feel that pink for little girls is too common.

Whatever the reason, we may have to find a new New Black. Nevertheless, I believe pink is more than just a trend -- it is a classic color for baby girls, and in moderation, it will always have its place in the market.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Page Rank: The Chicken or the Egg??

So, if I understand it right, you get page rank by having other highly ranked sites link to your site. OK. So your options are: solicit link exchanges with highly ranked sites, or create your own highly ranked site (like, hmmm... a blog!!!) which links to your site.

The problem is, highly ranked sites don't want to swap with lowly 1's and 2's. So we have to settle for linkbacks from other 1's and 2's. Hopefully, some of them will someday succeed in becoming 3's and 4's, and their links will become valuable to us.

But as much as we are rooting for them, our links to their sites will not do them much good because... well, we are 1's and 2's ourelves.

Ah, the conundrum of page rank!!

Perhaps, like an exponential function, Boutique Baby, Toddler, & Little Girls' Clothes by Pixyworld will one day hit that great big growth curve which soars ever higher from glory to glory! Until then, I'm taking almost all comers in my link directory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"I Want to Do it Myself!!"

Have you ever heard this from your toddler or preschool-aged girl? Especially in the area of apparel, it seems they have an independent streak.

This has several interesting results. Firstly, in dressing themselves they reach new and interesting heights of clash. Secondly, it seems that more than 50% of their clothing is on backwards at any given time. Finally, they gravitate towards wearing certain items as often as possible, while leaving others (the ones we like best) lying forlornly in the drawer.

Well, I'm not offering Pixyworld as a panacaea for all of these fashion ills. But, as a mother of toddlers, I have tried to lend a helping hand. The clothes I design can all be donned without adult help from an early age. They also have toddler-friendly cues for matching (e.g. the monkey jeans go with the monkey dress!)

As for the backwards problem, sometimes it just has to be accepted. But if there's a picture she wants to look at, she's more likely to put it on the front!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Toddler Hair Accessories: What's Out There?

Gymboree (hairpiece pictured) is clearly a leader in mass-produced hair accessories for little girls. There are also many clever moms producing unique custom hair pieces, selling on etsy or eBay. So, is there room for more?

Gymboree seems to have two advantages, besides the obvious cost benefit of mass-production. One is one-stop shopping. Moms shopping online will choose a hairpiece from the same site as the clothing they are buying, if possible, to save on shipping.

Their other advantage is outfit coordination. This is where cheaper grocery-store hair baubles often fall short.

It does seem that an independent girls' line like Pixyworld could benefit from having its own collection or hair accessories. My idea, as a mom of toddlers? Include an extra piece in every set of two, for the inevitable day when she loses one!
Also posted at Pixyworld Blog.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Standard US Sizing???

In soliciting our business, the overseas factory Pixyworld is currently working with proudly announced that they could grade our patterns for us according to "standard US sizing." Is there such a thing??

Even for women's clothing, I've found significant variation between brands. But in the children's clothing I buy, sizing is all over the map!!

In shopping for my boys (aged 7 and 9) I've found that the smaller brands tend to run on the smaller side. Gap Kids is long in the legs, good in the arm length. Sports brands like Nike and Reebok are right on, in my opinion. TCP is inconsistent in tops, but pretty good in bottoms. Old Navy has huge sizing variations from one pair of jeans to the next!

Are the cheaper brands trusting their pattern grading to overseas factories' "standard US sizing"?

Sorry, but I'd rather do my own grading. Then, even if my customers don't like my sizing, they can at least know what to expect from one collection to the next.
Also posted at Pixyworld Blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

For the Toddler Divas of the World

Accessorize Me! Set: Tee, Jeans, ShrugI have two tiny divas of my own, so I knew the Accessorize Me! collection would have to be part of my toddler girls' line.

I knew it the day my 2-year-old sached into the kitchen where my husband had just arrived from work, struck a pose, and waited for him to compliment her new shoes.

I knew it when my 4-year-old became fascinated with filing her nails and having them painted.

