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I Took The Handmade Pledge

Year in Review

Craft fans, I haven't blogged much during the peak season, but here I am with an hour to spare before a dinner date, and some of the highlights of the past year at the shop are filling my head. I always enjoy year-in-review articles, whether about news, culture, food, trends. So here are some of my best experiences as the proprietor of Wise Daughters this year:

  • receiving $10 more than the ticket price for a ceramic bowl from Inspirations, because a customer felt it was undervalued
  • renting out my button-maker for uses as varied as the relaunch of Joel Richardson's mural on Dupont, the launch of Chris Kay Fraser's Toronto kiss map, and somebody's 75th birthday party
  • helping not one, but two husbands choose Wise Daughters classes for their wives for Christmas
  • hearing that a baby who received a U Rock onesie from Wise Daughters appears in it in every photo
  • hosting various bouncy Sparks and Brownie troupes for crafting sessions
  • collaborating, communicating and sometimes commiserating with the lovely women behind Nathalie-Roze, Distill and Beadle
  • handing out donated yarn to a local woman in her late 90s who returns it knit up into blanket squares and scarves for Streetknit
  • helping a brother and sister choose a really good present for their parents with their pooled coins totaling $14
  • making babies laugh with Banjo Puppets' hilarious popcorn monsters (including one wee boy who laughed for the first time here!)
  • making adults laugh with Coy Clothes' saucy, silly t-shirts
  • getting a note just today from somebody who loves her Wise Daughters sleep wear so much she hasn't taken them off for the better part of a week
  • serving ALL the wonderful people who choose to shop local
  • It's been a wonderful year. Here's to another (and another, and another).

A very happy 2012.

Occupy Your Wallet

Craft fans, I have been remiss. I took a holiday, then I got too busy making and doing to write.

But today it snowed, and that made me hopeful that holiday shopping will soon begin in earnest (when it's 16C outside, it's hard to think about Christmas, I know). And I will be very curious to see whether shoppers are taking up the cry to "occupy" their wallets this season.

The current global occupy movement is about a lot of things, and is being manifested in many creative ways; one of its messages is to act with one's wallet, choosing to shop locally. I copied a sign I read on Facebook that reads, "If you really want to occupy Wall Street, do your holiday shopping at a small independent merchant."

Of course, this begs the age-old question, how much difference can one person make? Will Walmart notice if you don't join the line at their checkout? No, Walmart will not notice your absence, but your neighbourhood merchant will certainly notice your presence, and that is the point.

Best Buy on Black Friday 2011

This photo by Justin Sweeney travelled the social media circuit after Black Friday, and it makes a great point, I think.

You don't need to camp out, or even wait in line, to make a difference in the life of a local artisan. Hope to see you this December!

How to Approach a Retailer

This is a blog post full of obvious advice for handmakers who would like to sell through a shop like Wise Daughters. Obvious, and yet today I have had at least two faux-pas committed that kind of boggle the mind. So here goes. Six simple rules for breaking into retail:

  1. Take 1 minute to go on my website (or that of any other retailer you want to approach). If you visit, you'll find a page called "Info for Makers" that tells you what to do. Easy!
  2. While you're there, please find out my name so you can use it when you email. My name is not "Hi there" and especially not "Hi there!!!"
  3. Do not send ME an email that tells me how badly you want to get your work into, say, Arts on Queen. Proof-read, please.
  4. Do not try to promote your product by telling me it's better than what I already carry. Nothing is more off-putting than an artist who disses craft, or other artists' work. And for all you know, that object you're critiquing could well have been made by me!
  5. Do not pitch stuff made in Poland, China or anywhere else.
  6. After I've said no, for whatever reason, please do not expect an hour of free consultation about where/how to sell your product. I have a class on that very subject, for which I charge a small fee. There are also lots of other resources at your disposal.

Remember, selling is all about the relationship.

Good Packaging

One of the topics I touch on in my Art of Selling workshops is packaging. This in the context of branding, but there are several other important considerations too, like choosing sustainable materials while creating a professional look.

I thought I'd take a minute to share a few really good examples.

1. Melissa of Ladeebee/Vintage Baby Revival has taken the humble luggage tag and turned it into an affordable, simple and eye-catching packaging tool. She also uses them to tag her knitwear, so there is consistency. Look how cute! With very little effort, her product is ready to present as a gift. The only info on the back is her website, which is really all that's required much of the time.

LadeeBee/Vintage Baby Revival

2. Adrianne of Vintage Love needs to go that extra step and put her switch plates in a small plastic bag to keep them clean and to enclose the accompanying screws, but the bag is just the size of the product to keep waste to a minimum. What's fun about this packaging is the language on the back. Adrianne lists ingredients, directions and the following tip: "Sit back relax and enjoy your fresh and funky piece of nostalgia!"

