BLOG

POPULAR

Taking a leap: going out on your own

CWC_2016-01-21_BLOG_insta-graphic_template

by Christina Lowry

I always wanted to be an artist. As a teenager, I had romantic notions of living in a studio surrounded by canvases, paint, red wine, and cigarettes while I suffered for my art. I lived this dream for a while when I moved out of home and undertook a Fine Art/Visual Arts degree straight out of high school. I rushed through my early foundation classes in sculpture and silver-smithing, awaiting my longed-for painting instruction. Alas, after undertaking my foundation course in painting I realised that my love of arts and passion for creating weren’t enough. I was surrounded by amazing artists, I was invisible to my lecturer, and my work was far below my expectations. I hadn’t learnt yet that comparison is the death of joy. I didn’t know not to compare my “chapter one” to someone else’s chapter twenty. I just felt a sense of failure and fear. And as a seventeen-year-old living in a world of adults, I assumed the answer was to drop out.

I’m so pleased that a friend and fellow student talked me out of such ideas, so pleased that I stuck it out. I fell in love with and majored in my next foundation area: intermedia (a mixed-media approach to fine art). Here I learnt how to become an artist: how to question, see, experiment. I was given free rein over photography equipment and a darkroom. I learnt early Photoshop and built a website, created sculptures and installations, journaled, and exhibited my work. I still didn’t know what I was going to “do” when I grew up, but I trusted that I would work it out.

To complete my degree, I needed to tick off two final classes. My financial situation had changed by this point, and studying silver-smithing became a viable option. It seemed like an enjoyable way to meet the requirements of the degree. After three years at Uni, these last two classes actually decided my future, for it was here that I found my medium and decided to become a jeweller. I fell in love with the rigidity and flexibility of metal. I was enthralled with the techniques and history of the practice. It was sculpture in miniature, designed to be worn. It was craft, art, and a trade. The day after I graduated I started applying for jewellery apprenticeships. I wanted to be a “real” jeweller, with a secure, guaranteed income as I learnt the craft, and the ability to create work and exhibit in my own time.

188_copy

Styling the jewellery

Finding an apprenticeship is no easy task. I spent the next several years working in jewellery stores as a sales assistant, getting whatever time and training I could at the jewellery bench and learning anything else I could in the process—from pearl threading to Diamond grading, gem identification to antique hall marks. I learnt sales strategies, stocktake, and stock and package ordering. I met suppliers and went to industry launches and trade fairs. I took a twelve-month jeweller vocation course at the Goldsmith school. I worked with several jewellers and finally started an apprenticeship, only to lose it when the business ran out of capital. After all this time, effort, and learning, I still wasn’t a real jeweller.

By the time I took maternity leave with my first child, I was so burnt out on the jewellery industry that I settled in to being a stay-at-home mum and didn’t touch the tools in my workshop for more than eighteen months. Eventually, I made a silver pendant as a gift for a friend. Then I made my sister a pair of earrings. Online sales platforms like Etsy and Madeit were taking off and friends suggested I sell my jewellery online. So I did, as a hobby.

With hindsight, I can join the dots, but at the time I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The thought of starting my own business hadn’t occurred to me. I thought I would return to the workforce as a jewellery sales assistant and keep trying to get an apprenticeship, chasing the elusive dream of becoming a “jeweller.” I thought receiving my apprentice certificate would remove the imposture syndrome I felt. But as I kept making and selling my jewellery, I realised that the certificate was only important to me. When people brought my pieces, they didn’t ask if I was a “real” jeweller, self-taught, or a bit of both.

073_copy

Christina behind the scenes

Change came rushing in after listening to Clare Bowditch speak at a Big-hearted Business morning tea. I had begun tossing up the possibility of selling my wares at a local craft market in a school hall, still with a hobby mindset. Clare encouraged us to get out pens and paper and write down where we wanted to be in five years’ time. For the first time, it clicked that in five years’ time I could still have a hobby—or I could own my own business. I decided to apply for that craft market! After the event I chatted with creative business owners and shared my revelation. They were pleased, but offered another revelation: don’t aim small. Find the best market around for what you want to sell, and apply for it. That day, a fire was lit inside me that still hasn’t gone out.

My hobby became a business the moment I decided to treat it like a business. I had to embrace fear and question my belief that I wasn’t the sort of person who could own a business. I applied for the Brisbane Finders Keepers market and spent the next couple months making stock and learning everything I could about business. I launched Christina Lowry Designs in November 2013 at Finder Keepers.