I knew it when, a year before that when she was still perfecting the finer points of speech, she asked me for a cotton ball with "salsa" on it, for her facial toilette.

Isn't it great to be a girl??

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Basic Sewing Studio for Knits

I am indebted to the Leabu Sewing Center for not only repairing and maintaining my machines, but advising me on how to provide myself with the essential machines for my work, without breaking the bank.

Many designers do great work without sewing, but I design mainly by sewing. Since I began working mainly with knit fabrics, in developing the Pixyworld line, I realized that my sweet little Huskystar 219 (Husqvarna) wasn't going to be adequate for sewing my samples.

I first acquired a serger, used, which was a good start but a bit of a disappointment. It arrived broken, and after the first repair I was able to use it for awhile. I then started having trouble with the threads breaking, and Leabu showed me that it was because of a design flaw, not a problem that could be repaired. My new serger, only about $500, is the Janome 1110DX, and it is working just fine for me.

I then splurged on the MemoryCraft 350E, an embroidery machine which I needed to embellish my designs. It was very inexpensive for an embroidery machine, and I have had no problems with it so far.

Finally, I got my CoverPro 900CP, on sale for $300. Nearly all my hems are coverstitched, and it does fine with those. It does not have a narrow gauge setting, which I would have liked, for foldover necklines, but I am happy enough.

If I were to choose on more machine, it would be a 5-thread machine for topstitching. But at present I can use covertitch, upside-down, to create an approximation for factory samples.
Also posted at Pixyworld Blog.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Online Clothing Sales: Return Policy Matters!

When I was considering advertising my little girls' clothing line on Momfinds.com, I ran across a very interesting snippet on their advertising page:

"Online Shopping Concerns (ranked in order of most common response to least common response:

Fit of items
Hassle of returns
Shipping costs
Quality of items
Security of entering credit card number online
Finding right item or shop
Wrong item(s)/lost item(s)

MomFinds Consumer Insight:

Online shoppers' primary concern is that an item will not fit and that it will have to be returned at the consumer's expense. To address these concerns, we promote well-known brands (so that sizing is familiar), feature items that do not need to be tried on (i.e. handbags, sunglasses, gifts, etc.), and aim to select vendors with free shipping and return policies."

This confirmed what I had already felt: that, for items that are size-sensitive, going overboard to make returns easy and fast is really important.

Thankfully, I don't get many returns. My returns policy requires me to pay shipping both ways for any and all returns & exchanges. (Ouch!!)

But happy customers matter. I once heard a stat that said a customer who is happy with her purchase the first time will tell 3 friends about it; a customer who is treated well when returning an item will tell 10 friends!

So, as much as it hurts, don't cut corners on returns!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Date Change for Michigan Runway Shows

Designers and models can still sign up for Dressed on Washington Street, southeast Michigan's new annual fashion event!

The runway shows will now take place on Saturday, May 30. Pixyworld still has spots available for mini-models, sizes 18M to 7. You can contact me directly if you're interested.

In addition to the fashion shows, there will be an accessories show inside the What is That Gallery in Ypsilanti, MI. If you're nearby, don't miss this fabulous event!
Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Link Exchanges Gone Berserk

OK, I can see getting link exchange requests from all sorts of sites. Who really knows how google defines a link's relevance? On my webmaster dashboard, a link is a link. Even if they don't contain words like "baby" and "clothing," I'm willing to add most family-friendly sites to Pixyworld's Link Directory.

But I had to laugh when my husband, while building the link directory for his men's watches site, received a request to link to a page called Pimp Costumes! I am not making this up.

That is one enterprising webmaster!!

If you want to buy a pimp costume, do me a favor: just google it. If you want almost anything else, you can probably find it in my site's Link Directory!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Happened to Wide Leg Jeans?

The big news in jeans last year was the wide leg jean. (See justjared.com, thefashionablehousewife.com, and stylelist.com.)

What happened??

It seems to have virtually disappeared. The Gap is now highlighting three options for jeans: Long & Lean, Curvy, and Low Rise Boot Cut.