Vintage Love

3. Katie of Eclectic Media Artist makes owls so cute they pretty much sell themselves, but if a buyer needs a nudge, this is it: a simple cardboard tag that gives Katie's website and says "(happily) made in Canada." Brilliant. Suddenly the buyer is happy too. Made in Canada is a key message for artisans to share (or Made in Toronto if only locally available).

Eclectic Media Artist

4. Leila Cools puts her fused glass jewellery on simple cards, but creates a consistent and attractive look by fabricating her own stands for shows and shops. Not only does a retailer like me appreciate a ready-to-go display, but it gives Leila control over her brand. Repeat customers can see at a glance what they want.

Leila Cools

The package needs to be an extension of the product in look and feel. Using as few words and as little material as possible, you need to present your brand, make it easy to find you, and tell buyers what they need to know (contents, care, etc.). The extra thought and time that goes into packaging will absolutely pay off.

Welcome Wise Daughters Wear

Yesterday was the photo shoot for the first product in what I hope will become a line of Wise Daughters Wear. Six fabulous volunteer models trotted over to Phillipa C Photography in the Junction; here are a couple of the group shots:

Wise Daughters Wear

Wise Daughters Wear

Express Yourself through Art Journaling

A number of people have asked me to explain what happens at Art Journaling (starting up next week and happening monthly this fall). I realize I should take a stab at describing why it's such a delightful way to spend an evening.

Anna Redish teaches this class; one thing you should know about Anna is that she gets more excited about craft supplies and techniques than anybody I know - and I know some very crafty people. Another thing you should know is that Anna is never without an art journal on her person. She started making them out of tissue paper so she could always have one in her bag or pocket. Anna believes in the power of self-expression, and in striking while the muse is with you. She also believes in being prepared for creativity. She told me to read Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, which I did, and I immediately identified some ways Anna has applied Twyla's advice. Advice about how to overcome your fear of the blank page (or studio), how to build your skills so you'll be ready to implement ideas when they strike, and how to challenge your assumptions about the way things work, so you'll be willing to try something else when they don't work.

So what do we do in art journaling? Well, it's a lot like regular journaling, in that it is uncensored and all about the process. Making marks on the page, not judging the finished product. Sometimes we do write. My favourite activity was when Anna fired us up to write a rant, as full of expletives as we liked. We wrote in 4 directions, rendering the finished page illegible. We put a finish coat of colour over top too, just to be sure our secrets were safe. Sometimes Anna gives us a starting phrase and we write from there. Here's an example:

Art Journaling

One night we wrote ourselves letters on a particular theme and learned how to fold them up like this:

Art Journaling

Another time we learned photo transfer, and I had fun making pictures of 40s stage actors from an old theatre magazine appear in my journal. And one night we played with paint and bubble wrap, entertaining our inner children no end.

This fall, Anna will be sharing all kinds of techniques for applying marks to a page - all of which are great to use in other projects - but the best part will be in the doing. Focusing on artistic expression as a way of silencing the chatter in your head and being in the moment.

This workshop series is offered on a sliding scale to help make it accessible to everyone. Whether you're an artist looking to unblock your creativity, or somebody who wants to explore your artistic side without any pressure to be able to draw or paint a certain way, I really encourage you to give this time to yourself.

Carpe Diem!

There are few people untouched by Jack Layton's parting message to Canada, or by the tributes so eloquently paid to him in the last week. Of all the calls to action and words of advice that have been expressed, something Mike Layton said has stuck with me. It's not a new idea, but it's a vital one. In his eulogy, he talked about how Jack knew conditions would never be perfect (the anecdote was about sailing), but you have to make the best of things the way they are, and just go ahead anyway. As Gracie Heavy Hand of the Dead Dog Cafe used to say, "Stay Calm. Be brave. Wait for the signs." I'm not one for "signs" from above or anything like that, but I am a big fan of following one's own intuition or gut feeling. The older I get, the more confidence I have in listening to myself.

It's so easy to live in fear: of failure, of poverty, of loneliness... but to do so is a terrible waste. I've been close to a number of people who have died far too young, so I am perhaps especially aware of how time can run out before you've realized your dreams.

A lawyer recently wrote in a mean-spirited letter to me that it was not reasonable that I was not earning an income. There is so much wrong with this statement. First of all, it is perfectly reasonable and part of my business plan to derive a living wage from my business in year 5, not year 3. To expect differently is to set yourself up for failure. Secondly, what's unreasonable about choosing to follow my passion instead of slogging away at a meaningless job? And finally, there are a lot of earnings to be had besides money. Doing this job isn't just how I spend my days; it's how I spend my life.

I chose to seize the day when I started Wise Daughters. I don't live up to my Carpe Diem motto every day, but I try to seize the majority of them. Because what is the alternative except to let them slip by? I'm not going to let that happen.

The Importance of Listening (in Business)

The other day, as I was informally sharing strategies with a sister entrepreneur, I realized just how crucial listening is to success in business. By listening, I mean a lot of things - collecting data and feedback, inviting suggestions, and actually listening to people's anecdotes. There is so much useful information to be gleaned!