177_copy

Collaborating with creatives

Now in my fourth year in business, I consider myself not only a “jeweller,” but a designer, mentor, and businesswoman. Everything I have learnt, from my fine arts degree to my sales work, has been incorporated into Christina Lowry Designs. I define my own work life balance. My family is my priority. My passion and drive continues. I believe in lifelong learning. I read, listen to podcasts, collaborate with other creatives, and take courses. And every day, I am so glad I took the leap and went out on my own.

Photos by Trudi Le Brese Photography for Christina Lowry Designs

Christina Lowry is a designer and jeweller who makes fine jewellery for creatives. Her work is featured in several Australian galleries, as well as in her online store. Christina fell in love with jewellery making while studying a Bachelor of Fine Art/Visual Art. Each piece is lovingly made by hand in her Brisbane workshop, incorporating precious metals and gemstones, using traditional metalworking techniques.

Creative women at work: Maryanne Moodie, fibre artist

Creative women at work Maryanne Moodie, fibre artist

by Julie Mazur Tribe

Maryanne Moodie is an Australian fibre artist, teacher, and business owner who splits her time between her home in Brunswick, Victoria, and her studio in Brooklyn, New York. Known for using unexpected colours in vintage-inspired woven pieces, she has re-energised weaving with her innovative designs and passion for the craft. Maryanne teaches workshops locally and around the world, runs a thriving Etsy shop, and has been featured on everything from The Design Files and Design*Sponge to New York Magazine. Her book, On the Loom, was published late last year by Thames and Hudson. I caught up with Maryanne to chat about weaving, community-building, and the surprising perks of not having a plan.

Photo by Maryanne Hackwith

Can you tell us about your background and how you fell in love with weaving?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Even during high school I used to make toffees and sell them during recess. I spent most of my time being an art teacher, but I also had a business on the side, sourcing and selling vintage fashion.

I got pregnant, and during my maternity leave, as I was cleaning out the art storeroom with another teacher, we found this old loom. I took it home and loved it immediately. I’d tried other crafts before—macramé, ceramics, jewellery making—but nothing fit until I started weaving.

I had a little social media following from my vintage company and put up a photo of my first piece. Everyone went bananas! People started asking, ‘Can I buy that?’ ‘Can you make me something?’ It was my husband who said I shouldn’t sell anything for a year. I was still learning, and wanted to be proud of what I sold. So I waited.

Photo by MM Studio

Photo by MM Studio

When did you turn weaving into a business, and what did that evolution look like?

During that first year, I kept sharing my weaves on social media but didn’t sell anything. I gave all of my pieces away. I would ask my friends, ‘Can I make something for your shop?’ And they would say yes and hang them. Lucy from the Design Files walked into a florist where I had one hanging and asked if she could feature me on the blog. I didn’t even have anything for sale yet. I actually asked her, ‘If I’m going to sell one of those, how much should it be?’

By the time I was ready to sell, I had a huge market of people wanting to buy my stuff. Soon, people wanted to learn how to weave. That was when Megan Morton from the School found me. She taught me how to do this elegant way of teaching, turning a class into a beautiful treat: have a glass of champagne, be fulfilled, chat with someone. She made me love teaching again.

People saw my photos of teaching and said, ‘I can’t make it to the classes, but could you sell me a kit?’ So I started making kits. And then people were like, ‘What book should I buy? I can’t find a good book.’ So I thought, okay, time to write a book. Then people said they liked the book, but did I have an online course? So we’ve been filming online courses. It’s really been about listening to what my customers want.

Social media has been a big part of building your brand. Which channel has been the most effective for you?

Instagram. I love the community-making side of it. I love how if someone writes something, I can look at their feed and message them. If I really liked what someone was doing, I would say, hey, do you want to do a swap? I would take a photo of their work and share it with my community, and they’d do the same. You end up sharing what you love.

There was a bittersweet moment when I hit about 25,000 followers. I used to reply to every comment, but it got to the point that every time my child looked away, I’d whip out my phone to respond to people. Then he’d turn back and see me. I realised, I need to respond to my child. Now I post only once or twice a day. I read the comments to know what’s going on, but I allow the community in my platform to help each other.

Maryanne's Brooklyn studio_Photo by MM Studio

Maryanne’s Brooklyn studio. Photo by MM Studio

How do you gear yourself up to take risks in your business?