Their Long and Lean jean is flared. Curvy and Low Rise Boot Cut are boot cut. They have backed off completely from the wide leg jean.

It stands to reason, since boot cut and flared jeans are so figure-flattering, slimming the thighs like no other cut can do.

As a children's clothing designer, I have to keep two factors balanced: the jeans cut that works best for kids, and the adult trends which inevitably predict kids' trends.

Fortunately for both adults and kids, flared and boot-cut jeans seem to be here to stay for awhile.

Monday, April 13, 2009

MFG.com: The Fashion World Is Not Ready

It sounds like such a great idea, doesn't it? Sourcing made simple via the internet. A site that connects designers and manufacturers using spec sheets and a formal bidding process. No more phone calls, faxes, or sending samples just to get a bid.

But in practice, I just don't think we're ready for mfg.com. When I submitted spec sheets for Pixyworld's dresses & shorts last summer, the response I got was somewhat puzzling.

Of all the hundreds of suppliers (domestic and overseas) they had listed, the only bids I got were from China. I have nothing against China, but I had hoped to be able to compare with some domestic factories too. Furthermore, the bids were so widely varying that I had trouble believing that all the suppliers were understanding my designs. Language barriers are still a big factor, as much as we would like to think otherwise.

The most unfortunate part of the experience was feeling stalked for months afterwards. I kept getting phone call after phone call to solicit more business, until I finally stopped answering their calls.

I would say the idea is visionary. Perhaps someday the fashion industry can run like a well-oiled machine, with a co-ordinated bidding system, and with buyers and suppliers leaving helpful feedback for future clients.

But we're just not there yet.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Full Belted Skirts are Only for the Few

Have you noticed the growing popularity of the belted full skirt?

I was on a discussion board (Body Type and Body Image) recently, where someone was asking whether this type of skirt would work for her body type. My question is, who does it work for??

OK, it looks great on these models. But it seems to me it is not for most women. It is so waist-conscious, and the fuller styles require slender hips as well!

One thing is for sure: It is not a style for my children's clothing line. Toddler girls' waists go out, not in. Anything belted ends up sitting down at the hips. As much as little girls would love the fullness of the skirt, I think the belted look will have to be saved for the willow-thin grown-up models, and very few of the rest of us.

(Pictures from Neiman Marcus website.)

Also Posted at Pixyworld Blog

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yummy Yarn-Dyed Stripes

Fabric quality is such an important element in producing a pleasing and long-lasting product. The average consumer does not necessarily know the technical terms for different types of fabric, but she knows good fabric when she sees and feels it.

My aspirations in this area, for my toddler girls' line, are high. One aspect of high-quality knit fabrics is that striped knits are yarn-dyed rather than printed.

Having a yarn-dyed fabric custom made for a small boutique line is virtually impossible, because of impossibly high minimums. But there are some wholesale sources that can provide good yarn-dyed stripes. I m finding them gradually online, and will soon be incorporating them into my striped designs.

Some of my favorites are Denver Fabrics and Sand Textile. If you find any others, please let me know!

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog.

Friday, April 10, 2009

WAHMs in Fashion: an Age-Old Tradition

If you are one, you know what it stands for: Work-At-Home Mom. (As if moms who stay home with their children without pursuing a career are not working??) At any rate, as Pixyworld's designer, I am one.

Now, it's interesting to me that we have a term for this now, as if being a mom pursuing a career from home were a brand new phenomenon. As far as I can see, most moms throughout the centuries have been WAHMs.

Take the biblical ideal woman, described in Proverbs 31: "She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night..... She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes." (Prov. 31:18, 24, NIV) Which brings me to fashion.

Fashion is a great career for a WAHM. My grandmother was a dressmaker out of her home; Almonzo's mother in Laura Ingalls Wilder's famous Farmer Boy actually spins, dies, and weaves her own wool before making it into warm and attractive clothing for her sons!