By contrast, I think about a recent experience I had with Bell, where listening to my very legitimate beef seemed systemically impossible. The upshot of that episode was that Bell lost my business. A behemoth like Bell doesn't care, but the loss of even one customer to a business like mine has a negative impact worth avoiding at all costs.

So, ways of listening.... Technology has made it very easy to ask for and receive instant feedback. An example: I asked my Facebook fans what kind of knitting class they most wanted in October, and they answered "socks." Easy.

All kinds of software programs are both idiot-proof and free these days. Mail Chimp is fantastic for sending newsletters, and has great data-gathering features too. You can see who opens their email, how often, what they link to... it's a goldmine if you know what to do with the information. I was initially shocked to find that only about 40% of the people who voluntarily signed up for my newsletter bother to open it, but then I thought about how often emails I receive go straight to the delete folder. Sometimes I know I'm too busy to do whatever it is the email is proposing to me, but that doesn't mean I won't take a good look another time (point in case - theatre listings). My newsletter recipients have months where they are gung-ho and open the email repeatedly, and months when they don't. But unless they unsubscribe, I can assume they're content to be receiving my information. People often say, "I'm glad to get your newsletter, even though I haven't had time to come to a workshop lately." Staying connected to your customers is critical! We all want to feel a part of something.

Survey Monkey is another fabulously simple program that allows people to anonymously give feedback. I've sent out two annual surveys, and had a surprisingly high return rate. People are busy, but we all like to be asked our opinion, and will give it freely as long as we feel somebody on the other end is listening. Consumers are too smart to fall for trickery, so there is no benefit to offering a chance at a prize for joining an email list or answering a survey, in my opinion. Let your customer do it because they want to.

On the low-tech side, there is tried and true white/chalkboard. I have one in the shop where people can add their workshop suggestions, and I record and keep them. I also ask workshop participants to fill out a evaluation which ends with an invitation to suggest more workshop topics. People almost always take the time to do so. Just ask!

My final thought is this: customer service is all about the relationship. People are becoming less and less comfortable conversing without a screen, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. A lot of customers are only too happy to share stories with just a little prodding. About how their grandma used to make these... and how much their sister loved the... these anecdotes are the best market research tool of all. I discover all kinds of new things about why people are buying certain products.

And I can respond with tidbits about how something was made, or who made it, and the customer gets a story to go with their purchase.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

The bloggosphere is a strange and wonderful place. Using Blogger permits me to see all kinds of stats about who is reading my musings. Hello dear readers from Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Bahrain and Singapore, among other far-flung places! How you ended up on this Canadian arts entrepreneur's blog is a mystery to me, which I hoped to solve in part by checking out the phrases people googled to get here. Among the most intriguing:

  • bike sticker stencils
  • Shakespearean quote "truer words were never spoke"
  • Jian Ghomeshi
  • great Canadians you've never heard of

And then there was "Is Mary from Wise Daughters a lesbian?" and the strikingly similar, "Is Mary from Wise Daughters gay?"

Shaking off the various distasteful reasons one might pose this question to the Almighty Google, I choose to believe I have a secret admirer.

But it's a two-headed beast, this Internet. I get inspiration from other people's blogs when time permits, and am pleasantly flummoxed by the number of people who read mine.

At the same time, it disturbs me that Facebook knows way too much about me, and I worry that my daughter's youthful photos will come back to bite her in the bum when she's in the running for a post at the UN, for example. On the other hand, everyone will be in the same boat. There is no such thing as privacy.

Anyway, I'd love to hear from you, kind readers. Let me know why you're here, and what you'd like to read about!

Crafts are for Grown-Ups

Back from a brief but refreshing break from the shop, I'm busy putting together the fall workshop schedule. The kids are getting their turn with Wise Daughters' summer craft and knitting camps, but the rest of the year is all about the adults.

This is my favourite part of the job, and the reason I opened the shop. I wanted to foster creativity by providing a welcoming space where everybody could try handmaking without breaking the bank or making a huge commitment of time. To that end, all of Wise Daughters workshops are either one-offs, or a short series of 2 - 4 sessions, supplies are always included, and previous experience is never required (except for the odd knitting or crochet project).

I keep track of all the suggestions people make, and try to squeeze as many into the calendar as possible. Some favourites will be back this fall, like knitting, crochet and felting (the ever-hilarious moose head trophy class).

Silkscreening was a hit last spring and will return, and lino-cut printing will be on offer for the first time. Bookbinding is on the roster, and mosaics will be back after a long hiatus.

And for something completely different, I'm very excited to invite people to join a weekly hand drumming class (I did it myself in the spring and loved how it exercised my brain).

For crafters considering selling their handmade products, The Art of Selling and The Art of Marketing via Social Media return.

It's going to be crazy busy, and wildly creative, and I can't wait!