When I think up my own ideas, they’re sometimes right. But when the ideas come from what my customers are asking for—they’re the most successful. It’s about not having a plan and just listening. If I had a plan, I would miss opportunities to the left and right because I’d be so focused on what’s ahead. If you’re open to listening, you’ll always have a market for your product because it’s what people are asking for. It doesn’t feel like a risk.

You work between Melbourne and New York City. How does that work?

We moved to the U.S. because [my husband] Aaron got a job with Etsy. At the time, I thought I was taking one for the team, but I got to meet other artists and set up my business. We were there for 3-1/2 years. We decided to move back because we wanted the kids to do their schooling in Australia. So I came back but kept my studio there. My studio manager, Kaelyn, and I Skype every week and I prattle back once a season. I don’t know how long I’ll go on doing it like this, but I’m just going to jam it out and see how it goes.

How did being Australian affect your time in New York? And how did your time in New York affect you as an Australian?

Australians are very self-deprecating. We’ve got the whole “tall poppy” syndrome. You never big yourself up, talk about your achievements or how wonderful your work is. I have a little of that, but I’m also able to push forward and take risks and grow unselfconsciously, which is a bit more American. I have a balance of both. I try to push myself forward by pushing other people forward, too. Rather than saying, ‘Look how amazing I am,’ I want to bring people along so we can make weaving amazing together.

What are you looking forward to doing with your business in 2017?

I did Vogue Knitting Live in January and there were yarn stores looking at what I do and saying, wow, we want to stock your looms. It’s a new wholesale part of my business where manufacturers can make the looms and send them to shops. For the first time, I won’t have to include my energy in things to push the business forward.

Any advice for other women running creative businesses?

Make a community of people interested in what you do—on social media, through a newsletter, however you can talk to people and they can talk to you—and then listen to them. Ask them: what do you think about this? Would you buy this? You might know how to make a product, but unless you ask your customers, you might be making the wrong thing, or doing it the wrong way.

Maryanne’s Quick Picks:

Favorite read: Apartamento magazine

Favorite podcasts: Two Dope Queens, On the Media, Lore

Favorite Instagram feeds: @popandscott, @jordi_pordi, @tanyaauiniga

Designers, creatives, or brands: Pop and Scott, Jordana Joan, Tanya Aguiniga, Cindy Zell

Favorite places to go for inspiration: In New York, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). In Australia, anywhere near the water.

Most inspiring friend or family member: My female friends and family. We’re doing everything—running businesses, taking care of our families, taking care of ourselves (when we can)—with grace, tenacity, and grit. Females are my inspiration.

For more about Maryanne, visit her website and Etsy shop. You can also follow her on Instagram at @maryannemoodie. Her book, On the Loom, is available wherever books are sold.

 Julie Mazur Tribe is an editor and book publishing consultant with a lifelong addiction to paper stores. She can be found at BrooklynBookStudio.com or on Instagram at @brooklynbookstudio.

 

Branding basics: Building your brand

graphic

By Mirella Marie

Building a brand is one of the most important parts of business, yet also one of the most overlooked. For a brand to be sustainable, it must evolve with a business’s life cycle and meet the changing needs of its audience.

Here are five things to consider to when building your brand:

  1. Vision

A strong brand starts with a vision. If you’re unsure what yours is, ask yourself the following:

  • Who do you want to serve?
  • What are your brand’s values?
  • What is your “why”? (Meaning, why do you do what you do?)

Once you identify these points and present them in a clear way people can understand, you’ll start attracting an audience that shares those values and relates to your “why.”

  1. Credibility

It’s natural that people will wonder if you can really deliver what you say you can, so having a quality designed brand identity and website is the first step to instilling trust in your audience. Testimonials, case studies (where applicable), and high-quality photos of your work will also help alleviate doubt, convey professionalism, and establish your expertise. Credibility by association is another way to positively shape people’s perceptions of your brand, so make an effort to align your business with leaders in your industry (and others) and people who are smarter than you.

  1. Authenticity

There is no shortage of pretenders on the Internet, which is why being authentic is so important. While many businesses might have a tightly curated Instagram feed, people want to see what goes on behind the scenes because it’s more relatable. For example, showing sketches of your latest design will give people a look into your creative process instead of just the final product. Being true to yourself, knowing your brand, and injecting your personality into it will help you stand out in your competitive industry and attract people who resonate with you.

  1. Visibility

Your brand needs to be visible in order for people to recognise it. Positioning your brand in front of the right people in the right places at the right times will keep your brand front of mind and help it become memorable. For example, if there’s an event your audience will be attending, find a way to promote your brand to them through that event. The more it is seen, the more likely people are to remember you when they need the products or services you offer. Never give people time to forget about you.