Besides being a fun and satisfying artistic outlet, fashion fits in well with family life. Unlike the "helping professions" early 20th century women were encouraged to pursue (ie. nursing & teaching,) fashion is not about serving people whose needs often vie for attention with the needs of a mom's own children. Rather, it is an income-earner that stays in its place and can be done in flexible hours at home.

There are, of course, down sides too. But those can wait for another blog, another day....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Images on Clothing: Embroidery vs. Applique

The ability to put images on clothing has opened up new vistas of fun and personal expression, both for adults and children. Printed fabrics and printed tee-shirts are so ubiquitous now that we take them for granted. But my favorites, especially for children's clothing, are embroidery and applique -- two methods that give an image a special texture and style that really makes it pop.

Embroidery Library has great examples of both. With embroidery, there is the possibility for almost limitless detail. With applique, although the scope for detail is more limited, the design incorporates one or more different fabrics. This gives the design a very special quality, resembling the beautiful appliqued quilts that have long been a part of our country's artistic tradition. You can see more great applique designs at Embroidery Boutique.

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pixy Friends for Little Pixies

Pixyworld fairy swing top with shortsIt's not hard to see the logic behind Pixyworld doing a collection called Pixy Friends. There's something irresistible about the idea of magical people, when children are concerned.

My inspirations for this collection, besides my own little pixies, were C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and Johhny Gruelle's Raggedy Ann & Andy stories. My own children love these stories, wanting them read aloud, and then reading them on their own as soon as they are old enough.

I fell in love with the fairy embroidered on this dress as soon as I saw her. The color scheme I chose for this collection, which is my most pastel, still has the satisfying richness of periwinkle against gold. Perfect for fairy-land, I'd say!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spec Sheets, Schmeck Sheets.

As much as I love Mary Gelhar's The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, there is one area in which it hasn't tallied with my experience.

Tech sheets. Spec sheets. Whatever you want to call them. The fact of the matter is, I have rarely ever been able to get a manufacturing quote for my little girls' clothing line with one.

When I first started looking for a factory, I made beautiful tech sheets. By the book. One production manager even went out of her way to compliment my flats. But the response I invariably got was, "Send a sample."

Fortuntely, I happen to sew. Otherwise, the amount of capital needed to start this line would have been prohibitive. Can you imagine?? Hiring a sample maker every time you have an idea?? And then most of my ideas don't even make the first cut, (no pun intended) once I see them in real fabric on a real toddler.

We would like to think we can visualize the whole manufacturing process in the abstract, from a spec sheet. But we are in the garment industry. Production managers need to touch and hold an actual garment to think about making it on a large scale. And I can't say I blame them.

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Monday, April 6, 2009

Beauty Products & Packaging (the depressing news)

Great Idea: Pixyworld could start a little girls' beauty product line!

After all, I have a science background and two little girls to try out all my products on... and have already produced some cool products they love to use.

Bad News: Suppose I wanted to start with a test run of 100 units of product. I've investigated bare-bones packaging costs, and for this quantity they soar to $2.50 plus per unit. (See Labels Stickers and More and Midwest Bottles.) Multiply by 2 to get wholesale cost, 2 again to get retail cost, and the retail customer would be paying $10 in packaging costs alone!!

Obviously, we would have to absorb much of the packaging cost for a trial run like this, and large-scale beauty product lines are paying less per unit for packaging.

But... it does make you wonder what we are paying, as retail customers, for the packaging of our beauty products. Then again, I suppose we really couldn't use them without the packaging?

From now on, when paying for a tube of lip balm, I will think of myself as purchasing a nifty lip balm dispenser, with a little lip balm thrown in as a bonus!

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top Sites Lists: Heart or Hate??

Top sites lists. We have a love/hate relationship.

While doing the webmastering for Boutique Baby Toddler & Little Girls' Clothes by Pixyworld, I have joined quite a few of them. They are, of course, a free inbound link to my site. Hopefully they are also a little bit of advertising, allowing visitors to see a banner and description of my site.

But here's the catch: My theory is that you pretty much have to be on page one for your link to be found by google; also, you have to be on page one for your ad to get decent visibility.

