Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Princess Phenomenon

Disney Princesses have caused parents of little girls everywhere to stand up and take notice. The sheer volume of Princess products insures that even the most oblivious parent will have heard of them.

And, as with any big money-maker, the Princess movement has many enemies. Bloggers cite racism, traditional gender roles, and unrealistic expectations as some of their reasons for hating Disney Princesses.

Interestingly, I recently heard a different spin on the Princess Phenomenon. In a thoughtful sermon on the dignity of being human, my pastor pointed out that the connection between a little girl and a fairy-tale princess is instant, instinctive, and strong. Perhaps, he said, little girls are metaphorically glimpsing their true identity and destiny.

As a child of God, he said, every little girl is made to be a princess. And somewhere deep down, she knows it.

If this is the case, then I have my own beef with Disney. It seems to me they may be thoughtlessly exploiting is something that is tender and deeply human in the little girls they cater to. Is it OK to make money by producing princess products? I would say yes, but it has to be done with... well, love.

I myself am a designer of little girls' products. In all my designing, I need to think not just about our profit margins, but about the girls themselves. The litmus test has to be: Are our products supporting their dignity as true human Princesses? Or, to make it personal, is this a product that I want to give my own daughters, to help them learn who they truly are?

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wholesale for a "Continuous" Line

When Pixyworld hired our first sales rep at Lace and Denim, Terrie asked me whether our line was "seasonal" or "continuous." It was a surprise (and a comfort) to me that a showroom would have a name for what we do. Rather than making $20,000 worth of samples a season ahead, then taking orders, and then manufacturing the product, we just make each collection once. We sell what we have, both retail and wholesale, and when it's gone, it's gone. Meanwhile, we are always working on new collections, to replace those that sell out.

The advantages of this are overwhelming from a manufacturing point of view. The fabrics we use are mainly non-reorderable: either we have them printed ourselves, or we buy yardage that is in very limited supply. And, as far as making samples a season ahead... adding an extra $20,000 to a season's bill does tend to drive product prices up!

So when we were contacted by Summer Place II, a showroom in the Southwest, we had hope that they would be able to accommodate continuous manufacturing. Although this wasn't the way they were accustomed to selling, they were willing to work with us. Gail, my contact there, said, "Typically our buyers spend budgets a season in advance, however, I think the need is growing for "pay as you go" ordering, so to speak. I have been seeing some success with my lines that carry inventory and are flexible with opening orders and reorders."

So Pixyworld Wholesale is now "good to go" with Summer Place II, thanks to her flexibility!

Monday, May 11, 2009

ALWAYS Get Counter-Samples

My overseas production manager has proved herself responsible. After sending her a physical sample, graded patterns, and finished product measurements for my new Pixyworld collection, and after being hit with high FedEx bills in the past, I figured it would be unnecessary to have her send me finished counter-samples. Photos would be fine.

But she was concerned enough to do it anyway, at her own expense. And, sure enough, we had narrowly averted disaster. She had made the dress bodice out of jersey knit, whereas I had designed the pattern for a stretchy rib knit. The dress would not even come close to going over my toddler's head!

There are some absolutes in life, and one is toddler head size (see KidsGrowth.com.) A detail like this can make or break a design. And how many other details that seem obvious to the designer can be miscommunicated to a factory?

So have I learned my lesson? Well, when next season comes around, we'll see!

Also Posted at Pixyworld Blog

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Giving Birth to a Brand

Like many first-time parents, my husband and I had no idea what we were signing up for, when we decided to create our own children's clothing label. He had grown an online watch business, from startup to profitability, in less than a year. "Piece of cake," we thought.

But building a new brand from scratch is a whole different ballgame. Like giving birth to a child, it is a long process, during which there are times when it seems nothing is happening and nothing ever will!

There are the months of waiting for the first production run to be finished. The months of waiting for a website to appear on google. And the long, slow process of building a customer base.

When a child is born, we celebrate a job well done! But of course the job is really barely started. The child is utterly dependent, taking constant care and devoted attention, and, at first, unable to give back even a smile.

When a new brand is finally launched, the situation is similar. The clothes came out well -- good! Showrooms and retailers are signing on -- great! But profitability is still a long way off.

Production quantities need to be gradually increased, until a sell-able wholesale price is actually twice the production price. And this has to be done without spending so much on advertising that the business' debt swallows up its future!

We have hopes that one day our brand will grow to maturity. Maybe (like a good child) it will even take care of us in our retirement! But for now, we have only the satisfaction of doing our best day after day, waiting, and hoping.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Profile of a Designer-Entrepreneur

I'm sure everyone has a different opinion about what it takes to be an independent designer-entrepreneur. We designer-entrepreneurs probably all think, "you have to be like me!"

I know I started out feeling extremely under-qualified. With no current connections in the industry and no fashion education, where was I to start?

At that time I failed to recognize the strengths I had inherited from my family. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, who can never be happy in an ordinary job. They are always starting something. Since they are both in the non-profit world, I didn't make the connection at first between their careers and what I was trying to do.

But there are very close connections in what was needed: extreme persistence, a mysteriously unshakable confidence in their eventual success, problem-solving skills, and an inabililty to stop thinking of new ideas!

I also didn't put two and two together, at first, about the previous generation. My paternal grandfather was a knitter in New York City, who owned a factory and designed his own sweater line. My maternal grandmother was a dressmaker out of her home. Why was I so surprised to discover, at age 30, that I had a passion for design and a need to sew my designs into existence??

And then there's my situation in life. At first glance, being a middle-class stay-at-home mom doesn't seem ideal for starting a new career in fashion design. But there were some hidden strengths there as well. I found I had married (surprise, surprise!) an entrepreneurial husband, who enjoys taking risks and thrives on new business ideas. And I found myself in the position of not needing a salary to support myself right away. That has given me the time to get started, without the financial pressure of mounting debt.

These may not be the characteristics you would list if asked to describe a well-qualified designer-entrepreneur. But I think there's one universal qualification we can all agree on -- slight to moderate insanity. :)

Also posted at Pixyworld Blog

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why Wovens but Not Knits??

It's a little puzzling, given the immense popularity of knit fabrics in fashion today, why knit prints are relatively hard to find. Premier fabric designers like Robert Kauffman (pictured), Amy Butler, and Michael Miller all seem to design prints produced exclusively as woven fabrics.

Is this because their target market is primarily quilters? Today, with the emergence of so much patchwork in boutique apparel, there would seem to be a growing market for designer knit prints.

At this point, Pixyworld is relying on the mercy of fabric printers who bring their minimums WAY down for us (in return for extra compensation, of course.) If there were wholesale knit prints available with the kind of thoughtful and artistic design of today's quilting fabrics, what heaven for a designer like me!

But then again, where would be the challenge in that?