  1. Consistency

As with anything, consistency is key to achieving results, and your brand is no different. Being consistent shows that you’re reliable; in turn, people will know what to expect when dealing with you. For example, having the same imagery across all your communications will encourage trust and brand recognition. If you’re consistent with when and how you communicate, your brand will grow sustainably.

Remember, your brand is one of your business’s most valuable assets and building it is an ongoing process that takes time, work, commitment, and passion to be successful.

Mirella Marie is the owner and creative director of Vertigo, a Melbourne-based graphic design studio specialising in brand identity and design. She is also a contributor for Women of Graphic Design, a project examining the work of female designers around the world. Join her on Instagram at @studiovertigo.

The 10 benefits of handmade

cwc_2016-01-21_georgia-phase_insta-graphic_template

By Emma Clark Gratton

In theory, we all know the benefits of handmade. The anti-globalisation catch-cry of ‘Think global, act local’ has definitely hit home, with handmade and craft-based micro businesses popping up everywhere. But the very real, tangible benefits of making, using and buying handmade products have an effect that goes beyond a simple business transaction. We’ve outlined ten ways that the handmade economy is a win-win for everyone.

For the maker…

Keep craft skills alive

Traditional skills such as crochet, macramé and embroidery have had a comeback in the past couple of years, despite few people actually needing these skills in the same way that we did 100 years ago. Keeping these skills alive and active is an important part of our cultural heritage, and worthy of support.

Spread joy

The reason why most people start handmade or creative businesses is because they are passionate about what they do. They love their work, and want to share it with the world. Buy handmade and support the spreading of joy and happiness!

Support the person

When you buy handmade, you are literally supporting a person, not a faceless corporation. The products might be made on the kitchen table in between school pick ups, or by a particularly creative lady who left the corporate world behind to make unique products. And the (small) profit they earn will go directly to them, not to line the pockets of some guy in a suit.

For the buyer…

More unique

You only need to look at the shelves of your local Woolies to see the range of products dwindling in response to cost-cutting measures. With out the ‘make this cheaper at all costs!’ impetus of most mass-produced industries, the handmade economy throws up way more creative, unique and customised outcomes. This diversity is of huge benefit to the consumer – mo’ money, mo’ problems (or something like that).

Better made

Again, without a corporation’s bottom line looming over every detail of a business, handmade products are generally much better made than mass produced goods. Plus, if something does break, the maker is usually more than happy to repair your product.

Fuller experience

A study researching cheeses in America found that consumers prefer buying ‘artisan’ cheese because they feel it provides a fuller ‘sensory experience.’ This is a factor of both intrinsic properties, like better taste, and extrinsic properties, like the joy of finding something you really love. Even just the knowledge that a product was handcrafted contributed to the feeling of a better experience because there is a relatable, knowable back-story.

For everyone…

Much, much greener

This is an obvious one, but buying local handmade products is a trillion times more sustainable. Less transport, less overheads, less waste. Work done by hand takes less energy than a mass production assembly line, which makes it more environmentally sustainable.

Support the economy

Studies have shown that locally owned independent businesses —many of which sell wares produced by hand— return a higher percentage of their revenue to their communities than the bigger chains. This means that by buying local, you are pouring money back into your local community, rather than the money heading off overseas.

Decreasing dependence on multinationals

Frighteningly, there are only ten companies in the world that own almost everything we buy. The same company that owns Pringles also owns Duracell, Hugo Boss and Oral B. Supporting handmade means sidestepping the global corporations, and securing our economy for the future.

Handmade is forever

There is a cheeky thing in the mass-market design world called ‘design obsolescence.’ This means that a product is built to fail after a certain amount of time, so the consumer will need to repurchase the product (I’m looking at you, Apple.) It is a relatively new phenomenon, which is why your nana’s Mixmaster is still going strong after 50+ years, while your new Breville broke after three years. After a few decades, this has created a culture of ‘if it’s broken, don’t fix it – just chuck it out’.

And this is where handmade excels – there’s no need for an upgrade as it is perfect already. And the nature of handmade products means that they will literally last as long as the materials will- so think of it as a good long term investment!

Emma Clark Gratton is the Head of Content at Creative Women’s Circle, a staff writer at ArtsHub and a podcaster who, alongside her husband Lee, runs GRATTON, a timber furniture and architectural joinery company. She blogs occasionally at Worst House Best Street and posts endless photos of her sons on Instagram at @emmamakesthings.