The top site list moderator is usually more than happy to offer you a paid spot on page one. But if you are doing your business on a shoestring, as many of us are nowadays, you are depending on the free spots.

Many of the lists are ranked by "votes," (clicks to the list from your site.) This is to the advantage of the top sites list moderator, who likes to rack up traffic stats in order to sell more paid ads. But you feel a little silly "voting" for yourself once a day just to keep your spot on page one.

The other way sites are ranked, occasionally, is by traffic. They have a nifty traffic counter you put on all pages of your site (which, incidentally, gives the top site list hundreds of inbound links rather than just one,) and your site goes up and down in the rankings all day long, based on your site traffic.

Now, this type of top sites list I find irresistibly interesting. I have to confess to checking Top Baby Boutiques several times a day to see how my traffic stacks up. And that means -- you guessed it -- more traffic for Top Baby Boutiques!

Well, they are a clever idea. It can't be denied. And who am I to knock them, when they are undeniably helping me too?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Colors in Fashion Design

As cheesy as the title has come to sound, Color Me Beautiful, by Carole Jackson, has been a milestone in fashion history. Take a look on Amazon at how many titles and products use it as a springboard. And for me, it was the beginning of the love affair with color that eventually led me to a career in children's fashion.

Jackson's color theory forms a foundation for color selection in fashion design. It reminds the designer to select colors from all four seasons, so that her line can have the broadest possible appeal. It also recommends the basic dark neutrals that a wardrobe can be built around.

But it does need to be balanced with the colors that are trendy in fashion at the moment. For example, our Pink Jungle and Flower Power collections are both built around chocolate brown, and the popularity of the color has led to much greater sales than could be expected from Autumn shoppers alone!

A lifetime of selecting colors for fashion is still too short for me...

Friday, April 3, 2009

I see London, I See France...

I volunteer occasionally to work in the preschool class at church, and as much as I love the age, being a preschool girl does come with its fashion dilemmas.

In fact, I began designing children's clothes with just these dilemmas in mind. These little girlies are at the prime dress-wearing age, and they look as pretty as posies in their twirly dresses and piggy-tales.

But, they do tend to expose themselves for all the world to see. Parents tend to either ignore this problem -- fair enough, I guess, since at this age are practically babies -- or, they put them in leggings or jeans under their dresses.

My personal favorite is the jeans, both for their durability and their style. I love that jeans with dresses is a current trend even among teens and adults. (See Heart or Hate: Dresses Over Jeans on kids.aol.com.)

Put some fun embroidery on the jeans, and they become a favorite with little girls as well!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sublimating the Shopping Urge

When a girl needs to shop, she's going to shop. I've accepted that about myself.

The question is, how to direct the shopping impulse toward something easy on -- or not too catastrophic to -- the credit card balance! And that's where it comes in so handy being a clothing designer.

When I need to shop, I can browse fabrics for my next Pixyworld collection. And if the urge is strong upon me, I can even request swatches.

Swatches are one of life's few free pleasures. When they arrive in the mail, it's like my birthday! I can spend hours holding up fabrics next to each other to see how they look.

And -- voila! -- I have successfully distracted myself from the desire to purchase that diamond cross ring from ice.com!

(Well, almost...)

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Baby Jewelry: Sweet, Impractical, Irresistible.

There is something absolutely adorable about toddler jewelry. I used to make jewelry to go with my outfits when I was doing customs on eBay, but when I began manufacturing for Pixyworld I had to simplify things for awhile, and I miss the jewelry!

I bought this sweet silver ring recently for my preschooler, from Overstock.com, and she just loves it. It fits perfectly on her little ring finger, even though she is so small. (A size 1 actually exists -- who knew??)

I do have to help her keep track of it, which is the big drawback with all toddler jewelry. What has helped is that she loves it even more than I do, so she is very motivated.

If Pixyworld does decide to add the element of jewelry to our ensembles, I think we will have to start on the well-trodden ground of rings and bracelets. So many accessories, so little time!